An Interview with Jeff Dunn, creator of HLS Journals

Last year, you might have noticed some major changes to the websites for our law journals with the launch of HLS Journals, a great new platform for looking at aggregated content for most HLS journals.   We recently interviewed Jeff Dunn (Web Coordinator for the Dean of Students Office), responsible for the care and maintenance of the law journal websites.

Et Seq.: When did you launch the new aggregated service? Why did you decide to do it?
Jeff: I launched in the fall of 2010. Like most projects, it was born out of the need for me to quickly see what each journal is writing about without having to navigate to individual sites. By automatically pulling in information, I was also able to promote articles on a journal’s behalf with minimal effort. For example, HLSJournals automatically populates Facebook and Twitter and has an RSS feed all its own that users can subscribe to.

Et Seq.: What are the statistics like on it?
Jeff: Even though the site has never been promoted by HLS or any student journal, it figures prominently in search results for student journals and articles. Since it publishes articles at the exact same time as the regular journals, the web crawlers see it as a timely and authoritative source with lots of backlinks. This has led to us seeing about 2,000 pageviews/day on average. When journals are covering something more topical that people are searching for, that number has risen to nearly 10,000 pageviews/day.

Et Seq:. I know that you are also experimenting with mobile technology, including Kindle eBooks on Amazon. Do you have some preliminary download statistics, and why you decided to do it?
Jeff: The Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policyhas been the first test case for the Student Journals in the world of Kindle publishing. Thanks to the more than 300 downloads per volume, we have decided to start pushing all student journals onto the platform. This is being done alongside another big push toward other mobile apps as well.

Et Seq.: You have done a lot of major redesign on the journal websites individually. Could you share some of the enhancements, changes?
Jeff: The biggest change has to be the increase in online-only content. When I first started in 2008, most journal websites were simply lists of journal articles with some PDF links here and there. That type of site wouldn’t be tolerated by today’s typical web user. Nearly all HLS Student Journal websites are dynamic and engaging sites that are frequently updated by the students. Most enhancements over the past year have now been for a step beyond simply making nicer-looking websites. Students now want private wikis, document sharing systems, polling systems, payment systems, and more. My office is always up to the challenge and it’s always exciting when a student comes up with an innovative idea that we implement. The best part is the time when other journals see this new feature and want it for themselves as well. It just shows you that there’s a purpose to all the crazy requests you get from students. The most recent request was to “recreate LinkedIn but just for our journal” which was a bit beyond our scope. I won’t name the journal but it’s actually not a bad idea…

Et Seq.: Why do you like using WordPress as a platform for the journals?
Jeff: It’s open source and always on the cutting edge of security, optimization, and user experience. As one of the most well-regarded publishing platforms, I started using WordPress in 2007 and was glad to see that it was the victor in the publishing wars. Joomla and other platforms have simply been left in the dust by the WordPress community. As a platform for the journals, WordPress is by far the most robust and easy-to-use for the students. They are not necessarily as tech-savvy as me and my office (some students are, however) so having a relatively simple UI and UX is crucial. I certainly tested and considered other options but the WordPress ecosystem (premium theme websites, plugins, WordCamps, support forums, etc.) means WordPress will be around for a very long time, barring any sudden changes to the WordPress mission.

Et Seq.: Any other plans you can share?
Jeff: We’re jumping with both feet into the world of mobile apps. We are currently developing and testing iPad, iOS, and Android apps that aggregate and make all journal content a lot easier and more fun to find and enjoy. We also have a couple of other projects that aren’t quite ready to be made public just yet.

If you want to hear more about Jeff’s work with WordPress as a journal publishing platform, you might want to check out his remarks during October’s Implementing the Durham Statement: Best Practices for Open Access Law Journals at Duke Law School.

1 thought on “An Interview with Jeff Dunn, creator of HLS Journals”

  1. Really cool project. This is a great case of the adage, ‘scratching your own itch.’ Using WordPress as a platform also lowers the barrier to entry for graduate student journals as well. I’ve seen plenty of graduate student journals really struggle to publish material due to really unintuitive software.

    Kudos HLS Journals!

    – Rob Walsh

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