My #IndieWeb Reflections

Dan Gillmor on Indieweb as an alternative

I have been meaning to elaborate on my thoughts on #IndieWeb for a while. Chris Aldrich’s recent post outlining a proposal for a book spurred me to finish jotting down my notes and reflections.


I find #indieweb hard to explain. In part I would describe it as an alternative way of working on the web, a collaborative community and a technical solution. I can’t remember exactly when I first came upon it. I know thought it was associated with the concept of POSSE. It was probably a part of Connected Courses and my move to Reclaim Hosting. Twitter tells me that my initial investigations were associated with Known.

What interested me was the potential to extend and own my presence on the web. Initially, I posted to Flickr from a Known instance and pulled in comments from Twitter and Google+ with the #IndieWeb WordPress Plugin(s).

More recently I have become interested in exploring ‘post kinds’ as I continue to investigate ways that I can better manage my presence on the web. In particular, I like the idea of sending comments from my site, but have yet to either master some of the technical aspects or develop a suitable workflow.

I must admit, I still get lost with some of the mechanics. I wonder sometimes if this is because I am balancing multiple spaces. I would like to better understand how the various platforms and plugins work. For example, what is the difference between Known, Micro.Blogs and WordPress? What does Bridgy do? Are there any limitations to it? For example, can I connect it with more than one space, particularly in regards to Twitter. I also find more solace in reading various reflections, listening to weekly updates and think that the main site has come along way, especially in outlining the different entry points. I think that the addition of a book would be a valuable resource. As always, I am still investigating.

So what about you? Have you had any experiences with the IndieWeb? Do you have any thoughts and comments that you would share with Chris Aldrich?


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A Blog For All Seasons


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Different blogging platforms enable different possibilities. Here is an account of some examples that I have created over time and the intent behind them.

A blog is not a blog. This was the point that I tried to make my last post. Although it can be good to keep everything in one space, this often misses something. Each platform enables different features and possibilities. Therefore, it can be useful to create spaces for different purposes.

One way of looking at this is from the point-of-view of the canonical URL. This is a concept that Doug Belshaw lives by.

Unless it contains sensitive information, publish your work to a public URL that can be referenced by others. This allows ideas to build upon one another in a ‘slow hunch’ fashion. Likewise, with documents and other digital artefacts, publish and then share rather than deal with version control issues by sending the document itself.

A part of working openly, the idea is that everything you do has a unique URL and dependent on the task dictates the platform. For Belshaw, this means having a site for his general thoughts, business, thesis, digital literacies, philosophical musings and sharing resources. This includes the use of wikis, WordPress, SvbtleGithub website and Known.
To make more sense of the different possibilities associated with blogs, here is a breakdown of my own spaces:

  • Read Write Respond – This is my main site. Here I publish my lengthier thoughts (like this one). It has also replaced my About.Me page. I initially made the move to WordPress.Org as a part of my migration to Reclaim Domain. However, now I would not have it any other way.
  • Read Write Wikity – Built on Mike Caulfield’s Wikity platform, this space is about developing knowledge over time. It is an extension on social bookmarking.
  • Read Write Collect – A space to document my varied experiences and publications.
  • #WhatIf – Interested in the possibilities and potential of Known, I started a short blog to record ‘What Ifs’. This is partly influenced by Amy Burvall’s #rawthoughts and Ian O’Byrne’s own short blog IMHO.
  • Read Write Tumbl – By it’s nature, Tumblr is about sharing media. Beyond syndicating my blog posts, which I do out of habit more than anything else, I share my Flickr images via IFTTT, as well as my Giphy creations.
  • Reading Writing Responding -This is where my blogging journey began. I chose Blogger out of interest as to how many things I could do with my Google account. It did the job. I still have this blog as I could not bring all my comments across as they were stuck in Google+. I sometimes tinker with it too. For example, I recently turned Adsense on recently just to see what would happen.
  • 365 Beginnings – Initially created to experiment with WP.Com. I toyed with the idea of a 365 project, where I would take an image and headline from that day and try and imagine the story behind it. I loved it and still love the idea, but it was just too much to maintain.
  • eBox – This Global2/Edublogs blog was developed as a space to share tips and tricks associated with eSmart and digital pedagogies. My predecessor had created a section in the school newsletter with the same name to disseminate information, but I wanted something that was more asynchronous and that provided the opportunity for different voices. Many of these posts have also found their way into my main blog.
  • Class Blogs – Over the years I have created a range of class blogs using Edublogs. Some acted as hubs for student blogs, others as a space to share and promote the work completed in class. They are always a good space to model learning too.
  • Humanities Blog – A colleague and I set up a space to share resources. Apart from a few random posts and a review of Making Thinking Visible – it has not really taken.
  • BIM Blog – During the last few years, my school has set out on a journey to explore and implement a new instructional model. One of the issues that arose early was the challenge to get everyone on the same page. A part of the problem was finding a shared space to collect resources and reflections. I setup a blog and there were a few teachers who took it up. However, with changes in staff and some left feeling a little confused, the network share drive won the day.
  • Humanities Times – As a part of an investigation for Humanities into the refugee crisis, we used a Global2 blog for students to share different stories from the media. The intent was for students to develop both a deeper awareness of the problem, as well as an appreciation of the enormity of it all.
  • Inquire Within – I have also posted at Edna Sackson’s wonderful collaborative WordPress blog Inquire Within. I must admit, I haven’t shared their recently as I am never quite sure which of my posts fit.
  • Other Spaces – I have postings at a few other sites, including BAM Network where I often share practical activities and applications, as well as a few guest posts at Peter DeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground.

So that is me, my collection of blogs, each with their own context. What about you? What are the different spaces that you use? What was involved in making the choices? As always, comments welcome.


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A Comprehensive Guide to Blogging Platforms and their Niches


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The term blog derives from ‘web log’ and was initially coined to describe “discrete entries (posts) typically displayed in reverse chronological order.” This though has evolved over time. Now it incorporates a range of different tools for creating and communicating. Having said this, they often come back to a core set of features.

In a presentation written during the heyday of weblogs, Dave Winer unpacks these core features. At a basic level, Winer says that it all comes back to:

  • A single voice
  • Publishing descriptions and content
  • Identifying each post with a permalink
  • Allowing for comments
  • Archived and organised chronologically

Beyond this list, Winer touches on a range of what he describes as core elements. This includes how descriptions and posts are rendered, the infrastructure used to connect, the type of content allowed and the way content is outlined, including the use of blogrolls.

Although written over ten years ago, these  features have not really changed. Some may have been removed or others given precedence, but the structure remains the same. What I think is significant is that in some respect everything is optional. It is this fluidity that make each tool unique. So here is a summary of some of the different tools available, what they enable and where their biases lie.

WordPress

The most common blogging platform, WordPress is said to be responsible for a quarter of the webpages online. One of the reasons for the popularity of WordPress is the versatility provided through the plugin architecture and theme templates. Whether it be adapting posts or pages, tags or categories, it offers many possibilities. Another reason for the success is that it is open source, therefore anyone can fork it and develop it further. Subsequently, because of this adaptability there are a few different iterations that have developed over time.


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WordPress.Org

WordPress.org is the open version that anyone can self-host. As a platforms, it allows you to not only deploy a wide range of themes and plugins, but also make your own modifications to the code. In turn, you can turn the site into whatever you like. You only need to look at the work of Alan Levine to get a feel for what is possible, including the DS106 Assignment Bank, SPLOT Project and Photo Gallery and Presentation Blog. This freedom comes at a cost as it means that you need to be more mindful of backing up, system updates and site security.

Further Resources

  • Beginner’s Guide to WordPress – An extensive collection of tutorials to everything associated to WordPress. There are many modifications amd workarounds that are not usually found on more generalised sites.
  • WordPress.org – The place to go when looking for general support material, as well as reviews of themes and plugins.
  • Cog Dog Blog – Although not solely focused on blogging, Alan Levine often includes detailed posts outlining things that he has done with WordPress. I find this useful in making sense of what is possible.
  • Getting Started on WordPress (IndieWeb) – The IndieWeb is a space that has been set up to support users in taking more ownership of their presence online through the use of various plugins.
  • (Re)Claiming My Space on the Web – A reflection on my experience in transferring from Blogger to WordPress.org via Reclaim Domain.
  • Why WordPress? The 2016 Version – Still a Fan – Tom Woodward reflects on why WordPress is still his platform of choice.


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WP.Com

Unlike a self-hosted instance, WordPress.com provides a more secure, hassle-free service. This means that there are limited themes, no direct change to the code within the template and only select plugins available through the premium plan. The benefit is that system updates and backing up are taken care of in the background, however unless you upgrade this means advertisements on your page.

Further Resources

  • Self Hosted WordPress vs. Free WordPress ­ Explanation of the differences between free WordPress and self­hosted (which the school website is).
  • WordPress.com Support – A collection of support material associated with WP.com. It touches on topics such as publishing, customising and connecting.
  • Easy WP Guide – An extensive step-by-step guide to WordPress, unpacking each element.


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Edublogs

An educational blogging network, Edublogs is a version of WordPress somewhere between .org and .com. It provides a safe and secure platform with a range of benefits, such as secure plugins, the ability to moderate posts and comments, as well as excellent support. The downside is that you are sometimes limited as to what you can do based on the plan you are on.

Further Resources

  • The Edublogger – A community blog sharing everything associated with Edublogs, whether it be blogging with students or simply the latest updates and changes.
  • The Edublogs User Guide – As Global2 is a part of the Edublogs community, this user guide can be useful when trying to figure out some of the different intricacies.
  • 10 Ways To Use Edublogs To Teach – A video unpack some more possibilities to consider when it comes to blogs.
  • Global2 – A collection of resources associated with Global2.
  • Your Global2 Blog by John Pearce – A presentation unpacking everything from tags to widgets. A good run through of all the different things to consider.


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Kidblog

Another student blogging platform, Kidblog provides a safe and simple environment for students to communicate. One of the selling points is that the teacher as administrator is able to seemingly control everything. This includes passwords, post moderation, levels of access, categories and custom widgets. In addition to this, classes are able to connect with other classes without even leaving Kidblog. The benefit of all of this is that is that it allows students to focus on sharing. The problem though is that in making the process so seamless, students are deprived of the hard fun involved in actually creating your own space or keeping up-to-date with other blogs. Of concern, there are no plugins available to support exporting content for the purpose of backing up.

Further Resources


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Blogger

Blogger is a relatively straightforward platform. It provides a range of options, such as HTML and tags, but tries not to overly complicate things (a complaint often made about WordPress.)  In regards to infrastructure, it has a simple back-end. Although it is easy to use, this in part comes at the cost of versatility and individuality. You can adjust themes by adding in widgets and how they sit on the page, while you can add CSS code to make some changes. However, you do not have the ability to make the wholesale changes like with WordPress.Org, therefore there is a certain repetition when it comes to overall templates.

Owned by Google, there are benefits of direct connection to services such as Adsense and Google+. Subsequently, comments can be connected with Google+, while you are also able to easily link to other Google+ users. This can though be problematic if you decide to move services. Beyond these connections there are no plugins.

In the end, Blogger is a great place to start if you already use other Google products. However, there is always the fear that Google may decide to moth ball the service as they did with Google Reader. There is also the chance at any time that Google may close your site down if you have breached any of the terms and conditions.

Further Resources


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Tumblr

On face value, Tumblr seems no different to any other blogging service. It allows users to publish various types of content, as well as continue the conversation through comments. In regards to the infrastructure, the dashboard is fairly simple, while when it comes to themes you can either choose from those provided or customise your own using the HTML editor. For many, the draw card is the visual archive which is somewhat unique to Tumblr.

Where Tumblr differs from other services is the sense of community created around the culture of follows, likes and reblogs baked into the code. Although platforms like Blogger and WordPress have a space dedicated to following other blogs, the visual nature entices engagement. Associated with this, you are able to drag in media from elsewhere. Tumblr is very much a curated space. A creative repository of the web. As a site it exists somewhere between Twitter in regards to its open feed, Pinterest with its visual layout and Known in its celebration of the short form.

Further Resources


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Known

A lightweight publishing service, Known provides the means to share a range of content. It is fully responsive and is easily accessible via the browser. As a platform, it offers a range of possibilities, such as a digital locker that you syndicate elsewhere, a community space for people to connect or as a more personal short blog. Compared to other offerings, Known’s strength is not necessarily in its appearance, but rather what it allows you to do. With the ideal being to help people to take more control of their online presence it integrates with a range of other services. Due to this intended flexibility, you very much create your own iteration. Want comments, enable them. Want multiple users, enable them. Want to customise things using CSS, enable it. Through the plugins you are able to truly personalise the space to your particular needs. In addition to this, as it is open sourced it has been designed to be forked allowing for many other nuances.

Further Resources


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Medium

For some, Medium represents a blogging ideal. A one stop shop where you can post, comment, highlight, bookmark, collaboratively drafts and connect with different users. There are two glaring problems with this. Firstly, if you want to exist outside of Medium it is not made easy. Alan Levine has documented his efforts to make sense of the RSS feed, while you are unable to download your content in a form that is usable. The second matter is the feel of the space. There is little room for personalisation, while you are limited to the basics of text formatting. (I should.recognise that some like Mike Caulfield explain that there are benefits in bare basics formatting.) In addition to this, the profile pages are somewhat limiting.

With all this said and done, I think that Dave Winer sums up the problem with Medium best when he warns about it becoming the consensus platform. Like with Kidblog, the move away from the open web for the sack of convenience risks putting control in somebody else’s hands. It is for this reason that I always recommend posting elsewhere first before sharing Medium.

Further Resources


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Weebly

Similar in some respects to Storify, Weebly involves dragging and dropping various elements in order to create your content. Whether it be a title, a video, contact form and custom HTML you simply place the parts together like a jigsaw. This means creating a blog requires little expertise. In regards to the overall layout, there are a range of customizable pages, for some the simplicity within these can be frustrating.

Like WordPress.com the basic plan is free. However, this comes with advertisement. The different plans come with greater benefits. While like Kidblog, Weebly Education also lets you create 40 student accounts for free with no student emails required or advertisements.

Further Resources


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Seesaw

A content management system that works across all platforms, Seesaw provides the means to capture learning in a range of forms. Like spaces such as Edmodo, you can create groups and classes. However, what is different is that even with just one iPad in a classroom you can quickly allocate artefacts to different students. Recently, they added a new blogging feature. This allows you to curate student content in a central group space and post it out as a blog. As with most educational platforms, there is the facility to moderate posts. In regards to overall contents, parents have the power to download their child’s content, while schools that have subscribed to Seesaw for Schools have the ability to do a bulk download of.the student data. It is unclear where blog posts fit within all of this. Interestingly, there are many similarities with Kidblog, from the connections to the lack of RSS.

Further Resources


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Google+

Another alternative to the usual short informal forms, such as Known and Tumblr, is Google+. A social media platform, Google+ is designed to connect together different products, such as YouTube, Google Photos and Blogger. It is divided into three parts: collections, communities and the main stream. Whichever section you post in, you are able to incorporate different content type, including images, videos and links. It also allows for the use of hashtags within the writing. There is no avenue to embed content within a post.

What is unique about using Google+ as a platform is the ability to specifically control who sees what is posted. Basically, you can post for specific people, a circle, a community or simply for the public. In regards to reading, you are able to see a summary of someone’s viewable posts in the profile feed, while you can also use third party application to generate an RSS feed. Like Medium, there is little means for changing the look and feel of the site.

Further Resources


The reality is that there are many other blogging options available. Some educators use secure spaces like Scootle Community, others utilise different social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. Some utilise different services. like Storify, to suit their purpose, while others take a more nuanced approach, installing services like 1999.io or Pelican  and going from there.

In the end, it comes back to purpose. If I were starting out with blogging, either personally or as a class, I would sign up to Edublogs. They provide fabulous support, either through the Edublogger blog or via the likes of Ronnie Burt and Sue Waters. The next step personally would be to purchase your own space online and install your own instance of WordPress. This not only provides control over data, but also more options in regards to what is possible. Although this requires a little more effort, there are enough educators out there ready to help that it makes it achievable if you are willing to dive in. Another option when self-hosting a site is to use Known. Like WordPress, Known is open source. Although a seemingly simple site, it offers to possibility to build the web, but also own your presence there. It all depends on context.

So what about you? What service do you use? Why? Have you used any other platforms in the past? As always, I would love to know. Feel free to leave a comment?


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Who’s Telling Your Story – An Introduction to Storify


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One of the biggest challenges in regards to digital literacies is who is telling your story? It can be argued that if we don’t take ownership of your own narrative, then someone will tell it for us. This is what is meant when people ask whether you have Googled yourself. Doug Belshaw talks about being mindful of the way in which tools shape the way we think and interact, I feel that we also need to be mindful of the way in which they tell also tell our stories for us.

One way in which we tell our story is by curating it. Heather Bailie suggests that in regards to digital literacies our focus has moved from the traditional idea of read, write and react, to a focus on being able to create, curate and contemplate. Often we talk about social bookmarking as a means for curating content and ideas. This could include sharing links to a digital magazine, like Flipboard, or adding to an online repository, such as Diigo. However, such collections have their limits. Although they may provide a means for communicating and commenting, they are often best considered as a resource you can mine at a later date. For a more extensive discussion of curation, see Sue Waters post.

A different means of telling your story is through blogging. As a medium, blogging offers so many different possibilities. Maybe you want to reflect upon things. Maybe you have media you want to share, more often than not you can simply embed it. Maybe you don’t like the structure and layout of the platform, then go find another one, there are enough. The reality is the possibilities with blogging are limitless and often only confined by your imagination. For example, a relatively new open sourced platform that I have started exploring is Known. I think that it offers something in-between twitter and long form blogging in my own space.

A medium which is a bit different to traditional blogging, but offering the same creative potential, is Storify. Designed to help make sense of what people post on social media. Not only does it provide the means to curate information from different platforms and places, but it also provides the means to fill in the story. Some of the different curations I have seen include:

Although you can search for content within Storify, the tendency is to use hashtags to collect ideas and information. You can then either share the Storify product or embed it within a blog.

For a short guide to curating a story with Storify, watch the following video:

So what about you, what are the ways that you are telling your story? I would love to know.

 


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