Managing Content Through Canonical Links

Doctorow on demanding better technology

One of the challenges with the web can be managing content across multiple sites, one answer, create canonical links and share from there.


In a conversation on Twitter discussing the archiving images and canonical URLs, Amy Burvall explained that much of her work was simply stored on Instagram, which can be problematic. She asks whether I had any other suggestions:

This had me reflecting on all the spaces (or ‘cafes’) where I have seen Amy’s multimedia output,

I am sure there are more I may have missed, but it paints something of a picture. Added to this, not only does she frequent these social spaces, but often in different guieses as well.

One of the things that interests me about Amy’s work is that there is not necessarily a central space. If anything, I would say that it is her WordPress.com blog, but there is not a space where all the different parts are collected together. Although she also has her main site – amyburvall.com – this is more of a landing page design to connect, rather than collect.

Here I am reminded of a recent piece by Cory Doctorow where he reflects on the choices associated with technology. He states:

You don’t have to be “protech” or “anti-tech.” Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how someone could realistically be said to be “anti-tech” – your future is going to have more technology in it, so the question isn’t, “Should we use technology?” but rather, “Which technology should we use?”

Douglas Rushkoff recently made the case against social media being used in schools. I agree with this and wonder we more schools do not create their own spaces. However, I also think that schools on the whole should do more to own their presence. What if they actually collected together their media story in one space. I think that Burvall faces that same conundrum.


There seems to be two schools of thought on this:
PESOS: Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate (to your) Own Site
POSSE: Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere

Dries Buytaert’s graphic provides a useful breakdown of the differences.

I remember when I started down the POSSE path, my focus was simply on my long form posts. I would use Jetpack to share links to Twitter and Google+. This approach however has its limits.

Firstly, Jetpack only provides a certain amount of social media sites provided. Secondly, it does not allow for much nuance in regards to content and how it is shared, particularly with media. The template is set within the code of plugin, with links sent out automatically. There are some ways to manipulate this, whether it be in the text box provided or by adding an excerpt, (an optional field in WordPress.) However, it is neither clear nor consistent.

Having spent some time with Edublogs/Global2, I learnt that Jetpack can be modified. I am not aware though how much you can adjust the code associated with sharing links nor anyone who has done this.

Another automated approach to sharing is through the use of a third-party platforms. The easiest and cheapest of these is IFTTT. It allows users to set up ‘recipes’, connecting various services together. These simply run in the background.

Although IFTTT provides more choice, this can still be limited. There are times when you have to work with the options available to rethink what is possible. I am also sceptical how IFTTT are making their money and whether they will pivot like Storify.

A similar third-party platform is Zapier. What is good about Zapier is that it really breaks down the various options clearly. The only catch with Zapier is the cost.

An alternative that does not rely on a third-party platform is SNAP (Social Network Auto-Poster). This WordPress.org plugin connects with a range of applications within your own site. Although the setup is not as simple as Jetpack or IFTTT (you are required to get your own API Keys), there are clear instructions provides to walk users through connecting each application.

Where Jetpack is fine for sharing links, it quickly becomes frustrating when trying to use your blog to share different forms of multimedia. SNAP provides an array of ingredients that can be used to create templates:

  • %TITLE% – Inserts the Title of the post
  • %URL% – Inserts the URL of the post
  • %SURL% – Inserts the shortened URL of your post
  • %IMG% – Inserts the featured image URL
  • %EXCERPT% – Inserts the excerpt of the post (processed)
  • %RAWEXCERPT% – Inserts the excerpt of the post (as typed)
  • %ANNOUNCE% – Inserts the text till the Continue reading

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Hidden in the Code

A quote about URLs from Tom Woodward

This is a collection of code that I often turn to when working with WordPress


Every time that I feel comfortable with my level of knowledge associated with WordPress, there is a problem that leads me to discover a particular attribute that I don’t know how I lived without. This time it is the code seemingly obfuscated beyond the WYSIWIG editor and the dashboard.

For some this code is about command line, while others it is about the bashing out the building blocks. My interest here is the everyday code, the little snippets that find there way in here or there while I work with WordPress, many of which have come from wandering through Chris Aldrich’s commonplace blog:

Webmentions

Webmentions are the building block for conversations across the web. However, with WordPress, they often get caught in moderation and/or flagged as spam by Akismet and other spam filter plugins. To prevent this, you can add this PHP snippet to your theme’s functions.php file:

function unspam_webmentions($approved, $commentdata) { return $commentdata['comment_type'] == 'webmention' ? 1 : $approved; } add_filter('pre_comment_approved', 'unspam_webmentions', '99', 2);

Alan Levine has documented the process of creating a child theme, which is useful when customising the code, while Gregor Morrill has developed code to approve webmentions from domains previously approved.

Microformats

Microformats is a data format built upon adopted standards and prior developments. There are a number of specifications, which can be manually added within the existing HTML. It provides the foundation for software to automatically process information. People like [David

Shanske](https://github.com/dshanske/twentysixteen-indieweb) and Matthias Pfefferle have developed plugins and themes to mark-up content in the backend. You can also use this site to check the microformats on your site, while for a more extensive introduction, listen to Tantek Çelik on the future of web apps.

Two microformats I have worked with are comments and rel=me.

Comment

Although the appropriate microformats are usually built into the Webmentions plugin. The plugin for theaded comments can be a bit more tempremental. [Chris Aldrich](http://boffosocko.com/2017/12/15/threaded-replies-with-webmentions-in-wordpress/] recommends manually adding the reply class and URL just to make sure:

 <a class="u-in-reply-to" href="http://www.example.com"></a>

I have come to do this out of habit for replies now.

Rel-me

Another microformat incorperated into many Indieweb sites is Rel-me. It is used to consolidate identity, as well as domain sign in.

<ul> <li><a href="https://twitter.com/aaronpk" rel="me">@aaronpk on Twitter</a></li> <li><a href="https://github.com/aaronpk" rel="me">Github</a></li> <li><a href="https://google.com/+aaronpk" rel="me">Google</a></li> <li><a href="mailto:me@example.com" rel="me">me@example.com</a></li></ul>

Chris Aldrich has taken rel-me to its extremes by creating a page in which he records all his accounts. I have also started my own. For more on rel-me, watch Ryan Barrett’s keynote at IndieWeb Summit 2017.

Page Bookmarks

I remember coming across in plugin in Edublogs that allowed you to add a table of contents. This reminded me of the functionality in Google Docs and one of the things I noticed in both was the presence of a hashtag at the end of the URL. (Interestingly, now every heading in Google Docs has a unique identifier automatically created.) In Docs, this is something that can be added using the Bookmark feature, I wondered if the same could be done in WordPress. I discovered that within the tags, you insert ‘name=”unique-name”‘:

<a name="unique-name">Target Text</a>

This can then be used to guide readers to a specific point in your text.

Custom URLs for Post Kinds

Using the Post Kinds plugin provides a list a unique urls associated with the kinds of posts on the site. Chris Aldrich provides some guides in how to use these to create custom urls to generate a specific post screen. This can then be used to create a bookmarklet:

 http://example.com/wp-admin/post-new.php?kind=bookmark&kindurl=@url

Dariusz Kuśnierek provides some other examples of custom URLs, which help in U deratamding the way urls work in general.

RSS Feeds

RSS provides a means of following a site without checking in all of the time. To access a feed to follow in WordPress, you simply add ‘/feed/’ to the end:

http://www.example.com/feed

As some feeds can contain a range of content, it is possible to hone down to particular categories by adding ‘?cat=[category id]’ to the end.

http://www.example.com/feed?cat=[category id]

This can be useful if you only want to follow a specific subject or area.

Taking this a step further, you can also produce an RSS based on Post Kinds. Although not all blogs use these, for those that do it can be a useful demarcation. Similar to categories, you add ‘?kind=type’ to the end of the feed.

http://www.example.com/feed/?kind=bookmark 

For more on RSS feeds, see this post from Chris Aldrich.

OPML

Where as RSS is used for a single feed, OPML allows a user to aggregate. I have written about them before. It is possible to store an OPML in WordPress. To access this you add the append ‘/wp-links-opml.php’ to the end.

http://www.example.com/wp-links-opml.php

In addition to this, Chris Aldrich has documented how to split a file into categories:

?link_cat=[category id]

I have yet to categorise my links, however Aldrich provides an extensive example.


So what about you? What little bits of code do you use? As always, comments welcome.


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Co-claiming and Gathering Together – Developing Read Write Collect

Chris Aldrich on developing a better web

A reflection on developing a site building upon the ideas of the #IndieWeb to bring together all my disparate pieces around the web in one place.


Just when I thought I had enough sites, I decided to create another one. A feed that could be used in a platform like Micro.blog. My intent this time was to create a space where I could reclaim my pieces on the web. In part I was inspired by Tom Woodward’s API driven portfolio, as well as Alan Levine’s concept of co-claiming.

I was also interested in exploring the possibility of WordPress beyond the standard post format and the implications that this has with the choice of themes. Associated with this, I wondered if there was a possibility of automating the sharing of content created elsewhere, such as videos and images.

I started the site by creating three key categories: participation, posts and creations. Each offering the potential to be broken down further.

Participation

My first step was to focus on presentations and publications. This involved transferring my various slides, resources and publications from a single page on my main blog to separate posts. The focus on one page worked in the beginning, but started to become busy as more and more items were added, even if I added Page Jumps.

My next step was to capture the various references and contributions on the web. Similar to what Audrey Watters does with her ‘In the News’ posts. These extracts include:

Although I am still thinking about how I could visually present all these posts to tell a clearer story, as Tom Woodward and Ian O’Byrne have done, I think splitting them into individual posts is more functional. It also means that when I present I can link to resources that might be kept on an event page, rather than continually update a particular blog post all the time.

Posts

When I started Read Write Collect, I wondered about creating a feed of all my posts, whether it be on social media, my Wikity site, contributions to other blogs and posts from this blog. I also wanted to somehow automate this process.

I started by dragging in content from sites that I was no longer using. For example, a few years ago, I created an instance of Known for shorter, incomplete thoughts and ideas. It was framed around the question of ‘what if’? I decided to import this content.

I also decided to make a copy of my two newsletters (Read Write Respond and eLearn Updates) posted in third-party sites, such as Tiny Letter and Global2. I was not sure whether to publish these or to keep them private. However, I made them public and maybe will stop using those other spaces when I have worked out a clear workflow.

In regards to other content spread around the web, such as my Diigo bookmarks and Wikity cards, I have yet to work out how I will manage these pieces. I started exploring Zapier and some built-in solutions, but have since fallen back to IFTTT. I am mindful though of depending on third-party solutions.

For the posts on this site, I have yet to find a workflow I am happy with. In part, I am unsure what Post Kind I should use – Article or Bookmark – and how I would structure each post. I guess I could close the comments and provide a summary, this is something Doug Belshaw does when sharing his DML Central articles, but I am not sure how I would do this for all my 400+ posts, especially as writing extracts has only been a new addition to my process.

It feels that the further I have dived into the site, the more my priorities changed. I began to explore other aspects of the #IndieWeb. I had installed the plugin when I set the site up, something I had done with this site and had therefore done out of habit. However, I started to wonder what else I could do. My desire to automate was replaced by an interest in control over my presence. This led me to start replying to posts from my blog. Although it can be argued that this process involves more effort, it has resulted in me being more mindful of the comments that I leave. This is something Chris Aldrich touches upon in his introduction to the IndieWeb.

Many in the IndieWeb community have found that they post more interesting and thoughtful pieces of content when they’re doing it on their own site rather than the “throw away” content they used to post to sites like Twitter. They feel a greater sense of responsibility and ownership in what they’re posting about and this can have a profound effect on the future of the internet and its level of civility.

It also touches on Audrey Watters’ call for a more ethical (and equitable) practice in her rethinking of comments:

It’s perfectly acceptable to say to someone who wants to comment on a blog post, “Respond on your own site. Link to me. But I am under no obligation to host your thoughts in my domain.”

I would like to think that as there is more take-up of the microformats standards that things like this will become more of the norm as further generations take it up.

Creations

The other pieces that I wanted to collect together were my various creations on the web, whether they be images, videos and audio. I have tinkered with posting to Flickr before with another Known instance, but gave up when it seemed to break. I think that this was as much frustration at the workflow as it was lack of perseverance. I therefore wonder about co-claiming by posting to Flickr and then collecting a weekly or even monthly summary on my own site. I know that this is something Tom Woodward does. As with my bookmarks, I am currently tinkering with IFTTT for this, but would like my own solution in the long run.

Like Flickr, I find publishing to YouTube an easier solution in regards to the few videos that I have. One of my interests was exploring the possibility to generate posts for older videos. Although IFTTT will create a post for videos just published, I was after an automated workflow that might go back through a channel and produce a post for each video. I found a plugin that said it would do it, but I have not managed to get it to do anything so am sceptical about purchasing the premium version. I also tested out posting via RSS, but this failed to embed the content.

In addition to images and video, I have been a long contributor to other people’s podcasts, but never really found the time and space to do my own. I was therefore taken by the idea of microcasting. The intent behind microcasting is that recordings are meant to be short recordings with minimal production. I have therefore taken to recording with Voxer and posting the MP3 in a post. I also syndicate this to Huffduffer so that others can listen as a podcast.


So that is my new site so far. In my next iteration, I am interested in investigating ‘Post Kinds to further to document other elements, such as what I am listening to and reading, especially in regards to long reads. This may replace my Awesome Tables, especially if they start charging. I am also interested in capturing more of my creations, such as my Instagram posts and gifs shared at Giphy. I am not sure if that constitutes a ‘commitment‘, but it is at least a start.

So what about you? What is something you are working on at the moment? Do you have any thoughts and suggestions for my new space? As always, comments welcome.


Also posted on IndieNews


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Zen and the Art of Blog Maintenance

An explanation of why maintaining your own space is so important

This is a reflection on my recent challenges associated with maintaining a blog and an explanation of why I persist in doing it.


I got talking with some of technical designers in my workplace recently. I was inquiring about the plausibility of a few ideas I was thinking about. I did not want to commit myself to something that was doomed from the outset. The question was then asked, “But you’re not a coder, right?” Technically, I guess I am not. I have developed a few solutions, in part based on code appropriated from others, but could I develop something from scratch. I guess not. This for me raises the question, in a world which coding is bandied around as the 21st Century literacy, what does it mean to code and be a coder? Is it about a broad understanding of the mechanics and meaning or is it the ability to make and do? Can these even be separated?

This problem raised its head again this week as I tried to fix a problem occurring with two of my sites. I was not receiving linkbacks from other sites. Although webmentions were coming through, there were mentions within blogs that were not even going through to my spam folder. Of course, this is not going to ‘break the web’, but it means that I am missing some of the conversations from those sending from their site.

I came upon the issue after receiving a few messages from people saying that their messages were being rejected or not flowing through. This was occurring in both directions, with my pings seemingly sending emails, but not properly flowing through to posts and comments. Here then are some of the steps I took to investigate. I share these with the hope that I can learn more about these problems, but also to record the steps for future reflection. They are in no way sequential and have been separated for the sack of representing them in a meaningful manner:


In the end, I decided to turn the Semantic Linkbacks plugin back on and see how it went. To my surprise, things seemed to work. I will continue to tinker and investigate. It is a reminder why I have a Domain of One’s Own. As Martha Burtis points out,

Learning WordPress should not just be about learning WordPress — it should also be about all the tacit lessons that go along with learning how to publish online in an open-source Web application.

I know that at anytime that the Facebooks and Wixs are waiting to greet me with open arms and every day I resist. So what about you? What have been your experiences? As always comments welcome, even more so from your own blog.


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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


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

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


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

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.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

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.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

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.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

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.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

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


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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