BBFWLLT is a family joke/story.

When my Mom asked what I wanted for a gift (singular), my little kid brain produced a clever strategy to get more out of the deal. I would ask for a “Big Box Full of a Whole Lotta Little Toys.”

This feels like the perfect metaphor for the latest version of the SPLOTbox WordPress theme.

Following the major changes in TRU Writer, this SPLOT no longer needs any kind of special account or invisible secret logins to add media content. This greatly simplifies the setup and underlying code, plus removes a lot of hassles in using on multisite.

SPLOTbox was due this as it was the very request that came my way a while ago from JR Dingwell, who had some challenges on an institutional hosted WordPress setup that hung on the invisible logins in the old version.

Uploads are managed via code no longer needing access to the WordPress Media Uploader interface, and it even has the image upload/insert feature built into the content editor.

The interface of the SPLOTbox was initially built around entering a web address for media hosted in a place WordPress could autoembed (or for which I added functionality to autoembed from a URL, like for the Internet Archive and for Adobe Spark.) plus eventually expanding for more media sites allowed in oEmbed. I later added an ability to upload audio files (it does not do video now because of storage implications and challenges I had with video players). Then it became obvious to add the support for images, including Giphy and flickr (native WordPress autoembed) plus direct links to any audio or image URL.

I felt the media interface got a bit dense, so this new version features a radio button to toggle to choose between uploading via URL or upload.

It’s worth a little backtracking on how this SPLOT has morphed. It’s root was one of the really early ones built in the SPLOT paleomedia period (2014-2015) while on a fellowship at Thompson Rivers University. This one was called TRU Sounder was made solely for audio (links to SoundCloud content, an mp3 URL, or an uploaded mp3). It was handy for audio workshops where you might want participants to share their work.

Sometime after I did something similar with YouTube video for an open guitar class Bryan Jackson ran. That merged together into the first SPLOTbox theme. Adding the support for image upload/embeds brings in the function of TRU Collector. The full rich text editor gives the support for the kind of writing done in TRU Writer.

So really SPLOTbox is almost all the media SPLOTs in one.

I happen to think it’s rather versatile… some recent bits I have added include the ability to select the external media sites a site owner wants to make available.

And yet to be blogged, I have done prototyping of a plugin approach to add support of URL embeds from lesser known sources. This was something I did to allow Chad Flinn’s Open Pedagogy Playlist site to use audio he publishes on

But Wait, There’s More… and it begins with P-O-D…

Jim Groom recently blogged about the Reclaim Road Show, Reclaim Hosting’s latest workshop that happened somewhere in LA under the Hollywood sign.

Reclaim is awesome on their own for web hosting, but they’ve been super supportive of SPLOTs, even offering one click installs for 3 of them and 2 more of my WordPress Calling Card themes– these give fully built out, configured, starting sites with these themes. They also include SPLOTs in these workshops.

One of the questions that came up during the SPLOT workshop is if there’s a SPLOT for podcasting, which reminded me of this post Adam Croom wrote a while back about his podcasting workflow: “My Podcasting Workflow with Amazon S3.” . We’re always on the look-out for new SPLOTs to bring to the Reclaim masses, and it would be cool to have an example that moves beyond WordPress just to make the point a SPLOT is not limited to WordPress (as much as we love it) —so maybe Adam and I can get the band back together.

It’s an interesting idea, though I am a but unsure what exactly a SPLOT for podcasting means.

If you want to publish your own podcast, well you don’t really need a splot. WordPress already does what you need. If you create posts with a link to an audio file, and putting them into a category, the RSS feed for that category automatically creates the proper media enclosure tags in so it works as a feed you could subscribe to in a podcast fetcher. If you want more features, a number of WordPress plugins provide extra capability like making the feeds suitable for iTunes and adding direct subscription links.

It’s a setup I’ve used for a show I do with Antonio Vantaggiato, the Puerto Rico Connection. really just a WordPress site (I did follow Adam’s excellent post for setting up service from Amazon S3).

Or if you want a non-WordPress approach, there is the open source Podcast Generator. I’ve used that on 2 sites, it sets up easily on a self-hosted domain. Upload the files, address the setup PHP URL, and it does all the work. Is it a SPLOT?  ¯\_(?)_/¯ . It’s a single purpose tool. Yup.

While I will steadfastly avoid any effort to define SPLOTs (it’s so much more fun and offers more potential without one), I’d look for something that offers a feature or approach not found in many other tools.

I’ve had a hunch for a while that the SPLOTbox theme might have a working possibility as a thing that could generate podcast(s). But te thing different here is– rather a podcast like most think as a one person/team producer, by being a site where visitors could contribute, what if the media uploading / liking feature of SPLOTbox could be used for a collaboratively produced show?

Welcome to PodBox!

This is where having some understanding of how WordPress can be set up can be used to do things without necessarily making something new. So the front of a WordPress site almost everyone thinks of is menus at the top, a pretty photo, and then Post, Post, Post, Post. But just by changing it up, and putting a static web page on the front, let’s you do something different.

I did that a few clicks back with TRU Collector, when someone wanted a way to have students submit media, but not see them until they were ready to release.

So for PodBox, the front page might be the topic for the current show in production. In this case, it’s called “I Did Something Stupid… and Survived”. Everything submitted for the show gets put into a category, so there is both an archive view, and on the front page, we can list shows with the Display Posts plugin.

I also set up a demo of using the external podcast audio URLs from the Puerto Rico Connection. And because some people will use any category listed, there is the Dead Air show.

People can submit a show via the Studio, aka the SPLOTbox Media Sharing form. This uses the SPLOTbox capability to add audio by either uploading an audio file, or linking to one stored externally.

Choices for audio sharing, either by URL or by uploading.

There might be somethings to clean up in a workflow; on a site doing real shows, you could set the SPLOT options for new submissions to come in as “Pending” so they could be reviewed. I should also add that this Box uses the newest version of the theme, so there are no sharer accounts to set up, nor are there any secret logins happening behind the scene. Actually, it needs no plugins for doing the SPLOT features.

I was really glad that a few people gave it a go (and helped me sort out a few glitches).

Ah, but there was a trick to make the feeds be podcast ones. A sly trick…

The Link Trick

As mentioned earlier, WordPress is good at knowing that a post contains podcast possible content simply from finding a link to an audio file in a post.

But while you see a player and download link, the audio you see on a single page item from SPLOTbox is outside of the content part of the post.

Diagram of a post from splotbox, showing the locations of audio being outside the are of the main post content

So the standard WordPress feed here would not pick up the audio because it’s outside the chunk of content that is the post itself.

I went down some wrong turns looking at how to modify the feeds to include the audio (the link is stored in a post meta data field). It was doable, though I had to write extra code to determine the size of the audio file in bytes. This is easy for content uploaded to the site, but for remote files, some curl tricks were necessary. I got these working, but it seemed like thre might be a better way.

It dawned on me to try a trick. I edited an item in the PodBox site to include a hypertext link to the file hidden inside an HTML comment. It worked! The RSS feed now had the RSS media enclosure tags it needed to be seen as podcast content.

I was able to modify the media sharing form so that right before it published a final submission, it would append this to the content.

It seemed to work, until I saw strange things from the ones people trying the site were adding. Weird things happened in the editor so they got converted to text and showed up in the page.

So the winning solution was not to try and hide the link, but append one more audio player below the post content, inserting the file via a WordPress [audio src=" to mp3"] shortcode. It just takes some logic at the end there to know to do this only for audio URLs (the final URL for media stored as a custom field is the one for either what was uploaded to the site as a file, or entered as a link).

Without filling this post with too many obscure Alan hacked functions, this one merely looks at the file extension, and if it matches .mp3, .ogg, or .m4a it returns true.

This seems much more efficient than hooking into or hacking around the RSS feed.

This all works now for the PodBox site, and is part of the current release of the SPLOTbox theme. I’d guess the next request would be options to add in that would make the feeds work with iTunes (or whatever it is called now).

That should not be too hard to do.

The Big SPLOTbox Full of…

This was fun to play around with; I am sure there will be some things to tweak more. It probably should have admin options to pick the kinds of files to upload (you likely saw the PodBox upload mentions image files).

That can happen, sure.

But there is a big surprise to come. It’s not in the box yet (it’s in my head), but provides an even more useful way to put something in the box. It might end up its own self-contained SPLOT.

Stay tuned.

Featured Image: Mom even continued BBFWLLT when I was an adult, here in 2010 she sent me a box full of kitchen gadgets. For no real event, just because she loved to give. I miss you dearly, Mom!

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as

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