Yes, I saw the cartoon when it first came out. I might have missed it, but 34,578 people emailed it to me. It was brilliant! I laughed for hours!
No, no I didn't. Instead, I thought, "It must be nice to be in a position to spew commentary on things you only peripherally understand, to mass numbers of people who will take it as gospel."
Yes, I sound bitter. I really wouldn't care about any of this if it weren't such a perpetual thorn in my side. Probably not fair to take it out on xkcd.
But seriously, running a college website is an extraordinarily complicated affair. There are many academic and administrative departments on campus - often with competing agendas - and the site has to (at least make a solid attempt to) satisfy them all. There are many target audiences, internal and external, and the site has to satisfy them all. There are students and faculty and administrators and alumni, with unique preferences and opinions on how the school should translate itself to the web, on what information is "useful," on what stories to tell and why, and the site has to... you get the idea.
Cultivating compromise doesn't even begin to describe it. Mark Greenfield pretty much gets it right in the InsideHigherEd piece that came out today when he talks about "homepage politics."
There's no magic pill of a solution here, or we would have figured it out long ago. Our first step this summer has been to envision two distinct audiences - internal and external, i.e. those who already know Oberlin intimately and those who don't - and build homepages for each of them. The new homepage for the insiders should launch early this fall, and I'm pretty excited about it.
We also have a gorgeous new homepage design for the external audience waiting in the wings that will also hopefully launch sometime in the next year. It addresses many of the issues outlined in the InsideHigherEd piece.
In my experience, both at MIT and Oberlin, there is an audience - and a very significant one - for both sides of the xkcd Venn diagram. Of course there are folks who are just looking for the "CIA operation" - i.e. get in, get what you need, and get out - but there are plenty of others who are looking for the stories of the place, the primary sources, the narratives of transition and transformation. To suggest otherwise is a pretty good indication that you've never worked on a college website.
Enough from me. What do you guys think?