syndication

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Under the Hood of Thoughtvectors.net


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

Now that the Thought Vectors site is out and running (36 blogs syndicating in, 11 of them from registered students, not bad for the day before class starts), it’s time for a bit more of the techie WTF does that do post, in line with previous posts on such syndication hub sites.

WARNING: This post is long and full of jargon. I would like to explain it in a style to be universally understood, but life on this planet is only so long. And hey, did you think I was writing thix blog all these years for you? Silly reader, this writing is for me me ME ME.

How to Syndicate, Nate (Make a new Feed, Reed…)

In response to the idea that a flow of posts from a large community is more than anyone can digest, I’d been contemplating following up on Martin Hawksey’s brilliant work on the octel site and others to make something more like Google Reader (RI) (/me shakes fist and curses at Google, DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL). My interest in being able to do this clouded what Gardner Campbell reminded me, smacks head on table- a Feed Reader is not a beautiful site, one that leverages the media and payout of sites that get people interested in reading.

So less than two weeks ago, Tom Woodward and I got on a Google Hangout and started going through themes they already had available– they have a subscription to Woo Themes. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with modern WordPress themes- they have come with a huge amount of overhead to make admin interfaces. I counted and one I used for another project had over 250 files in it- the crusty old Headspace theme here has like 35. They also can make it hard to do customization (let me tell you how inelegant Elegant themes are).

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Building the RMOOC Site, Syndication and All

Brace yourself for another 10 mile long blog post; much like the recent one on the Harvard Future of Learning site, this one focusses on another syndication driven wordpress site. Brian Lamb approached me in mid June about working on this project, and coming on the heels of the Harvard one, I was able to leverage bits of that site’s framework– but it is still nowhere near a copy/paste/go operation. These sites are hand crafted.

Art+Reconciliation addresses current issues in Canada dealing with the history of residential schools and the ongoing work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The idea is (I might be wrongly paraphrasing) to examine how art and artists can both create awareness of the issues and help generate communication around the issue.

As conceived by Ashok Mathur, this would be an open experience where online participants could be part of the August activities at TRU, where artists were invited for a residential experience in Kamloops, and leading up to a national TRC gathering in Vancouver.

A driving part of the design was an effort to forefront the media that would be part of the activities, as well as infuse the syndication of content from twitter, flickr, blogs, etc. The “MOOC” part of rmooc is open to question- it was not a course per se, but a series of events and performances. It’s not massive, bit was open and parts were online. Who cares, the media shows some amazing gatherings and art making.

For some numbers on what happened (and keep in mind, this is the midway point), the site accumulated:

So if you just look at numbers, you would say “obviously not massive” but numbers are not the whole story, and the goal of the first phase of rmooc was in the events that took place in Kamloops.

Lost in the numbers are thing like a message from Leslie Lindballe, who was following RMOOC from Saskatchewan

And again, rmooc is only halfway through its course.

As before, I will attempt to review the design elements, the WordPress customizations, and the setup and implementation of the syndication parts. An additional (and new for me) element was using Mailchimp for managing email communications.

Much of what follows paralleled the work I did previously on Harvard’s Future of Learning Institute site.

Here we go…

Blog Pile

Building the Future of Learning Site

Future of Learning Site

Last June I was approached by Justin Reich from Harvard (and newly with EdX) about building a site for the Future of Learning Institute, that is part of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education- he was looking for the syndication/aggregation features I had created for the ETMOOC site’s blog and twitter hubs. Apparently, their local CMS (iSites) was a bit cumbersome before to use, but it also sounded like they wanted to extend people’s participating in social media (read more from Justin on the needs for the site).

Harvard calling?

Oh yeah. They wanted to be on the Syndication Bus (Magic Bus! Magic Bus!)

Groovy.

Syndication seems to be in the air, given the amazing stuff Mike Caulfied is doing with Water106. There was also I understand today a ds106.tv episode with Jim Groom, Tim Ownes, and the hatted one, Howard Rheingold, going over how syndication bus works with WordPress (drats to Gila County for having me inside all day for jury duty).

I have grand plans here to document how the Future of Learning site was built, and as I pulled through my notes and the theme code, I got depressed as there are a lot of parts, so I hope I cover everything:

  • Theming the site and customization steps, features added (“Can we have a Discussion Forum?”)
  • Shopping list of plugins, most key being Feed WordPress
  • Setup for the aggregation with Feed WordPress, wrestling with feeds (ahem Twitter) (ahem Flickr). Deploying the super cool Twitter analytics tools by Martin Hawksey.
  • Implementing Quick Posts, the way participants could contribute to the site via email

A difference for this event from the previous syndication projects I have done is that it was for a shorter time span (a week institute) rather than a course. Since I was brought in to build the site, not be part of the institute, I did not see much directly of how the site was used and presented.

This is one giant ever scrolling post. You have been warned.