creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Jeremy Levine Design

Having done more than a handful of Feed WordPress powered syndication sites, I’ve had some interesting opportunities to handle difference scenarios when the course/event actually decides to run another year.

I posted an extensive write up for The Harvard School of Graduate Education’s Future of Learning Institute, a week long summer event. That site had the vent information plus the syndication of blog posts, photos, tweets, bookmarked resources, and a slick way for participants to submit posts by email.

In late April I was approached with a request to quickly archive the site and prep the same design for this year. This is a case where the thinking (first) was to make each year’s site a different thing. Sadly this was not hosting on Reclaim Hosting where cloning is an Installatron snap, so I did it the old school export database, copy files, make new subdomain, install wordpress, import database — to make an archive site at Then it was a matter of wiping out posts and content specific to 2013 in the main site.

I thought I was done.

The organizers came back to me in June with a desire to have a more modern theme AND they rethought the organization, and felt like rather than having separate sites for each year (episodic), that they preferred to have a single site, where content could add on year after year, and they could use it all year long.

It made sense, but the timeline was crazy short; especially to try and toss in a new theme. Plus they wanted to be able to change styles on all elements, something that was easy to do with the Styles plugin added on top of the old Twenty Eleven Theme.

So did some CSS tweaking to make the content fill the page edge to edge, and incorporate a full width graphic header image.

This change also meant a reorganization of content, to identify parts that would remain the same year to year, and others that would be different, and thus introducing the idea of a page hierarchy (described a bit in The Te of Pages); so for all program information, it would beed a parent page like FOL2014 and under that pages for keynotes, sessions, etc specific to that year.

They also wanted to have more dynamic content on the front page, so I did some redesign, and added code to create new widget areas. This is the new site front, where the purple boxes show the widgeted and dynamic areas


The top one is just a place for them to put a welcome message, it’s just a widget that spans the page, and I made a simple text widget, so the site managers could modify the content (e.g. of they wanted to change the message daily, which they did not do).

The middle area was meant to feature Spotlighted content – as content came into the site, I made it so the site managers could edit any syndicated content, and if they added a Spotlight category, it pushed it to a special archive page, but also the three most recent items moved to the front page in the middle section. If the item was a tweet, it would natively embed there.

I did set it up, so if they modified the entry to have a featured image, it would use that instead of text from the post. And I added a footer section, so they could add a caption like “This is relevant to today’s workshop”; they did this simply by editing the post excerpt.

I don’t think they understood the featured image concept, because all the ones added after I set it up were text only.

So I went in to modify two of the entries to have a featured image, which changes the front page to:

fol spotlight icons

I am not sure why so many people do not use images in their blogging. I have an affliction of not being able to stand seeing stubby posts with no media. Or worse “click here” links.


One thing that did not work well. The organizers expressed concern about the performance of the site. I had to explain to them the concept of their rock bottom priced shared server bluehost plan, with an analogy of a staying in a cheap hotel where everyone shares the hot water. So we upgraded their plan.

I also tried the W3 Total Cache plugin, which in testing helped performance.

Then I found it broke the SimplePress plugin I use for their facilitator discussion forums. Then it was also causing some problems of caching the mobile themed version of the site on some browser views. Maybe I just did not configure it right, but I had to nuke it.

The event had 13 learning groups, with an info page for each one (again, needed to be organized for new content in future years), e.g Learning Group 7 as

There was also a blog category for each group, and I set up the post by email feature of Jetpack (I called it a “Quick Post”) so group participants could submit reports, photos to their group – .e.g the category for group 7 in 2014 is

This meant that for participants to have their emailed post be associated with that group, they would need to include somewhere in their email message the code:

[category group7-2014]

This was probably not made clear, as I do not think anyone among the 94 quickposts got the right category code, so I ended up manually categorizing these to make them land in the right groups.

I admit this was likely a bit complicated, but there’s not much I can do not being at the event site.

The site activity was comparable to 2013, a peak of 2700 visits in the middle of the event

fol2014 stats

And a good amount of activity in the various flows; Feed WordPress just chugged and chugged as it does.

The ideas for the organization/participant community is now to promote activity and publish news posts all year long. I’ve offered to work with them next spring to introduce a new responsive theme, and assist in the setup for next year’s institute (also, perhaps to import the 2013 content to have as an ongoing body of knowledge).

In this syndication structure, the new idea is to have all of the flow continually build and grow in one place, and structure the yearly event specific content to keep its integrity (rather than archiving to just overwriting it year to year). In maybe another post, I will discuss a setup where it made more sense to create a new site every year.

Stay tuned to

The post "Remodeling the Future of Learning Site" was originally squeezed out of the bottom of an old rusted tube of toothpaste at CogDogBlog ( on August 14, 2014.

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