January 14, 2007

Wherefor the wiki in ScotEduBlogs?

The ScotEduBlogs wiki was set up just over a year ago to allow anyone to add their blog to a relevant Local Authority page, browse other blogs in their area and, using the front page, send messages on gatherings to the larger community.

The latest developments from three of that community - Robert, John and Peter - are interesting in the form of ScotEduBlogs.org.uk. The main improvements are:

  • tagged blogs - people can find your blog quickly by the interests you describe your blog as covering (I like the drilling down through multiple tags)
  • a simple blog submission form - it's difficult to leave out useful information by accident when you've got a form to fill in, but it's difficult to offer additional information which might be of interest.

It's a work in development showing some great promise but there are a few things that the wiki provided, and which have been hugely useful tools, but which appear to be missing form this one.

1. Editable pages and Scots'EduBlogs

The fact that every page in the ScotEduBlogs wiki is editable means that the front page could be used to highlight the ScotEduBlogs meetup and TeachMeet events. It was also easy for any member to create a new page to cover these events and organise them.

Without an integrated ScotEduBlogs wiki - or even one active link back to the original - we lose one of the most important factors there has been in creating the burgeoning group of connectors and persuaders in Scotland's social media world: face-to-face meetups which are organically organised by everyone who attends. I hope that the guys don't forget to build this in.

2. Content control - who's 'in charge'?

I can't add this element myself since I don't have access to the URL or the site - on the wiki everyone does - and I don't have the not insignificant expertise to code the site's content. This is the second payoff with the site. There might be something slightly prettier to look at but the downside is that, currently, the average ScotEduBlogger has no control over what appears on the pages or what appears from their blog content. With the wiki, we are all fond of saying, you can change what you want: "If you know how to use Word, you can change the page". With ScotEduBlogs.org.uk it's Open Source, provided you've got the computer science to understand what on earth the coding all means ;-)

Moreover, some blogs are having their content replicated entirely on the news page of the site. This is potentially quite destructive, effectively removing the notion of conversation since the comments button, the comments themselves and the connected posts within that blog are not presented through the news portal. It also takes 9 out of 10 of the audience away from those blogs which, in turn, might reduce the desire of some edublogging teachers and students to continue their work. If someone's going to partially quote my blog, fine, but in blogging they join the conversation, they add to my thoughts with their own. If they're going to rip off my entire post and not add anything, expect an email ;-)

3. Aggregation vs Editorial

I am aware that most people don't use a feed reader and so the news page of the ScotEduBlogs.org.uk site is a welcome addition to our world. However, the way an aggregation site becomes the feed or homepage of choice for people is because of what it adds to the blogs those punters will start subscribing to or visiting directly once they're hooked. I want some framing, some analysis, some back story, some connections to be made for me if I'm just jumping into the conversation now.

This is something which requires more than coding - it needs good editorial. It's a tall order for any project, but easiest probably for an open project. It would also be a real improvement on the wiki and perhaps start to appeal to those who don't understand where some of the blog conversations come from until they are given the full story. The site would also have the ownership transferred from the owner of the .org.uk domain name to those writing the news on the site.

These are just a few of my tuppences for the guys to consider, but I wonder if there are other things a community site should be doing or if there are other ways a community site can have larger appeal. Any ideas?

Comments

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Is the wiki to continue? I don't know that I'd be interested in finding my way through that new site - all these pages to find thingummy's blog. If it ain't broke don't fix it - especially if there's no good reason other than cosmetic or "look what we can do".

Hi Ewan,
A lot to think about there I'll get back to you once my slow brain has processed it all.

Chris, I see no reason not to continue the wiki.
As it seems to be a blog post of mine which have caused Robert and Pete to work their socks off on this project, I think your "look what we can do" comment sounds a little hostile.
As I see it the wiki is wonderful for discussion and planning. My problem with it was it was getting hard to keep track of all the blogs. I am already finding it a great resource to see the latest posts on (nearly) all of the scotsedublogsphere.

I'll need to take some more time to reflect before replying to Ewan's post. But to Ewan's Mum Chris I would say that cosmetics are the last thing on our mind with the scotedublogs.org.uk site. It adds the following valuable funcions:

OPML file generation, so that you can, with a couple of clicks, add all the blogs you choose into your own feed reader. This was not possible with the wiki.

Aggregated RSS feeds. If you want to keep an eye on all the new posts from maths scribepost blogs in the system, just subscribe to this feed. You can choose any combination of tags, and get just the feed you want.

I'm not surprised that you didn't realise these features existed, but I'm a bit disappointed by your rush to judgement, and your personal attack upon our motivation for doing this.

I don't think any of the project is a "look at what we can do" at all. In the grand scheme of things it's a modest project bringing some great wee additions that are useful for those of us trying to get more people reading a larger variety of blogs. However, what Chris says is vital to take on board. Don't get precious about the language used - this is a genuine user and her views must be reflected beyond just her laptop. On the web projects I work on at LTS, the BBC and so on we have to translate language far more abrupt than this to turn it into a better product.

I look forward to having a conversation about the other points I raised, though, and seeing where I or LTS might be able to help in making new ideas come through. Thanks, Robert and John, for putting your feet in the conversation door ;-)

Wee points on what you said:

1. Editable pages and Scots'EduBlogs
We need to distinguish the purpose of what is essentially a blog search engine from a wiki about blogs, and link the two closely. You're right that we lose flexibility, but we also provide new ways of accessing current, live content on whatever topic we want a wiki page on - boon and a bonus, I say!

2. Content control - who's 'in charge'?

This is the fundamental web2.0 question. This is mine, this is yours, but we share it. No one can edit the news page because it's just aggregated from lots of people. But we will aim to allow read/write access to additional information about blogs (beyond tagging, stats, text search of posts and so on of course ;) ).

The facility I think we're missing just now is the "claiming" or even group authorship of the blog list. It's an important decision, which will have to be addressed. Technorati likes a user to "claim" a blog. But data held on the blog (stats, tags, comments, etc) might not be under the user's control. A balance must be struck - we want to get a discussion on that going. We need to also be careful about replicating information which people might already want others to get from their own page (why provide editable descriptions on our site when we can link to a blogger's own about page?).

3. Aggregation vs Editorial

The facilities we are building are to provide new ways of linking information. That's why we are going to have posts and information about blogs on one site. It means easy access to posts and easy ways of discovering the context of the posts.

John has great ideas about "collections" which will allow a good deal of editorial, tied up with the "live" aspect of web 2.0.

From our discussions, I think all three current members of the developers think that the site must offer something back to bloggers. If those listed do not engage in the site, it is missing the point. It's early days to be worrying about that though - we haven't finished it yet!

--
I think the points you posed are important for all web2.0 sites. It's all about the control of information, the flow of information, and the malleable nature of the information about you and others. The project is Open Source to make sure anyone can influence it. Comments are part of that process!

How you can help is easy Ewan - join the development process :)

I would again invite you, and anyone else who is interested, to pitch in constructively at the discussion group and shape the future of this project, the fruits of which may turn out to be less modest than you imagine ;)

Of course I value Chris's feedback (if you read the discussion group you'll see that I have raised the issue of users not seeing what the site can do). No one has carte blanche to be rude in public though do they? I sometimes wish I did - I'd have avoided the many apologies I've had to make over the years :)

Um - I've looked back at my comment and can't really think it's particularly rude, really. There *is* the little word "if" - and if the condition posited doesn't apply, then neither does the pejorative language. The subsequent responses seem to indicate that there *is* more to it all than I, with my limited appreciation of such matters, was able to discern.

"Join the development process" - I think I just did!

Maybe the two sites are complementary? The new site - feels like it's targetted at the existing community, who have been round the block enough times to know what it's about, and won't be spooked by mention of RSS or OPML. I think it's a great idea, but I'm not new any more!

Its About page, for example, includes "This project has been produced by members of the Scottish educational blogging community as a tool
for the community. The back end of the application....
...
This project builds on the ScotEduBlogs wiki...
...
We hope to involve as many members of the community as possible in this project..."

If you were a tentative new blogger, you won't feel like you're a member yet. You might feel out of your depth, or maybe even alienated, already. To understand what's going on there, you maybe have to understand the problem it's solving?

A key strength of the wiki is that a new blogger, or just someone exploring, can get their heads round it very quickly.

For example "Welcome to the ScotEduBlogs wiki, the web pages anyone can change. Its aim is to create a directory of all the Scottish educational blogs that have been started." is easier for someone new to understand - even if the welcome has slipped down the page a bit!

Of course, it's early days for the new app. My gut feel, though, is that there's a place for both.

It is a pity that Shropshire is not included in the new project :(

It will be interesting to see if the two can exist side by side, if I was a 'real' Scot edublogger where would I add my site to one of the other or both?

I think definitely both. I reckon they serve different purposes - the new site is essentially a technorati-like interface is much more specific in what it wants and what it will tell you than a wiki (and for that reason less flexible in terms of editorial).

David, you're right about this I think we're also going to aim the site at those who want introduced to the world of edublogs. This will, of course, require some form of explanation, but that will come later, after we build the tools.

Having been involved in showing 'newbies' how to add their url to the wiki, I think it will be a difficult process to get them to add it to another site also. That said, I love what the new site does, so it's a dilemma. How could (or should?) the two marry?

I think this discussion shows there's fantastic passion and commitment within the community, both to continue to use the WIKI for its very beneficial purposes, and to put in the impressive work developing the .org.uk site to extend what's available.

I like the aggregation and the look/ layout of the .org.uk site. I feel attracting newcomers could be a strength of this site - when I first came across WIKI pages in general (not specifically the Scotedu blog ones), I found them hard to read compared to more designed webpages, which I think was just because I wasn't used to the look. I persisted and now that initial bewilderment has abated, but I can't be the only one??

Having said that, I think one of the major assets of having the WIKI is that it makes it feel like a very grass roots thing that anyone can join in with, alongside the value of the ongoing support through meetups and the discussion board. And it always makes me smile to see the Shropshire listing.

Is it an option to embed the WIKI pages into the .org.uk site? This way, a new visiting teacher, their interest piqued by the flavour of edu blogging on the news page, could get involved and meet the rest of the community on the WIKI pages. And it sounds like a really good idea to provide an introduction and explanation, plus perhaps links to resources for starting blogging in their school. Maybe you could try out the language on a few teachers (and pupils?) who don't currently use blogging and aren't particularly web literate. And I would guess that many of you have pupils who could provide an explanation of what blogging is, and most importantly, say what it means to them, which should get people converted faster than anything else.

A few people have touched on the points I initially made, that the wiki has a valuable contribution to make to the cool tagging and grouping of .org.uk.

I don't think running two sites side-by-side is a recipe for success - it definitely will confuse people and makes something which can already be tricky to get into even more difficult to get a grasp on. Just look at the discussion here to see how that could happen ;-)

An embedded wiki element on the .org.uk site is what would turn it into something with the tools and services it has now and those it will have in the future, along with the community, grassroots elements that allow a *real* community to add editorial, ideas, organise meetups and so on.

I've noticed that the developers' Google Group has today taken on board some of the suggestions and I am sure that out there somewhere are the people with the necessary elements on knowledge to help code it and do the heavy lifting.

Is there anything else the project should be generating?

Not being too techie, I have not been using RSS feed but I do visit lots of blogs so I can see myself visiting this new site often. Not sure if this is right place to ask but would it be possible to have blogs listed alphabetically instead of in numbered pages?

Good to see so much interest in our project! Peter and I have been working hard on the coding of this site over the last few weeks, and John has been polishing up the design.

I was a bit bewildered by the second paragraph of Ewan's point 2. Is anyone else concerned about their posts being aggregated? It's only what Bloglines, Netvibes, Pageflakes, Technorati do already after all!

Steve - I'm sure we can squeeze Shropshire in! Given the fact that we had to rename our GTC to GTC Scotland to make room for the English version, it tickles me to think that scotedublogs.org.uk might actually end up covering the whole UK :)

As to the question of where to put your new blog, I'd like to think that scotedublogs.org.uk makes more sense. I absolutely agree that the Wiki performs a vital function in other areas that the new site doesn't address, but look at what to you achieve by listing on the new site: your new posts appear on the front page, bringing traffic to your site and raising awareness of your blog, and your posts will be included in the multiple "rivers of news" that flow out of scotedublogs.org.uk. What does listing in the Wiki achieve in comparison?

And look at the complexity of the two processes (to address Andrew's concerns): on the Wiki you have to find the page, realise that it's editable, click on edit, figure out how to add a link and then put in your blog. On scotedublogs.org.uk you just click on "add blog" (which we should move the the front page), fill in a form with your title, address, description and authority and click "create". Isn't that much easier?

Integrating a wiki into scotedublogs.org.uk would be easy enough. I guess that might solve the "split personality" problem. I just noticed that Ewan posted something along just these lines whilst I was typing this. Maybe we should just go for that then? I'll look into it tonight.

Following on from discussions on the developer group, I've just created a blog on which we can continue to discuss the development of this project. The google group is full of technical stuff that might be a bit off putting to the non-geeks out there.

Otherwise I'd ask that folk tag posts about this with "scotedublog" so that we can keep abreast of discussions.

Shirley - any place we can read is the right place. It's on Peter's to-do list :)

Oops - I meant to say tag it with "scotedublogs"!

I think Robert has a very good point when he writes about not putting the non geeks off as these are the very people that we need to encourage to come onboard with the advent of Glow.

Most of what is below has been covered more articulately above, but I've written it so I'll post it.
It is early days to start talking about what is missing, the site is very much a work in progress, each time I look at it, it seems Robert or Pete has added some functionality. I do not think it is missing the wiki's main function as its purpose is a subset of the wiki's original purpose, the wiki's weakest one, that of aggregation. The wiki is a wonderful tool for discussion and planning, in fact a lot of the planning for the .org.uk project has gone on on the wiki.

1. Editable pages and Scots'EduBlogs
There is already a link back to the wiki, it was part of the first version of explanatory text to go on the site. At the moment explanations and instructions are lagging behind the site's functionality. mea culpa I didn't know Robert and Pete were going to get off the ground so fast, help wanted.
Personally I like the small pieces loosely joined approach of having the wiki and aggregator separate, I do not see the need to take over the most successful aspect of the wiki; planning face-to-faces. I expect that when the site is finished to have even more visible links to the wiki.

2. Content control - who's 'in charge'?
You can't edit technorati or bloglines either, the site is not meant to replicate this area of the wiki.
You can however use the site to make a rss feed that aggregates the blogs of your choice, eg I can get all the primary teachers interested in mlfe and maths, this is the sort of exciting (to me) timesaving possibilities underway over at ScotEduBlogs.org.uk.

This morning I could read complete versions of this post on bloglines and but not at ScotEduBlogs.org.uk, is bloglines destructive? I do not think so, not any more than any other aggregator.
This I think depends on if the user decides to use full or partial feeds.
The first mail I had on the project from a blogger not involved told me of their excitement in the exposure on the site. It might be that being aggregated increases the desire of some students and teachers to continue their work.

I normally read Ewan's blog in a desktop aggregator, if you post is of interest to me I'll pop over and read the comments, if not I'll not, I don't think this is destructive it certainly has not slowed down Ewan's hit counter;-)
What is in my opinion powerful is that there are several ScotsEduBlogs I've never subscribed to as they are updated infrequently, they are not in my aggregator and I don't visit them often. Through the SEB aggregator I will read them.

3. Aggregation vs Editorial
ewan, I find this argument hard to understand, I though that you had posted with approval of sites like pageflakes and netvibes, SEB is like a specialised netvibes with, for me, the potential to be more useful due to the time-sorted listing of post and the creation of individual feeds.
SEB will also allow me to build my own list of handy feeds, read them on the site via an rss feed or let me import them into my reader, online or offline via opml. By the time I've finished typing Robert and Pete will probably have something that would let you pull you specialised feed into another webpage, all the East Lothian blogs into one time sorted lists. If not I and many other lesser geeks could do that through a wordpress widget.

My own reading is personal to me, I like a wee set of feeds for every day, mostly local, I trust Ewan to point me in the direction of interesting things in the wider world and then I read some non edu stuff. I then have a bigger set of feeds I read every 2 or 3 days. SEB would give me some simple ways to filter even more blogs in even less time, I'll have some of that please.

me again,
Andrew, if new bloggers add their stuff to the wiki, I or another volunteer could add them to the aggregator and then mail them to ask if they would like to edit their tags. I don't think the community will expand too fast for that, if it does we just need more help.
I've started a another blog: scotedublogs aggregation for less code heavy discussion of the site where I'll try and post info and help about the project (anyone can let me know if they want to help).
Help and instructions are on the way (see the google group discussion) just a bit behind the code...

Just to clarify where to discuss this - do use the scotedublogs aggregation blog John set up, and ignore my one, which I'll bin in a day or two. It's amazing what havoc a couple of hours off-line can cause :)

To explain my remark, Robert you are quite right it is easier to add a blog on the .org site. I'm all in favour of easier!

What I like about the wiki is the ability to start new things such as the Meetups which have been a great use of wikis. Obviously some type of this functionality on the new site would be great? Otherwise, the community is being led by the developers {however well intentioned :-)} whereas the wiki was community driven entirely?

Do I have to double post this comment now? ;-)

OK Andrew - I see where you are coming from.

It is for exactly that reason that I think we should leave the scotedublogs wiki where it is, rather than trying to incorporate a wiki into the new site. As Chris said, if it ain't broke....

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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