Social and corporate network for the education system. History of creation and development


Hello, habravchane and habravchanka!

This story does not pretend to be extra original but can be useful for those who want to create their own corporate network. I work in the educational system and faced with the need to create an effective tool for distance learning and the exchange of experience between teachers and some parts of the story will be devoted to solving these problems, but general issues are also raised.

As you probably know, any state (and even less so educational) institution should have its own website that meets certain standards. At the beginning of last year, I, as the system administrator of the entire district (and I serve 35 institutions), was given the task for each institution to create a website. And all would be fine, but I’ll have to fill part of the sites with content due to the lack of computers, not to mention the Internet in more than half of them.

Naturally, I wanted to automate this process. Immediately eliminating the static options (I needed feedback, etc.) I opened my brain to the stream of consciousness from Google pages and came to the conclusion that I needed a social network.

For those who have not caught the logic I will explain. Firstly, I needed a centralized system for accepting applications and registering applications, available to anyone within a radius of 100 km. We needed a multisite system in which there would be several types of user profiles (teacher, parent, student), depending on the type of profile, certain functions and different access to network communities were available to the user. And there were many types of communities - a school. class, methodical association, subject teachers, various circles and children's voluntary organizations. Each of the significant communities should have its own website, preferably with differentiation of rights to publish and edit materials and linking to the community group. The most difficult thing was to distinguish all this tautology and at least define concepts in the first stage.

Why you do not need to create a social network

I, as usual, went a long way. Partly due to the fact that I did not find ready-made tools that actually existed even then, they simply were not a generally accepted standard. If you, like I once, decide that you need such a network - first check out the resources that already provide such a service. In particular, the diary-ru has already been approved by the ministry and is quite suitable for educational purposes, there are others that are no less interesting. Just don’t get carried away, it’s worse when you use a social service such as email for work. I know from personal experience.

If you like to produce essences, or you have new and fresh ideas that you want to implement, or you have nothing to do with education, then move on.

How to make a social network

You need to decide on the target audience, select a CMS, purchase a hosting - in general, I will not repeat commonplace things, the Internet is already littered with them. Read my story further.

So, I firmly decided to create an educational network, and realized that in general I did not know anything about it. No, of course I used social services, but there were problems in creating a highly specialized resource. An acceptable option was obtained only from the second attempt, after three months of testing the first version.

Want to find out what my mistake was? And I will tell in any case, at the same time I will try to explain how they could be avoided.

My mistakes:

The first, and most basic - I began to "globalize." That is, to look for a solution that will allow in the foreseeable future to connect an unlimited number of users to the network, naturally with support for multilingualism and even letters from right to left. This is very good on the scale of the former USSR, but as practice has shown at the level of a small area, it is absolutely unnecessary - the redundancy of functions creates only additional problems that will lay on top of each other like a snowball.

From the first error, the second flowed smoothly - the wrong selection of CMS. After listening to the advice of the wise Internet “gurus”, I first rejected the obvious decision and fiddled around with engines like Joomla, Drupal, LiveStreet, Pligg, ELGG, Dolphin, and even Social Engine. But any of them had to be thoroughly finished, ready-made solutions required money, and their number was strictly limited (that is, they were absent at all), as, indeed, was the time for development. I will not say what was ultimately chosen so as not to accidentally mislead anyone, but a month after the start of the project, the network began to take up too much time. There were problems with updating the system, introducing new necessary functions, training end users and providing them with the necessary freedom of action.

As a result, ... Wordpress was chosen. Performing complex maneuvers in an attempt to evade tomatoes and eggs flying at me from all sides, I will explain my choice. Yes, it is heavy, yes, not flexible enough, but multisite is very well implemented in it and, you must admit, it is one of the most friendly and simple administration interfaces. It takes a little more than an hour to explain to a person who is trembling in perceiving the concepts of “Internet” and “e-mail” how to publish their materials correctly, in a group, but several people can be trained at once. At the same time, all the originally requested functions are present in a “clean” installation, without a single additional plug-in.
Then, a designer theme was left for subsidiary sites, with the help of which users customized the look of their sites masked close to their current preferences. Even without knowledge of html, not to mention php. BuddyPress is spinning on the main site, in which all the necessary functions are gradually realized, from personal messaging to project management systems. All that was left for me was to administer the network, choosing which plug-ins should be activated for everyone and which users would turn on themselves if they needed to use the functionality they implemented (for example, bbpress included only 3 out of 35 sites, the rest had enough social media).

As time has shown, the application of the simplest solution paid off. Anticipating questions about the load on the server - just enough. Of the registered 20,000 users, hardly a third is actively involved, simultaneous online at "rush hour" does not exceed 500 people, mediocre hosting can do this quite well. There was practically no optimization, eAcselerator and all.

Corporate network

The social network solved the issues of interaction between teachers, students and parents, but there were still moments that caused me to be in a state of hysteria — all business correspondence was forwarded through the service, and his agent was used for “fast” communication. I think you understand how inconvenient this is.

It was necessary to find a solution for a single address space without any unnecessary functions and, of course, a replacement for the agent.

Of course, you could reconfigure the server, install Jabber, a mail server on it, configure certificates and more, but why? I remind you that there is no money for infrastructure development, and you cannot find even one permanent IP address in the entire organization.

On the other hand, we had a whole domain with which you can do whatever you want. The big brother helped.
Google has long been providing a huge amount of freebies to educational and state. institutions, and I, as a person with an indestructible Russian mentality, could not get past this freebie.
Having smoked a bit of GoogleApps advertising pages, I realized that this would be an ideal solution, both in terms of financial investments and taking into account subsequent labor costs. Within half an hour, operations of confirmation of rights and registration of the working environment were carried out. After completing all the checks, in addition to the mail, I had almost everything that a modern business needs to work. I venture to slide into advertising, but here it is simply not required. The agent replaced Talk, with a shared address book; the small MSOffice extension automatically places the documentation in personal storages, access to which users configure independently within the organization.
Of course, placing a workspace in the cloud entails certain risks. Confidentiality concerns increase by an order of magnitude. But, on the other hand, when I work through the Internet, I think you can rely on a corporation whose entire range of services lies in this area.

Summary and a few words in the end

The social and corporate network, through the domain, ended up in a single address space. On the one hand, this is a plus, but on the other hand, you have to be more careful about sites. The functions of automatic mailing began to play into the hands of some Chinese brethren, who had literally covered the site with a "weak" site, even had to switch to an invite system and manual moderation of registrations for a while.
In higher instances, they are still interested in the resource, since there is already experience of implementation in other regions. Now I am racking my brains on how to combine them, while only the words “cluster”, “distributed computing system”, “cloud” come to mind, but it all depends on funding, so it will probably die out.

Thanks to everyone who did not fall asleep for your attention!

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