This morning, I spend about an hour in the lower levels of the ds106 web site, doing some cleanup in the Feed WordPress area. The system was reporting a moderate amount of dead or decaying blog feeds; I did not count, but cleared out maybe 100 feeds that were dead.
Just ballpark, I would guess that 85% of these were domains that had expired, or blogs that were removed from WordPress.com and Blogger.com, and a handful of sad neglected corpses of Posterous sites. Maybe 5% were sites that had no discernable ds106 content, or possibly had been repurposed to new content.
Feedwordpress helps by listing a feed for which it had a problem fetching data with a yellow background, kind of like a yellow alert
Some of them have been decomposing for almost a year
To check them, I hover over the feed name on the left, and from the menu that appears click “View” (a command-click on the mac opens it in a new window). Many of the times you get a DNS error from your internet provider (site not found), or maybe an “Account Suspended page from a web host. Other times you might find a blog that has no ds106 content, or is irrelevant in content.
For most of these, Feed WordPress provides a rather elegant solution; remember that we have out site set up so permalinks, or direct links, for each syndicated post goes to the source site– but there is a local copy of each post in our site.
So when I am hovering on those links in the admin area, I command click “Unsubscribe”. If the site is gone, those external permalinks are bad ones, but the third option is the money one:
Delete this syndicated link, but keep posts that were syndicated from it (as if they were authored locally)
This means, in one feel swoop, you can have at least the content of a now dead blog post, made available as a link on the ds106 web site. For example, here is a post from a Spring 2012 student who let her blog and domain go, but we have a copy of her post.
This is another case for embedding media served from YouTube, flickr, SoundCloud, as those links remain good (unless the owner deletes them); we do lose any locally uploaded images in the source blog. One way we could address this is the Feed WordPress Advanced Filters Plugin. This makes a local copy of any image in a feed, so we would not lose the media when the blog goes away. A downside might be you end up storing a crap load of images.
The other cause of feeds not working is often the feed is just wrong. I noticed a few of these for people submitting feeds for tags or categories; they entered the URL for the page that shows those listings, not the feed itself. Feed wordpress is usually good at detecting feeds in these cases, but I have seen a lot of misses.
So lets’s say we get a yellow indicator (feed failure) for Andy Rush’s blog. IN the real world, this would not happen, he is that good. But I might notice in the feed column, the URL for the RSS feed is listed as
But this is not a valid feed URL. I hover over his blog name, and (command) click on Switch Feed; I can see the wrong feed listed
I can enter a corrected feed (or if he contacts me and tells me he is using a brand new blog, I can enter that feed URL), and Feedwordpress will verify and allow me to update his feed.
So that’s what we do to clean house.
But there is a larger picture.
The underpinning of the ds106 course we teach at UMW is the importance of a personal cyber infrastructure, of carving out, and managing one’s own digital place in the online world. For many students, their online concept is LMS frames, a web page to drop assignments like a letter box. A dumping ground. But in ds106 we aim to have them build a place they can own, carry farther, build out their corner of the internet.
Yet.. I have seen a large number of my past students let the domains go after class and/or wipe out all of their ds106 work.
Now I know this is part of owning one’s domain, of being also owner of the right to wipe it out. I have no disagreement with that.
Yet it troubles me to see students wholesale toss their work, their reflections, their growth, in the internet dump.
We have work to do here. But there are positive signs. And there are reasons for the trends. I went through tonight the URLs for all 81 students I have taught since Spring 2012 to see how many had kept their ds106 sites and how many had used their domains beyond the class. There are some factors in this (discussed below)
- Spring 2012: Out of 25 student domains, 0 have kept their ds106 blogs, and 2 have repurposed their domains for other uses (22 are no longer domains in use).
- Summer 2012: Out of 10 students. None have kept their ds106 blogs or repurposed their domains for other uses (all 10 are expired). Interestingly, 6 of these domains were bought and turned into spam blog link farm sites.
- Fall 2012: Out of 23 student domains, 7 have kept their ds106 blogs, and3 have blogged in their own space for other purposes beyond ds106 (personal reflection, Europe travel). Not counted, but worth mentioning is one post 106 entry by a student to proudly boast a video he made created for a final project has topped 110,000 YouTube views. I am envious 😉
- Spring 2013: Out of 23 student domains, 20 still have their ds106 work available; and 3 have blogged about things beyond ds106. Notable is Amber’s blog she created to write about her summer internship at a radio station.
On a quick glance, 27 or 33% have kept their ds106 blogs, and 7 or 9% have used them for other purposes.
The Spring and Summer 2012 low numbers are not surprising. These were times when we had student buy their own domains and pay for web hosting. I probably would be hesitant to keep paying for this after the class is over. Fall of 2012 was the pilot of Domain of One’s Own, so students had these fees covered, and we see a higher number of active domains last semester, both because the students had registration and hosting covered, but it is also not that long ago.
But the thing is, most students so their domains again a place to do assignment work for one class.
And that is the benefit of the rollout of UMW of the full Domain of One’s own- all incoming freshmen got information on how to create their own domain for use their 4 years at the university (see the summary of the first week’s action written by Martha Burtis). When it becomes something beyond a single class, but is part of the university experience across not only multiple classes, but likely sports and other activities, the ownership motivation ought to clearly increase.
Check back in 4 years, but my hunch is more students then will be taking their domains with them, and transferring a vast experience of university work in a digital form. And probably not as many flushing them away.
I’ve owned cogdogblog.com since 2005– I owe Steve Dembo the nudge credit– and he suggested the domain.
He even offered to pay for the domain as he felt like the 50 mile URL I had for the blog on a Maricopa server was a bit unwieldily.
But that’s not a fitting comparison to our students; I’m a techie, and this is my livelihood.
So I am interested in suggestions for how to better help students see the value in keeping their digital corner alive.