Overwhelmed with Content?

I wrote a while back about the Blogs at Penn State and how we are now seeing people on campus writing in the open. One of the things I was sharing was a growing sense of un-discoverability with the amount of content being created. We created a self-service directory that allows people to add their blog URL so others can find them. Lots of people asked why we weren’t just exposing all the blogs — it is a simple thing to do, but the feedback we received from a handful of our population was that may not be a great idea. As I watch the directory grow I tend to add people to my feeds in Google Reader and that works fairly well, but there isn’t a ton of filtering that goes on there for me — I have a huge folder of PSU Bloggers now without a whole lot of rhyme or reason to how all the content gets structured for me.

I’ve said it before, my RSS habits have been changing over the last year or so. Especially now that my local community is contributing as much as they are I am struggling with ways to find the best stuff, read it, comment on it, and keep track of it. It really means my RSS reader is stacked with local content and my global RSS reading is on the decline. I have honestly followed a path from local RSS aggregation in NetNewsWire Pro to Google Reader, but I am now searching for ways to go beyond simple aggregation and organization of my feeds. I have been keenly interested in making sense out my community of content and I think I am coming around to the idea that as my community of content grows I may need to lean on that community to help organize it.

I have always loved the digg model to comment sense-making as it relates to smart mob content organization … I always wanted to have that kind of control over content (and control is a funny word to use in this situation). We recently organized a Hot Team to look at Pligg (BTW, this is our first International Hot Team — thanks, D’Arcy!). We’ve been running it for a while around here on a development box trying to get a sense for how it all works … no real customization, just working it to see it in action. I like it quite a bit! I can see it taking a very central place in our ongoing and evolving web strategy. You can take a look at it for yourself.

Pligg is essentially an open source digg toolset that does a couple of things very well and very valuable in this new world of mass-community created content.

  • First, it offers the social ratings features of digg … you have a little bookmarklet that lets you flag posts (sites) that are of interest, enter tags, and submit them into the pligg site. Others can then browse the “upcoming news” and vote for it. As an admin you get to say how many votes moves content into the front page. In a model like this the community gets to decide what is important and what is noise.
  • Second, and perhaps more important to me, is the tool’s ability to act as an aggregator. I can submit RSS feeds for all the sites in the PSU community (or anything) and the content is automatically pulled into the “upcoming news” area for the community to browse and vote on. So in this situation, I could legitimately add several hundred feeds from around the PSU community and watch the posts that the community finds interesting/important/smart/funny rise to the front page.

With that I am leveraging two very important things — the content and interestingness of the community. I have said in the past that one of the reasons I want to see members of my organization writing in the open is to expose the overall intelligence of the group … with pligg aggregating content and the community voting on it I can expose the intelligence of a much larger group. To me that accomplishes a whole bunch of my goals. I am working to understand how it fits into the landscape — and trust me, I’ll be using it in my class next semester as the aggregator of choice for my student’s blogs.

7 thoughts on “Overwhelmed with Content?

  1. I looked at Pligg and tried to register, but I assume you are keeping it closed for now. Is that true? If not, how can I register? Also, I am thinking that it might be cool to try this sort of tool with a class. It would allow us to draw the posts people think are most interesting and important to the top. Right now I just have a simple feed widget on my course blog that pulls from my aggregation of the entire course’s blogs through Google Reader. I also added that aggregated feed to my ANGEL page. However, it might be nice to get more dynamic with all this feeding.

  2. Chris that is exactly what I have been thinking with Pligg — a more interactive way to aggregate feeds. Giving the community a voice via an open blog is one thing, but then giving the collective the ability to drive that content up or down could be very interesting in a class setting. BTW, I think you should be able to register for the instance of Pligg — it does not use PSU access accounts at the moment … just create an account and go.

  3. The digg/pligg approach seems to work well when you have a large number of people reading the same thing and digging it (or not). In the TLT intranets, there aren’t enough people for this to work well, unless you consider something dug by 2 people to be good stuff. and 0 digs bad stuff. Not enough spread in the numbers, IMO.

  4. I agree that in an eco-system that has less than say five people using the environment (as we have now in this trial) the ability to clear view of the importance of a post is negated. What I am eager to see is what happens when 40, 75, 100, or say all 530 ITS staffers get on the bandwagon. There is enough content being generated, there just isn’t enough awareness of sites like this one. I am also very interested in how it will play out in my class next semester — that will be a real interesting test of it all.

  5. I can still see the digg/pligg model working at some level for a smaller class…and Brett, I’d happily read 2s over 0s and 1s if students could actually rate posts. But I might employ an altogether different rating scale as well:
    -adds new information
    -nice synthesis
    -worthless post
    -off topic
    These are just ideas off the top of my head, I know there are real helpful scales out there that have some thought put into them.

    At the Learning Sciences conference in Indiana last year, I saw a great feature on a research discussion board. Students were required to rate each others comments in a threaded discussion space. I’ve wanted this for quite some time. So much of discussions is often “yea, I think so too” drivel that as an instructor, I get to click on and read–only to find out it was yet another uninspired student comment.

    When I saw the comment rating feature in Angel last year, I was so excited and wrote a big treatise in the syllabus on how we’d use it in class. After our first discussion, everyone wondered what the heck I was talking about. I discovered only then that the comment ratings was an instructor-only feature that was tied to the grade book. Aaargh! My students never saw it.

    Bottom line, the concept is great for blogs, but good even at the threaded discussion level. (I’m not sure all class discussion/dialogue is best served by blogs as is sometimes (if even unintentionally) hinted at by us technologists.
    -Joel Galbraith

  6. Pingback: links for 2008-03-30 : Camille’s Conversations

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