Behind the Scenes of The ds106 Daily Create

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by didbygraham

Gearing up for a wave of new challenges starting in October, I am prepping to dial back my focus on ds106 and the web site. I am not disappearing, but it’s time to spread some energy elsewhere. Jim is teaching a new flavor of ds106 in the Fall and will be likely taking over the keys to the site.

The Daily Create is a special obsession on it’s own. Tim Owens was the real engine in getting the site going in January 2012, and I took over when I arrived at UMW a few weeks later. At some point, because we were talking about doing a print calendar (oops, did I mention that? I never said anything about S-O-C-K-S) I ended up pre-populating Daily Creates from about June 2012 through the end of that year.

I so enjoy coming up with new ones, and have really only done repeats maybe 10 times. I’ve written up a bit of the technical mods I made to make the management and creating of Daily Creates streamlined but that is the usual Alan code dump bark post.

Mariana Funes and Giulia Forsythe both expressed interest in helping keep the flow going. To better explain the “bits and bobs”, I did a live Hangout/Screencast with Mariana today. If you have some weird curiosity what is behind the curtain, here it is

I still have some grandiose plans to recast the Daily Create as a generalizable WordPress theme like I did for the Assignment Bank. The grand plan is that responses would not be via media sites like flickr, Soundcloud, YouTube; they would be submitted via a tweeted link.

It just might happen.

Taking the Hunt for OER Reuse to the Waters

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Lope®

Having stomped around the forest for almost a week and finding no stories of OER Reuse but whispers and a few broken limbs, I am going to aim my search at the waters. The photos ore just as blurry and the doubters and skeptics just as mocking.

What little bits have come from the forest include:

Simon Thompson alluded to some direct evidence

Here’s the thing. These are all useful and appreciated responses. But I really want to hear educators telling their own stories, in their own words, in a short video (if you really hate being on your camera, point it at a stuffed animal or a cat). Not a big grand sweeping story– if you have reused/modified some morsel, bit of open content (don’t get tripped up in definitions of what is an OER- something that someone else designed for an educational context and shared), please just tell us about it.

A small granular story.

This is what I have so far from you…

no oers

Can it be really that rare that someone has re-used open content? Seriously? Make a 3 minute video, fill out a form– am I asking too much?

I’ve combed through the True Stories archives and found four that fit. Is that it? Is that all ya got, big old Internet?

If The water fails to yield, next is the stomping grounds in the far cold north

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

It’s Not Amazing When the Web Forgets You circa 2000 circa 2000

In prepping my recent call for OER Reuse Stories (which, ahem, I have collected a grand total of ZERO new ones) I was reviewing the original ones I collected the first time I did an Amazing Stories talk on 2009.

By the way, that site still works despite using a defunct CoolIris embed.

In going through my hard drive, I actually found a story I had recorded my self in 2009, about some things that happened some 10 years earlier. For some reason I never published the story. But as listened again, beyond cringing at watching myself on video (yes, all humans do that) the story seemed timely given the recent Reclaim Hackathon in LA.

A true pioneer in web multimedia, a career at the peak in the late 1990s, dies before his time in 2001. By 2005 most of his work has vanished from the web, and by 2014, there are but tiny shreds left. Right before he passed away, he was working on a project with Stephen Hawking called “Virtual Universe” (I remember Roy talking about this project at the Sedona Conversations conference I met him).

You can find mentions of Roy Stringer in the Google Space, but so much more is gone, broken links. The site, which was listed at a domain registry in 2005, is now (if I read between the lines of the Google Japanese translation) some sort of escort information service.

Choosing to make a photo snap chat ephemeral is one thing, but losing the web references to a person’s achievements is, frankly far far beyond sad, and more into the land of WTF Are We Doing With the Web.

This is less about the “what happens to my web stuff after I die” (I for one will not care, cause I am gone) but more about what are we doing now to preserve, document– just freaking care about information about the ideas, creations, efforts we are doing now. Does it matter if everything you care about professionally (or heck personally) can pretty much disappear to digital dust in 10 years?

It matters to me.

Most of us (me raising hand) have this human thing where the “now” we are in feels like it is so present (no pun) that it will be that radiant a memory in the future.

Of course Roy is not forgotten. His family likely remembers him. People he influenced (like me) remember him. The company he founded remembers him, and an annual lecture series honors his work.

But so much more of what he created digitally is gone.

But what’s un-amazing is that we create all this stuff online, and we do important work. When we’re gone, it could start to fade away. And alot of it is stuff I really don’t want to see fade away. So do what you can to make sure– I was going to say, ‘Make sure your content lives longer than you do’– but it’s just so important to have a record of this work, because it’s moving so fast, but actually it’s kind of ephemeral. We need to archive, we need to keep, and we need to remember. And we need to be amazed.

There is a tradition that says there is a death when our bodies and minds cease to function, but the real death is when people we knew stop telling our stories.

And that is truly why stories matter to me.

Stalking the Mythical OER Reuse: Seeking Non Blurry Videos

Wikipedia has all the answers (edited with of Mozilla Googles)

Wikipedia has all the answers (edited with of Mozilla Googles, see the full authoritative article)

OERs. People build them. People house them in repositories. People do journal articles, conference presentations, research on them. I doubt never their existence.

But the ultimate thing they are supposed to support, maybe their raison d’être– the re use by other educators, what do we have to show for that except whispered stories, innuendo, and blurry photos in the forest?

I am on the case.

Yes, I am looking for True Stories of OER Reuse. Big data, metrics, meta data, those are only like those casts of big feet. The only way to know of reuse is to tell it. So I am adding to my True Stories of Open Sharing a special wing to house True Stories of OER Reuse. I see two varieties of possible stories:

  • You have created, shared an OER, and you have a story of how someone else has used it? YES, I would love to hear your story.
  • You have found, reused someone else’s OER? DITTO. I would love to hear your story.

I am not looking for links to blog posts, articles, web sites (well only as supporting information). What makes a story your story is YOU telling it. Make a video and claim your story.

I have set up a new web form to collect the information. I have a tad bit of urgency as I am scheduled to do an online presentation on this in the first week of August.

Are you a believer? Then help me find the True Stories of OER Sharing.

Otherwise, people will think of it as

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by naturemandala

Google Licensed For Reuse Image Search: Not All is As it Seems

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by capitphil

I am searching for images almost every day for blog posts, media projects; always seeking the ones licensed for re-use. I spent some time recently building a Mozilla Teaching Kit for this practice.

My go to tool is usually Compfight to search the creative commons licensed images from flickr, but I am also reaching into the ones Google Images claims are licensed for reuse. I even made a little browser quick search so I can do it in one motion.

Most of the results come from places that clearly provide open licensing options- flickr, Wikimedia Commons, Deviant Art, pixabay.

But I am suspicious all is not kosher in the results.

Today I was looking for an image used in my last post to represent “feeding the machine” – in my mind I imagined an image of someone shoveling coal into a furnace, so I used Google Images, with the options preset for “Labeled for Non-commercial reuse”. The second image looked a tad promising, a closeup of a shovel full of black coal:

shovel coal

but also noticed the 8 other “related images”, and the third one in the second row caught my eye, it had what looked like an old time photo a man shoveling coal into a wall opening while a little girl watched. Classy.

shovel-coal reuse

When I looked at the page for the photo, I saw I was on the site for Michael Angelo Truncale, what must by his photo portfolio. The strange thing I noticed was there was no mention of licenses, creative commons on his photo page, nor anything like metadata in the page of the photo (or for his main site).

So how the bleep did Google say this was licensed for non commercial reuse when there is no indication? I even check the image metadata on the downloaded image, and found no license info.


I decided to put a note in Michael’s contact form, just curious if he knew why Google would think his photo was licensed for reuse.

He called me in less than an hour. I was a bit stumped as to how he got my phone number until I remembered (doh) it was on his contact form. He seemed concerned about Google’s wording of “license for reuse” until I noted that it was listed as licensed for non-commercial reuse” He guessed that maybe Google matched it to the same image he has on flickr with a creative commons license (he did that for just a few photos).

Here is the photo on flickr, where it is pretty clear that the image can be reused

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Mr Michael

I was doubtful google would make that kind of connection, but just for fun, did a reverse image search on the one in the Google results, and it never pointed to the flickr URL, just his own.

I thought I had the smoking gun on Google… until Michael asked me the steps to produce the same results. I retraced my steps, starting with a Google Image search (filter by ones licensed for reuse) for the words “shovel coal”.

And then it hit me. My initial search was with the licensed for reuse filter applied. But when I click “related images” in the search results? Well Google decides to forget your initial search filter, and it produces related images from all over, so those 8 “related images” are not related by license.

I don’t know about you, but this is pretty poor design. I search day and night, and I missed this important distinction- if I start a search with a condition, and click related images” that condition some be in place, unless I change it.

It sure tripped me up.

But there is another foul thing about Google Image’s Licensed for Image Reuse.

Let’s say I just happen to do a Google Image Search, filtered by images licensed for Nn Commercial Reuse for … baby pygmy hippo poster. The 4th one in the first row of results is adorable.

baby pygym hippo poster

The image comes from an entry in a Blogger blog Lost in the Supermarket called “break glass in case of cute emergency”.

The image sure is cute, but it does not belong to the blogger. It looks like from the link to “slideshow” (DEAD LINK) that it came from the New York Daily News. If you scroll down to the bottom of the blog, the entire blog has a BY-NC-SA Creative commons license.

So Google is assuming that if a blog is licensed creative commons, that all images on the blog are too?


You what happens when you assume, Google?

Creative Commons licensed wikimedia image

Creative Commons licensed wikimedia image

Feed WordPress 101: Feeding The Machine

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Mr Michael

This is part 3 of 5 in a series of posts for Building Connected Courses: Feed WordPress 101

  • Basic Concepts of Syndicationand what to think about even before you touch that WordPress thing
  • Installing and Setting up Feed WordPressMinimal settings, and planning the way content is sliced, diced, and recombined
  • »» Feeding the Machine «« – How to get RSS feeds into the aggregator without losing a finger
  • Some Feed Magic – Optional ways to improve feeds from sites such as flickr, twitter, etc, creating a twitter archive, RSS Feed TLC
  • Some WordPress Extras – adding attribution, setting featured images, shortcodes

At the end of our last section on setting up Feed WordPress, we reviewed the basic process for adding a site to our aggregator. In this post, I explore this farther, because, while one lump of coal at time gets them into the machine, but often we want a shovel full. And not all coal is the same.

I will share some approaches for adding new sites to Feed WordPress, and share a few of the gotchas you might face with feeds from different sites. For the most part, this is a manual process, though as we see below, you can as them in bulk. If you clean them off first.

What Are You Putting in the Machine? How Much?

If you are just syndicating a few feeds into your own site, or maybe for a single class of students, it’s not much work to manually add the feeds. Collecting them can be as simple as asking students to email you the address for their blog, or collecting them via something like a Google Form. Many of us dream of a single one button solution, but my experience in creating at least half a dozen of these sites are is… feeds can be messy.

A range of examples:

  • Add Them One By One. On my blog here, I have maybe three feeds from other sites that I may blog on where I want their posts to be republished here. For example, on my photo site I use a special category for just posts I want to be re-published here.
  • Custom Code a [Semi] Automatic Process Martha Burtis did much of the work to create a signup form for ds106 (wher we subscribe to more that 750 blogs in Feed WordPress). This requires a paid plugin (Gravity Forms) and custom code to process the form input. I used a similar approach on the Thought Vectors site (123 blogs subscribed); working with Tom Woodward, we created a quasi “Choose an Adventure” approach to guide people to enter the correct information. While the code worked well, we found we still had to manually fix more than half the submissions. You might be surprised that many people cannot cut and paste the URL for their own site (I had one student who only found it by googling her blog name, sigh)
  • For Project Community, ETMOOC, and Connected Courses– and my best recommendation; I created a Google Form to collect the blog information. With some knowledge about the feed structures, it does not take too much longer to process them (see below for more). I actually checked more than 500 blog links in ETMOOC, which sounds crazy. But as a subtle added benefit, you can right away scan the “audience” of your course or at least how they represent themselves in a blog.

Why is Not Easy?

There are cases where it is much easy– when a blog is entirely devoted to your course content, e.g. when you are subscribing to all blog posts, it is dead easy. You can let Feed WordPress “autodiscover” the entire blog feed URL, that information is embedded into its HTML code.


Or you can try some code I have used on other sites, the “Magic Box” that should automatically find the main RSS feed for an entire blog.

It gets trickier when you let people use feeds for a category, tag, label in a blog. WordPress blogs behave the best; if you enter the URL for say the category on this site —, Feed WordPress will report that it finds like seven possible feeds. Check each one carefully- two are the feeds for the entire blog; one is for comments, and one is for the category content. The content preview on the right should help determine if it is finding the correct content.

But it will not work for Blogger; where the organizational scheme is called “labels”. The URL for a label looks something like — this will display all posts I have applied that label to. But Feed WordPress can never locate the proper URL for it’s RSS feed, in fact it does not exist anywhere in the code. Blogger actually hides it (why?) — the URL for a blogger label RSS feed actually looks like The same goes trying to find feeds for tumblr tagged posts.

And so we circle back to the strategy you choose for your course. You can insist/require that people use/create a blog that is 100% devoted to the content of your course. Or you can live with knowing that when I add my blog feed to the course, you may receive a lot of non relevant blog posts in your site if I write about other things.

If you are teaching a very wide open course, you likely want to allow the most flexible range of options. This can mean you have to amplify up your Feed Detection Skills (see below).

In summary, Feed WordPress is most effective when you add the direct URL for the appropriate RSS feed, rather than asking it to figure the feed out.

google form

Forming It Up

We are using a Google Form to collect blog addresses for Connected Courses (embedding the form in a WordPress page). I am not going to review how to make forms in google docs. But the main advantage is that it tracks all your info in a spreadsheet, and you can set up notifications so when someone submits a form, you can act on it right away.

What you ask for us up to you. I typically ask for:

  • A name (leave an option to create a pseudonym)
  • email (just if you need to contact them if the URL does not work)
  • twitter name (often easier to contact people, also, you could use to create a twitter list)
  • any other info you may want to collect to help you categorize feeds (For connected Courses, we ask a role)
  • The URL for their content
  • An option for them to leave comments

The URL of course is the critical part, and no matter how well I try to explain it, many people still do not quite get it. Some people will enter a URL for a single post; or a page/static content. Or something that is not even a URL.

An attempt to explain what URL to enter

An attempt to explain what URL to enter

When I review the submissions, I go to the step of verifying that the URL works. In some cases (see below for a guide), I will have to edit to make sure it is a URL Feed WordPress can handle.

Here is a peek at the responses form for the Connected Courses form (it’s early so we only have a few)

(click image to see full size)

(click image to see full size)

My method for keeping track is to color a row green once I have added it to Feed WordPress, so at a glance I can see how many new ones there are to process. If there is a problem with a feed, I might color it pink until I can. A Convention like this is critical if multiple people might be monitoring the form.

The entry on line two from Mike Wesch looks ok, he has created a tag on his blog, but hmmm, the URL does not work. It might be because Mike has not yet posted anything with that tag, but I am guessing too that the URL (since it is a wordpress blog) should be (which does not produce anything).

I am not picking on ya, Mike– it’s a great example. If I enter the URL in Feed WordPress, it will generate an error. So in this case, I will have to contact him for followup.

Do you have to add them one at a time in Feed WordPress? Heck no. Once you have a series of feeds, if you can copy them from the spreadsheet or a text file, one URL at a time, say… these are my three feed URLs

Copy them. Go to your WordPress Dashboard, and find the link under Syndication for Syndicated Sites. On the right side where last time we added a single source, click the link labeled Add Multiple. Paste in the URLs.

add multiple sources

Note the message at the top. You need to be sure these URLs are either the URL for the home page of a blog (since the first one it finds will be the one you want) or is the exact URL for a blog feed. You will not get a chance to pick a feed.

multiple add feeds

Feed WordPress will check each URL, if it cannot find any feeds you will get an error. But look at that last one, it found a feed for Mike’s blog, great!

Not so great. Mike uses Feedburner on his site- the only feed it can ever provide is a feed for his entire blog (he would have to create a new Feedburner URL for a tag on his site- see, nuances). I can uncheck his feed to skip it.

So we can add batches of feeds. I have done as many as 20 at a time.

The way we set up the automatic categories in the last post all new feeds submitted will be also set to add the Syndicated and Blogs categories to all posts. If you are doing any extra categorization per feed (role, section, group), you will have to add that information.

Here is how we edit single feeds. From the list of feeds in the syndicated sites view, hover over a site you want to edit, and click Categories


When you get to the Categories & Tags Settings: CogDogBlog Lab screen, scroll down to Categories. It indicates that it is using already the global default categories Syndicated and Blogs. We can then add any other categories for this blog we may want to add, such as maybe the Participants role.

Once you make these changes, all new posts will be put in the categories strong>Syndicated, Blogs, and Participants.

And if you have a feed that is not a blog, you can override the default settings by checking the option for No. Only use the categories I set up on the left. Do not use the global defaults for posts from this feed and then click the boxes on the left for the ones that are appropriate.

You can use this process for blog URLs you collect in any way. The general steps are:

  • Check the URLs- make sure they even work, and also that they point exactly to the main blog URL or a proper URL for the feed from a tag, category, etc.
  • Make the list of URLs to add, one URL per line
  • Add one or more URLs to Feed WordPress
  • Edit each Feed to add any categories if appropriate
Creative Commons licensed Deviant Art image by SoRah42

Creative Commons licensed Deviant Art image by SoRah42

Becoming a Feed Detective

Sure you can let Feed WordPress do all the work for you, and for most Connected Courses you will be fine, especially where you, as teacher, may suggest which blog platform students should use. In wide open courses, you may get everything and anything under the sun. in either case, your savviness is better off understanding more about where these RSS Feed things live.

View Source- Get into the Code

You cannot get hurt looking beneath the hood of a web page. Go ahead, use the command in your browser to View Source (or something similar). OMG! It’s gibberish:

Viewing the source of

Viewing the source of

Fear not. Command-F is your friend (it is the command to search)- search on “RSS”. You are looking for parts of the code that look like:

rss find


<link rel="alternate" type="application/atom+xml" title="CogDogBlog Lab - Atom"
href="" />
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="CogDogBlog Lab - RSS"
href="" />

RSS feeds come in 2 or 3 or 92 varieties, but Atom and RSS are equivalent as far as what Feed WordPress needs. This is from a blogger site; WordPress blogs have have a few more. The first one it finds with the label application/atom+xml or application/rss+xml is what Feed WordPress looks for, and the URL is what we seek.

If you cannot find any of these, the site may not have an RSS feed at all. If you examine the source of a Google Label URL, e.g., you may find a feed, but it will be for the overall blog.

But this is usually a last resort. The three major blog platforms we typically deal with have RSS feeds you can deduce from patterns.

WordPress Blogs

WordPress, whether self hosted or on, etc makes it really easy to find a feed for almost anything- the over all site, a category archive, a tag archive, event comments– just put /feed on the end of any URL* (see below for the exception).

If the main blog URL is — the feed for the entire blog is

For a category URL like — the feed for all posts in this category is

For a tag URL like — the feed for all posts with this tag is

You can even get an RSS feed for all comments on a WordPress blog –

Now here is the exception. A few WordPress blogs are not set up to use what are called “pretty URLs”; a category URL might look like: if that is the case, what we tack on to its feeds is &feed=rss2 — so that a category feed for this blog is

A tag feed that looks like — the feed is

And the feed for the entire blog? Bueller? Bueller? yes

Blogger Blogs

Feed WordPress will be able to find the correct feed for an entire site, so a blog at will end up being found as

But if this blog is using a label such as pinkpony the feed will have to be manually constructed as

It’s not pretty, but that’s what works.

tumblr blogs

Like WordPress, tumblr has a simple formula for finding a feed- just add a /rss to the end of any tumblr URL.

Feed WordPress can find the feed for an entire tumblr- for a site at it’s feed is found at

If a participant is using a tag to denote their content for syndication, it’s URL will look like and (drumroll) it’s RSS feed is

One thing to watch out for on tumblr is that people typically will copy it’s address from their dashboard; which turns out to be For anyone except the owner, this URL will automatically resolve to BUT you cannot use as an RSS feed.

Other Platforms

You might find GoogleSite, drupal, squarespace, and other assorted URLs come into your site. You might have to look around the site for a Syndication link, or poke around the source. Not all sites have RSS feeds. If you run into one you cannot puzzle out, leave me a comment below- I have my PhD in Feed Detection.

Next Step

We have dealt with just blogs here. In the next section, we will look into dealing with feeds from sites like flickr, instagram, Youtube, diigo, twitter.

Building Connected Courses: Feed WordPress 101

  • Basic Concepts of Syndicationand what to think about even before you touch that WordPress thing
  • Installing and Setting up Feed WordPressMinimal settings, and planning the way content is sliced, diced, and recombined
  • »» Feeding the Machine «« – How to get RSS feeds into the aggregator without losing a finger
  • Some Feed Magic – Optional ways to improve feeds from sites such as flickr, twitter, etc, creating a twitter archive, RSS Feed TLC
  • Some WordPress Extras – adding attribution, setting featured images, shortcodes

Like a Leatherman for Your WordPress Blog

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by

I have a tool… well it might not be quite as good as a Leatherman, but I use it almost every day to search my blog.

And I built it 9 years ago.

If you cannot wade through my story just go there.

But this is a case where conceptual understanding, and not dutiful “all I will do is click buttons” mindset comes in handy.

It came from knowing how to read URLs.

If you ever search on a WordPress blog, you may notice a pattern in the results. The URL always look like — it’s just the search terms, with “+” replacing ant spaces tacked on to the main URL as a parameter.

So without even visiting his blog, I can run a search on Bavatuesdays like just to see how much love Jim is giving my blog

bava search

The results are of course open to debate. But heck, I can just as easily run the search on Abject with


I have used this on a few sites I know are WordPress but seem to lack a search thingie. If you know how URLs work, you can go directly to the search results.

That means if (a) you know the home URL of a blog; (b) you can rig some Javascript to get some text from a dialog box; then (c) you could create a bookmarklet tool.

And that’s what I have been using since 2005 to find stuff on my own blog using Make A WordPress Search Bookmarklet. This is a web form that will make the bookmarklet for you. For any WordPress site.

make a search

So I decided to make one, and I can customize it to have the name of the blog appear in the search box, and specify the URL for the blog itself

search maker

It will create the bookmarklet, which you can drag to your browser bar


Now the beauty is you can use this search no matter where you are on the web. I could be reading some whacky blog posts about sharks — I might say, “hmmm, I think I wrote something relevant about sharks). So right from that place, I click the bookmarklet, enter my search…

search shark

and boom, I get the results for that search on my own blog!

shark results

Slick eh?

But as they say on the infomercials… But wait, there’s more!

If I am reading a blog post and come across a phrase I might want to search on in my blog, I just highlight it, click the bookmarklet

rio salado

and double BOOM! I just ran that search for Rio Salado on my blog.

search results

I use this sucker all the time– because I never quite remember if I have blogged about something before.

And this is JavaScript from almost 10 years ago– that still works. Tell me below about what technology you are using from 2005 (Okay, take MS OFfice off the table).

Anyhow, since I use this so much, I think it might be of use to someone else.

But don’t take my word for it; make your own bookmarklet WordPress blog search tool, use it, then tell me about it.

Am I crazy? I just give this stuff away.

10 Years, 38,000 Photos, 1 Explore

How about that, my very first photo goes into flickr Explore

in explore

I’ve hung 38,000 photos in flickr since 2004, stayed with flickr, even defended it despite all of the Yahoo’d changes (though I did call them an ass).

And not even for a photo I would call my best (I keep my favorites over at Barking Dog Studio)- it was actually done without much thought. After yesterday’s mid afternoon rain, at dusk I was relaxing on the porch and noticed some nifty pink cloud patterns. I snapped two images with my iPhone (locking the exposure on the orange part of the sky). The photo was ok, but it really popped alive when I opened it in the Snapseed app and applied the HDR effect (and probably a bit of contrast and saturation boost).

I do like the effect, it brought almost a tube like line of color almost flowing between the two pine trees, and it does have a painting like texture

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Okay, I like it.

And look, Tom, it’s not someone brooding.

Thanks flickr.

I look forward to my next explore.

In 2024.

Feed WordPress 101: Installing and Setting Up The Machine

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

This is part 2 of 5 in a series of posts for Building Connected Courses: Feed WordPress 101.

  • Basic Concepts of Syndicationand what to think about even before you touch that WordPress thing
  • »» Installing and Setting up Feed WordPress «« – Minimal settings, and planning the way content is sliced, diced, and recombined
  • Feeding the MachineHow to get RSS feeds into the aggregator without losing a finger
  • Some Feed Magic – Optional ways to improve feeds from sites such as flickr, twitter, etc, creating a twitter archive, RSS Feed TLC
  • Some WordPress Extras – adding attribution, setting featured images, shortcodes

In the previous section, we planned out a structure for our syndicated content. Now let’s plugin the machine and twiddle a few dials. If you like documentation, check the wiki on the developer’s site.

Plugging in Feed WordPress to Your Site

I’m going out on the limb here and guessing that you know how to install a plugin in your WordPress Site; if not, got link?

In your dashboard, look for the place to add plugins, and do a search for FeedWordPress. Install it. Activate the plugin.

Do you feel the heat?

Basic Settings

fwp settingsFeed WordPress has a number of settings that are applied to each RSS feed you add to your site. We will make a few default settings, but keep in mind you can alter them for individual feeds added.

You find them listed under Syndication in the WordPress Dashboard admin screen. I will review them in order. Unless specified below, you are good to go with the default settings. Quite a few of them are ones you never should have to change. They are pretty well explained.

So in order of appearance in the admin dashboard, start changing the settings as listed below.

Feed and Update Settings

Look in the second section labeled Update Scheduling. The default setting is cron jobs or manual updates. This means that feeds are never checked unless you click an update button or if you are savvy enough to know how to set it up as a “cron” job (one scheduled into the the web servers automated script system):


It is fine to leave this alone while you are setting up the site and testing. You will have to click an update button on the Syndicated Sites screen to generate a request for the feed information.

But ultimately you want the site to do this automatically. You can get all techy and set up a cron script, but it will do just as well for 99% of the web sites if you change the schedule to be automatically check for updates after pages load

after load

This means that as visitors come to your site, the simple act of viewing pages will trigger the update scripts. This does not mean every page view sends out the request; it just sends a message to the plugin and asks if has been more than an hour since feeds were checked. It only requests new data if it is due an update.

Syndicated Posts & Links Settings

What Feed WordPress does when it reads an RSS feed is to make a new post on your course blog that has a copy of all the content that is from the blog the feed comes from. You should think now about the way you want your aggregator site to work:

  • Links to the post point to the original post. Most of the sites I have created work this way, it reinforces the distributed nature of the connected course. What it means is that while a copy stays on the course site, typically on a view of blog posts, the excerpt (or first chink of content) is displayed on the course site, but clicking the post title or a “read more” link takes a reader out to the original site.
  • Links to the post point to the copy on the aggregated course site. This means that it looks like all the syndicated blog posts were authored on the course site. Mostly people do this when they want a connected course site where the activity mostly stays there; a reason to do this might be if you want all of the comments on syndicated blogs to stay on the course site.

This link to a post is known as a permalink. You set up this setting in the second part of these settings under Links:


This feature of Feed WordPress is very useful in connected courses as an archiving mechanism. Again, in most of the sites I have built, we use the option for permalinks point to local copy on this website. Often after a course is open, students might delete their posts or their blog entirely. There is a feature you can use, that turns off the subscription, and reverts all of the links on the course site to point back to the local archived copy.

A related setting you will want to look it is under Comments and Pings.


If you are setting up your course site so that links go to the original blog post, it makes sense that any link to add a comment should go where that posts is, and change the first setting here to Don’t allow comments on syndicated posts. But if you are making all of the permalinks point to the local copy, you most likely want commenting to happen on the course site, so use the setting for Allow comments on syndicated posts.

Syndicated Author Settings

There is nothing to change in this section. By default, Feed WordPress will be creating a basic user account on your site that is associated with each feed, so a blog then acts like a user who posts to your site. This allows you to use the site’s author links and archives to show all syndicated posts from one site.

The only reason you might want to change this is if for some reason you want all the syndicated content to be associated with a particular existing user account on the site (I have never done this).

Categories & Tags Settings

This may be the most important initial setting; so make sure you have a solid understanding of the way we are mapping tags and categories from syndicated content.

To re-iterate, we will change to settings to make it so all tags AND categories that are in the original syndicated posts are mapped to WordPress tags on the course site.

In the first part, we change the settings so that all incoming categories are turned into tags, and that if there is a new one, we create a new tag to use for it. Change your own settings to match:

match cats

Make a similar change for the settings of inline tags, change your settings to match:

inline tags

With these settings we have made all of the incoming means that people organize their content end up as tags on the course site.

Now we want to set the site up so it will attach the categories we want to apply to each feeds; this allows us to organize syndicated content in meaningful ways on the course site.

In our last section, we discussed a reason to apply a top level category (I use “Syndicated”) to all feeds. This gives our site an ability to have a “flow” archive, a display that shows the flow of everything possible syndicated into the site (see the flow on ds106 or all “vectorized” content on Thought Vectors).

So we make sure the Syndicated category is added to every post we bring into the site:


You will notice that I have also added the Blogs category (a child of the Syndicated one) to also be added to every syndicated feed. I do this because nearly all of the feeds I will add are going to be from blogs, so I will not have to change any of these settings when adding a blog feed to the site.

For anything else, like a twitter feed or a instagram one, we will just override this setting on a single feed.

You also have an option to add a tag to all incoming feeds, if you have a need for that, just enter it in the box under “Tag all syndicated posts as…”

That’s All, Folks!

With these settings, your syndication machine is ready to go. In the next post, we will review some considerations and practices for collecting the feeds for your site and the nuances of managing them.

But let’s jump the gun and add one now. Go to Syndicated Sites from the Syndication menu in the WordPress dashboard. When you add feeds, they will all appear here as a sort of dashboard for your connected course.

To add a site where we will syndicated all of its content (every single post!), put the site’s URL into the box on the top right labeled “New Source”. A fine example is a site at


When you click Add Feed WordPress will let you know how many different RSS feeds it discovered by looking at the source HTML of the home page. Each will show a preview of the content ( or pink box warning if something is awry). For nearly every blog, you are safe taking the first one it finds, so we can click Use Feed

feed finder

And with that, you should see one of the most interesting blogs on the internet appear in your list of Syndicated Sites. You can force it to check for new content by clicking the Update Now button

update now

Feed WordPress will load and you should see at the top an indication of how many posts were added (it will skip any that it got the last time). You can see on the image above that it provides information about the last time it was checked.

If this is working, you can return to the Feeds & Updates screen and make sure it is set to check after a page loads.

Some More Under the Hood Info

Feed WordPress stores all of the information about the feeds you have added to your site in the Links collection of WordPress. Most sites do not even use this; it was originally created to build different sets of web links for old fashioned ideas like Blog Rolls. WordPress stores information about each link you add to it- a title, a link, an RSS feed, and a few more things.

Feed WordPress adds each new feed to put into it as a new link, in a category called “contributors”. You can inspect them if you follow the “Links” link in your dashboard. SO if you added the Best Blog on the Internet to your site, if you click it’s edit link in the Links are, you will see some info

link info

It finds the name of the blog, it’s URL, and its description from the RSS feed itself (each feed includes information about the source it comes from, the “Channel” details). This means, if ever I change the title of my blog or its description, those changes will be automatically updated the next time Feed WordPress checks its feed.

That’s neat, eh?

If you scroll to the bottom of the links page, under “Advanced”

links advanced

The RSS address is the one that Feed WordPress checks (and this is the place you might have to change if one is wrong). And there is a lot of gibberish in the Notes field. These are other important things Feed WordPress uses internally. For the most part you will never have to look here, but in rare cases you might have to update a value in the Links area. And it makes sense to know where Feed WordPress stores its data.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Kalexanderson

What’s Next?

Now you are ready to add more feeds to your site. In the next section, I will introduce a method to collect this info, and walk you through some of the nuances because… well not all feeds are created simple and equal.

Building Connected Courses: Feed WordPress 101

  • Basic Concepts of Syndicationand what to think about even before you touch that WordPress thing
  • »» Installing and Setting up Feed WordPress «« – Minimal settings, and planning the way content is sliced, diced, and recombined
  • Feeding the MachineHow to get RSS feeds into the aggregator without losing a finger
  • Some Feed Magic – Optional ways to improve feeds from sites such as flickr, twitter, etc, creating a twitter archive, RSS Feed TLC
  • Some WordPress Extras – adding attribution, setting featured images, shortcodes

Feed WordPress 101: The Basics

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by cathywitch

This is part 1 of 5 in a series of posts for Building Connected Courses: Feed WordPress 101

  • »» Basic Concepts of Syndication «« – and what to think about even before you touch that WordPress thing
  • Installing and Setting up Feed WordPressMinimal settings, and planning the way content is sliced, diced, and recombined
  • Feeding the MachineHow to get RSS feeds into the aggregator without losing a finger
  • Some Feed Magic – Optional ways to improve feeds from sites such as flickr, twitter, etc, creating a twitter archive, RSS Feed TLC
  • Some WordPress Extras – adding attribution, setting featured images, shortcodes

Why Bother?

If you have gone this far, you’ve likely already made a decision to run a course or community in a distributed manner. Why would you do this when your institution provides a safe secure platform to host your materials? Or when there are tools out there to manage it for you? It seems so… complicated.

Well, why we want to do this is because it allows a distributed structure for your course. It is pretty much modeled on the way the internet itself works. Instead of students coming to an LMS to do all their work, they’re doing it in a site that they maintain and it becomes a thing that they manage. So, they’re doing all their creation in their own website, which means they can not only personalize and customize it, but they can structure it the way they want. They can take it with them. And, it’s really theirs, more than any kind of e-portfolio system.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by Orin Zebest

Syndication? RSS? What is this Stuff?

When I talk about syndication, it is based on a means of one site letting another know that there is something new, a way for machines to talk to one another called RSS, Really Simple Syndication Or Rich Site Summary or Rarified Super Stuff (okay I made that last one up). If you seek definitions, Wikipedia’s covers it well:

[RSS] uses a family of standard web feed formats to publish frequently updated information: blog entries, news headlines, audio, video. An RSS document (called “feed”, “web feed”, or “channel”) includes full or summarized text, and metadata, like publishing date and author’s name.

One might say it is information about information.

So, the basic premise for using this in Connected Course is that my blog is out there. As is yours, and everyone else. Each time I publish something new, not only does my blog create it as web content, it also generates an RSS feed that sort of is a summary of the newest information on my site.

So, when we create a WordPress aggregation hub as part of a Connected Course, we use an add-on called Feed WordPress. This things says, “Hey, if I like Alan’s site, I want to bring in a reference to everything he posts. I check it once an hour and say, ‘Hey, Alan, you got something new? you got something new?” Most of the time it says no. But when I have updated my blog, now it answers, “Yes, I have something new, and here is all the information about it.”

When Feed WordPress gets an affirmative answer, it creates a new post on the hub site that has a copy of the content from Alan’s most recent post, plus some extra information, like a link back to the original, the date time it was published, and all of the tags or categories Alan may have used in his post.

That’s the syndication process. Now consider if you are doing more than just check Alan’s blog, but if you are checking 100 other blogs, plus looking for photos from flickr that have a particular tag, new resources tagged in a diigo group, new tweets with a hash tag. You can aggregate anything that generates updates as an RSS Feed.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC ) flickr photo shared by kaje_yomama

Considerations From the Start

You do not have to have everything planned out in advance, but this up front thinking will make your process much easier.

What Kind of Information Are You Syndicating? Mostly we are talking about blogs that participants in your course will use to manage their own content. But there are some more questions…

Will you prescribe the blog platform or let participants choose their own? There are reasons you may have for your answer, and sometimes the answer is both. You may want all students to use the same platform so you can better support them, or maybe one purpose is for students to learn a platform in addition to the course goal.

For Project Community, all of the students were required to create a tumblr blog for their coursework, because the focus was just on writing and using media. When we teach ds106 at University of Mary Washington, the registered students all set up their own domain and install their own version of WordPress- but open participants can use any platform. VCU students in the Thought Vectors in Concept Space were suggested to use the hosted version of WordPress offered for free to students, but they were given the option to use another platform.

All of these options can be supported with Feed WordPress, it cares not what platform is used. All it cares about is consuming RSS.

Here is another consideration. If participants will create one blog solely for the course you are creating, getting their information into Feed WordPress is much easier.

But when you invite anyone to be part of your course, say it is Howard’s Course on Wood Pen Turning, you will have participants who already have a blog where they write, maybe the blog a lot about recipes or Philosophy or knitting or model trains.

And so, they have a mix of content and you want to offer them the ability to say, “Hey, for this course, I’m just going to put post everything in a category on my blog for Howard’s Course.” This gets a little trickier, because for Feed WordPress to grab information from a blog by a category, it cannot be easily automated. For example, WordPress users can organize their content by category or tag; Blogger uses use labels, tumblr people use tags. Getting the right feed for these can be done, but requires some savvy intervention.

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by EvelynGiggles

A Logical Way to Organize Syndicated and Course Content

This next thing is perhaps the key to the syndication kingdom, and what can separate a site that is a giant jumble of content from one that has a meaningful structure.

In a Connected Course, you will have a portion of it that is content you create about the course- content, syllabus, assignments, announcements. And then you have this blog of stuff coming in from your participants:


WordPress offers two types of ways to organizing blog post content- categories which can have a hierarchal structure, line an outline, and tags which is a flat, usually free form means of organizing your information. Mostly, categories are a logical way to organize your course content.

Now all of the stuff coming in via syndication, that may have any kind of organization that is used in an external site, it might by categories, tags, or both. Feed WordPress can bring all of that in, and map it to categories and tags in the hub site. So if Jane’s blog feed comes in with new posts that have a category called “Assignments”, this can get mixed up with the nice Assignments Category I created in the course content.

I use a strategy to not only reduce the crash of organizational schemes, but also to subdivide the Syndicated content in a way that I can leverage. Feed WordPress has the capability to say, if a blog post comes in that has a tag or a category or both, we are going to convert them ALL to tags on the course site:


So all of the syndicated content can be represented visually with tag clouds.

But wait, there is more. Another thing we can do with Feed WordPress is to say, “every post that comes in from Mary’s blog, we will add a category of ‘Section 005′ or ‘University of Timbuktu’ or ‘Cool People’. If we know in advance of ways we want to group participants blogs, we can create a category view of all blog posts from Section 005 or from participants from the University of Timbuktu


For Thought Vectors in Concept Space there are 6 sections of registered students plus open participants. We use this feature of Feed WordPress to add a category view all registered VCU students posts, all teachers of sections, all blogs from a single section.

So here we have a tag cloud to represent all the ways participants organize content on their own site (right side) versus the categorical ways we can group and subdivide participants posts (left side):

thought vectors cats tags

In Project Community we do this to organize blog posts together in the groups that students are assigned for projects. In ds106 we do this to create pages that show the activity from different iterations of the course. For example in Spring 2013, we had concurrent classes from UMW, Kansas State University, University of Michigan, York College / CUNY], and Kennesaw State University.

Your question now is: Are there meaningful ways you might want to group your participants blog posts? You might have project groups, different sections, open versus registered students, or participants from different institutions/programs that you may want to organize. This does not have to be written in stone, WordPress is flexible enough to allows changes in any time, but it will make your life more sane if you sort this out before you start syndicating content.

For the Connected Course’s site, we know of three ways (for now) we will want to group syndicated blog posts- ones from Organizers, ones from Facilitators, and ones from Participants.

We also know that we plan to syndicate in photos from flick and Instagram (based on tags), and tweets with the #ConnectedCourse hash tag.

Putting it Together into a Category Hierarchy

At this point, you should be able to sketch out a syndication outline for your potential sources. We will set these up before we even install Feed WordPress in category structure, using WordPress’s ability for categories to have children (and children of children).

What I do is make sure we have a top level category to represent everything syndicated, then sub categories based on the kind of media/source, and then within there, any more sub categories we might need to view the Syndicated content. The outline for Connected Courses looks like:

  • Syndicated
    • Blogs
      • Organizers
      • Facilitators
      • Participants
    • Photos
      • Flickr
    • Tweets

    Once you have your outline in your course site, go to Posts -> Categories and create the structure starting with the top most Syndicated category (or whatever name is appropriate). For anything beneath that, say Blogs, be sure to select Syndicated from the Parent menu. The structure is started in the screen shot below, I am about to add a Photos category under Syndicated

    connected outline

    In the next post, we will install Feed WordPress and create the initial settings to make this organizational scheme work.

    Building Connected Courses: Feed WordPress 101

    • »» Basic Concepts of Syndication «« – and what to think about even before you touch that WordPress thing
    • Installing and Setting up Feed WordPressMinimal settings, and planning the way content is sliced, diced, and recombined
    • Feeding the MachineHow to get RSS feeds into the aggregator without losing a finger
    • Some Feed Magic – Optional ways to improve feeds from sites such as flickr, twitter, etc, creating a twitter archive, RSS Feed TLC
    • Some WordPress Extras – adding attribution, setting featured images, shortcodes