Resetting the Reader

Not part of the One Post a Day adventure, but I thought I would just share that I just cleaned my feeds and am at a total zero unread items. I thought it was time to reset the counter a bit. I have a huge couple of weeks coming up with presentations, travel, the Learning Design Summer Camp, One Post a Day content, and a boat load of meetings. One less thing to think about — clean feeds. That should last all of about 10 seconds. I am, however, looking forward to all the PSU One Post a Day content to flow in tomorrow.

The Empty Google Reader!

The Empty Google Reader!

Local Feed2JS

So after a couple of days of talking with people around the office, Brad Kozlek executed a sweet little piece of thinking. He was interested in creating a local version of Feed2JS that would be auto-published by the Blogs at Penn State. The content below is coming right out of his site … still needs a little work as it is only a listing of his latest posts, not the full text like I am really after … but that can’t be that far off. Very cool.

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?

Selective RSS

I haven’t been all that active here for the last few days. I’ve been spending most of my blogging bandwidth testing out the new and improved Blogs at Penn State tools powered by Movable Type 4. It has occupied really all of my blogging budget if you will. With that said I haven’t kept up with much external reading from my Google Reader space either … really just been in meetings, working on stuff, or walking halls talking shop with people. This time of the year the cycles get harder to come by as well … while things are winding down for most in education, this is one of the most compressed and craziest times of the year for me. It has me thinking a lot about where I spend my empty (if they exist) cycles and how to cram more into less. I’m not ready to bail on all of it, but I do need a little space to recharge.

For some reason I found myself at the University’s student newspaper site today, the Daily Collegian. I guess I went there to look at an article a colleague sent me and realized two things — the first is that the whole online paper is pwered by Movable Type and the second is that they have RSS. I figured I might as well add it to the reader … in Safari I clicked the little RSS badge in the URL location bar and got a very interesting contextual menu that gave me the option of subscribing to a number of feeds. If this is old news I am sorry, but I thought that was really a smart way to do things. I grabbed a quick screen shot of it. I wonder how this is done and if others are doing it?


As an update, I had seen my own RSS feed badge produce options before, but they were limited to the three different “brands” of XML my site produces … from early comments and emails it seems it is easy to make it work like the Collegian. My standard contextual menu gives me the following …


In a time when cycles are short, this is the kind of stuff that can help us all be more selective with what we want with much less effort. I just thought it was interesting. The other thing I really liked was the way that they go about describing what RSS is. At the end of the day only about 20% of our students report knowing what RSS is, so this is a nice touch.

As a Public Service, Let Me Repeat that RSS Rocks

I am an idiot. I have been a mad RSS fan for years … I’ve used it to get access to the things I want to read for so long I’ve forgotten what it means to really “surf” the web. RSS Enclosures got me excited from day one, but I have never really grasped what so many others have gotten for far too long — that RSS is pure content. I somehow missed the notion that RSS can provide more than my reader with reusable content — anything in that feed can be used anywhere else.

A couple of weeks ago I watched a screencast by Brian Lamb that gave me the RSS ah-ha moment I had been missing … he showed how simple it is to reuse content across sites from RSS. He used Allan Levine’s Feed2JS site to take a feed and return a simple javascript to allow me to embed that any other place on the web. It seems so simple, but it took watching the screencast to really grasp it. I probably showed that screencast and the resulting technique to 20 people in the last 2-3 weeks … it got me thinking about another little thing that we’ve been talking about for quite some time.

With the Blogs at Penn State pilot fully underway, we wanted a way to easily pull together all the blogs from ETS and display them as a meta blog — a staff perspectives site so to speak. I didn’t want to have to install another tool on one of our servers, I just wanted an easy way to make it all go. Enter Google Reader and its ability to share any content as a meta blog that you have in a tag. So, in Brian Lamb style, I threw together a very quick and dirty screencast showing how to use Google Reader to organize and share a mashed-up meta blog of content under a single tag. Once you start to see how this works, the ability to leverage the XML content of any feed becomes immediately obvious. We actually spent a bunch of time talking about it in the ETS Talk Podcast 24 a couple of weeks ago.

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