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Lightning Talk: Building a large-scale, decentralized academic social network with WordPress and ActivityPub

Date: Thursday, July 13, 2023
Time: 2:00 - 2:45 pm (CDT) (UTC-05:00)
Location: Room 1
Format: Lightning Talk

Who is this session for?

Project directors, product managers, project managers, researchers

Session description

Humanities Commons launched in 2016 as an academic social network primarily serving scholarly societies. It is based on the Commons-in-a-Box WordPress plugin developed by CUNY, which is in turn based on BuddyPress. Since then it has expanded into a global network of knowledge creators who are connecting, sharing, and collaborating. Our CORE repository has deposits representing 33 different languages, including Hindi and Arabic. In order to continue to support these growing communities, we recognized the need to evolve away from a single WordPress site into a decentralized network. We are building a federated alternative to Commons-in-a-Box and BuddyPress using a custom-designed application based on the ActivityPub protocol.

Decentralization will allow us to scale in a sustainable way both technologically by distributing the network across many nodes, and institutionally by distributing the administration and support of the network between many different organizations. Decentralization will also, for example, make it easier for communities with different languages or interests to better serve their users. The Commons network will allow organizations to have control over and responsibility for their own instances, while building a community of trusted partners.

Key Takeaways

  • Scaling projects through decentralization.
  • Integrating WordPress with other platforms and technologies.
  • Balancing openness with trust—curating an academic network.


Bonnie Russell

Headshot of Bonnie Russell
Project Manager, Michigan State University

Bonnie J. Russell (MLIS, Wayne State University) is the Project Manager for MESH Research and Humanities Commons, and Digital Specialist for HuMetricsHSS at Michigan State University. She has extensive experience in technical project management, user experience, quality assurance testing, technical documentation and training, and metadata management.

Ms. Russell has been actively working with digital humanities scholars since 2012, helping scholars shape projects and identify technology needs. She served as the 2019-2020 chair of the Digital Publishing Committee for the Association of University Presses, primarily focused on the evaluation of digital publishing platforms and repositories. She’s currently serving a 3-year term on the Michigan State University Academic Specialist Advisory Committee (2022-2025). She loves cats, bats, dinosaurs, and Godzilla.

Pronouns: she/her/hers


  • Lightning Talk: Building a large-scale, decentralized academic social network with WordPress and ActivityPub

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