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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

WoodPro loses the IT Wars

I've been on the front line of the IT (Information Technology) wars for a long time now. Back in the 80's I was researching AI (Artificial Intelligence) under the legendary Wood Operations professor Joseph G. Massey, who, based on his life experiences with information technology research, has retired and done his best to go entirely off the grid. Lives out of an Airstream and surfaces occasionally with brief emails letting me know his remote location in the wilds of Alaska, or the deserts of Arizona, or wherever. He knows something we don't.

I took that background under Joe into industry and immediately found that the IT powers in corporate America like to call the shots when it comes to employee communication. My first conflict was in pushing the radical concept of using PC's to monitor manufacturing processes and communicate that information to others in the company. The operations and marketing guys loved the idea, but the IT folks claimed network security risks and spent years trying to kill the idea. That was in the early 90's. Today, the concept is standard IT networking technology.

More recent IT oversight has extended into employee emails and web viewing. Those of you who work in the corporate world know what I mean. Most corporations have obtuse IT policies that give the IT folks complete control of employee emails and any other contact with the outside world. Nowadays, we pretty much take for granted what we thought was shocking when we read "Nineteen Eighty-Four".

Now, again, you're thinking, wood? I'm getting there.



You may be surprised to learn that IT folks even hold court at Universities, although in a much more passive way than at corporations. Since 2002, I've built and maintained a web site called Penn State WoodPro, that you may have seen and used in the past. Near the end of last year, I was notified that the site and the web server it resided on were no longer going to be maintained, and that the site needed to be migrated over to the college's website, adhering, of course, to the IT web standards that site maintains.

Included in the standards, apparently, are provisions against using the site for "content aggregation". You're familiar with content aggregation if you've ever viewed The Drudge Report, Google News, or any of the hundreds of similar websites. At Penn State WoodPro, content aggregation was used in features such as The WoodPro Chronicle, and sections such as Wood Energy. In fact, I published a 2007 paper explaining how in the new world of the "virtual Extension specialist" content aggregation for a specific, targeted audience would be a primary function and product of our Extension work.

But according to our IT gurus, web search engines give demerits to websites that are content aggregators, and since they don't want any part of the College's website being penalized for content aggregation, we're not allowed to maintain pages like my old WoodPro Chronicle. So, alas...the next time you try to access Penn State WoodPro, this is all you will see! The old WoodPro site, with all its great wood visuals and videos, has gone to the great virtual woodpile in the sky.

Fortunately, I still maintain the new WoodPro site, so I'll try to rescue as much of the old site as possible and add it to the new. It's a long, slow process, but you can see that I've already added the TechNotes, Bulletins, an events calendar, a link to this blog, and a list of WoodPro contributors. The irony, of course, is that the WoodPro Chronicle, the most popular feature on the old site (by far), is no longer available because it theoretically hurts our web search ranking. That is twisted logic only an IT manager could love.

P.S. Since the IT guys can track my every move via my cell phone, I hasten to add that our IT department is a fine bunch of folks. There is a fellow named Tim who can shut me down anytime he cares to. Fortunately, he's a real nice guy and helped me get the new WoodPro site up and running. Really! :-)

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