Three Things

Coming off my post last night about selective RSS I got several comments and a handful of office “stop bys” this morning that got me thinking more and more about RSS and all things recycled content. It has me looking at three things I think would compliment any educational blogging environment if we start to take the approach of personal content management, ePortfolio, and personal repository. What I am thinking about are three little features:

  1. Enabling the simple creation of multiple RSS feeds
  2. Enabling a “move this post” feature
  3. Enabling an embedded Feed2JS potential

What I would like is the ability to enable the simple creation of multiple RSS feeds from a single blog via the categories/tags system. Imagine a simple checkbox interface that would let me automatically create new feeds based on any of my categories that could then be placed in the head element of the blog so users could easily subscribe to just the content they are after. Sounds silly, but as an instructor if you are using your blog as the center piece to your course lots and lots of content ends up flying at students. If you can get them to subscribe to the RSS feed content gets delivered to them, but at the end of the day there is little way for them to pay attention to specific pieces of information. If, for example, you post all of your assignment instructions to your blog, you could set the category of these to “assignments” and if you have an easy way for them to subscribe to specific category feeds they can easily separate the important assignment posts from other less critical posts. So imagine working with students at the start of the semester to set up a reader with a folder that had feeds from the course blog under categories like, assignments, feedback, resources, links, thoughts, and others … you would effectively give them an easy way to avoid the noise of all the posts and just grab the ones they need. This is clearly easy to do, but creating a simple interface that would allow a blog owner to go into their dashboard and put checkboxes by category items that would then auto generate the feed and the code to make browsers recognize it. That would simplify the whole thing.


I’d like to explore enabling a “move this post” feature that would allow you to quickly republish an existing post to another one of your personal blogs … This idea is one that I remember talking about as part of the old Edison Services blog project we explored back at IST as a “feature Creep Friday” project. It was brought back to life in a more interesting and applied way today while talking with my colleague, Dave Stong. We were talking about a recent ePortfolio meeting we had in which we were discussing the concept of a private/secure personal repository where students could place as much digital content as they wanted to in that would act as a huge body of evidence of learning, development, scholarship, or other. I outlined the concept a couple of weeks ago in another post, but the short version looks like this:

ePort Process

Basically they store everything in the private repository and then selectively pull pieces of content out, reflect on it, and post it to their public ePortfolio. Simple. How nice would it be if we added a simple little tool to every post that would allow a blog owner to use a pull down menu to push that post to another one of their blogs without copy/paste or anything manual. This would effectively create a new instance of the post that could be reflected on in the new location without disrupting the original. Now think about how faculty could use it … a protected blog category to store all assignments, article reviews, thoughts, anything really. Essentially create a single teaching objects repository that only the faculty member could see. As the semester moves along, you could go into your private teaching repository and selectively move things into the current semester’s course blog. You could edit the assignment without effecting the original. Could be a very powerful way to manage content over the long haul. Imagine the graphic below is a screen capture of the bottom of any blog post …


The last little tool I would like to explore focuses on us enabling an embedded Feed2JS potential so it is easy for people to move their content into static locations. I am thinking specifically of how we use ANGEL here at PSU. Editing and storing content in ANGEL works, but isn’t nearly as simple and efficient as storing it in your blog … especially if the second item above is in place. Now imagine every blog has a little pop up that could hand out a snippet of JavaScript that would allow you to easily reuse your blog content in a static site. We’ve installed and use the Feed2JS toolset here in ETS, but my colleague Brad Kozlek was saying how easy it would be to add simple js file that would allow this happen without the need to hit a separate server every time content is updated. The scenario that is most evident has you keeping your content in your blog for obvious reasons … by using the embed code from Feed2JS (or aour static version) you could simply add a page to ANGEL that had that code on it. When a student would visit the page in ANGEL, it would always show the updated blog content as if it were written on the static page. I can think of dozens of ways this could be useful, but it really gets at the reusable content dream lots of us walk around with. If you haven’t tried using this type of feature, check it out for yourself. If you’d like a screen cast how-to I’d be glad to do it.

At any rate, there are three little additions to the blog project that I think could have big downstream benefits. Any thoughts for me?

16 thoughts on “Three Things

  1. I think the current MT allows you to do your first thing quite easily. Here’s a list of the Penn State blogs which use the tag, “RSS”:

    What is interesting is that the search results “adopt” the style of the first search result. I stumbled on this while clicking on “Tag” keywords on my own blog, taking the “blog-id” off the URL and resubmitting it. This works pretty well.

    P.S. Your e-mail validator on the comments form doesn’t allow a “+” in the left hand side of the e-mail address.

  2. Jim … I agree it can do it, what I am proposing is making it so simple that it is obvious — does that make sense? I’d like to take the things we do and understand as major time savers and turn them into instant opportunities to the larger population.

    As far as the + in the email address — you’ll have to help me understand that one. Should my validator accept characters like that?

  3. You can do something close to this in Google Reader… set up folders, or categories, or whatever, then from the Settings > Tags > and then make whichever folders or labels you want to “public”.

    This way, I’ve got my “education” feed at
    and my “moodle” feed at

    Now, I know this is a weird thing, but it comes close (does it?). It’s from the “wrong end” of the system (i.e. in the reader and not the publisher) but it does turn the reader into a publisher… sort of. What do you think?

  4. Ian, it is very close and does provide a nice solution. It is actually what we’ve been promoting to faculty with some success. The problem is that it is on the reader side and not part of the core functionality of the blog itself. I am looking to make some small changes/additions to the features of the individual’s blog to make things easier for both faculty and students. I would love to provide guidance on our platform instead of google’s … know what I mean?

    At the end of the day, the google reader public feed/site feature is killer and provides great opportunity for aggregated content. I’d like something a little more streamlined and controlled by the user on the front end.

    Thanks for the comment!

  5. Perhaps on the author side the ability (maybe there now in WordPress) to generate feeds based on tags, much like any tag or concatenation of tags in automatically has a feed? So I could create any number of custom feeds from selected content. I’d like to have an interface to batch tag previous posts, while we are dreaming.

    The Google Reader share feature is fantastic, but is also limited- you can share but one set of shared items. I’d like to create multiple share sets; seems to me a tag approach might do this– imagine if one could create a list view like GR does, and be able to use some shortcut keys like GR offers to setp through and share/unshare.

    I’m glad to hear you are getting use out of Feed2JS- I’ve not had time/energy in the last year to tend to the code; while it is opensourced and hoisted now on EduForge, I am preparing a call to developers who may be interested in jumping in to improve the code, so let your folks know…

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  7. Hello, Cole,

    Multiple rss feeds based on categories is a core feature of Drupal.

    Additionally, you can use contributed modules to build a very flexible aggregator/remixer that shows the potential to republish (and subsequently redistribute, either via rss, csv, or doc export) this content —

    We have a proof of concept site up at — I put this together in about 8 hours, so this isn’t something that took a lot of time or effort. With some focused time and development, the additional functionality you describe in your post could be built out from this proof of concept.



  8. Bill … thanks for the pointer! We use Drupal for all sorts of things and take full advantage of the multiple feeds. Unfortunately, Drupal is not the platform for our U-wide blogging project — that is reserved for Movable Type. There are times when I wish we could do something as straight forward as Drupal (or even wordpress), but the reality of our infrastructure and population keeps us from going there. The work you have done is very cool. I am thinking of ways to extend a simple platform for our faculty in students that is easy and inviting. The thoughts shared in the comments have been great. Thanks for the comment!

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