How to trap, not just search for, web information

Information TrappingTonight I browsed a copy of Information Trapping: Real-time Research on the Web by Tara Calishain. It’s an excellent guide to the use of RSS feeds, tags, feed aggregators and web page change detectors to bring information to you as and when it’s published.

Coverage included, amongst other things:

  • What is RSS?
  • The difference between meaningfully structured (XML) feeds and web (HTML) pages
  • Choosing and using feed aggregators
  • Tagging
  • Advanced use of search engines such as Google and Yahoo
  • Setting up notifications of changes on specific web pages
  • Using email notifications

By far the majority of students still think that finding information on the web is all about using a search engine. This book is ideal for getting people past that stage. Well worth trying out in a few school libraries, not just for students – it’s ideal for librarians wanting to get up to date on these new research skills.

Avoid RSS overload – subscribe to WordPress blogs *by Category*

Now that the number of Exc-el / eduBuzz blogs is going up, it’s becoming more important to develop ways to sort out the information you want to see from the stuff you don’t.

Maybe you’ve discovered RSS feeds, and are using them to subscribe to blogs of interest. So far, so good. In your RSS aggregator, say Bloglines, you’ll see an entry for each blog you’ve subscribed to, and beside that entry a number showing how many new posts there have been since your last visit.

But what if the blog’s very active and wide-ranging, and you’re only interested in posts on one subject? Subscribe to the blog’s feed, and you’re going to have to browse through every new post looking for the ones you want. That’s a waste of time.

Fortunately WordPress offers a better way: it lets you subscribe to posts in selected categories. Continue reading Avoid RSS overload – subscribe to WordPress blogs *by Category*

“Making Your School Website Dynamic” is a popular course!

Today after-school I ran a 90-minute CPD session on creating dynamic school web sites using WordPress. Until I arrived, I was expecting around 5 people, and had prepared, just in case, for up to 10. In the event, there were 13 on the latest list, and everyone made it. There was great enthusiasm, and I went away convinced the group will be making full use of what they learned.

The course outline is here as a Word document:  It covered: ECS371 Making Your School Website Dynamic – outline Continue reading “Making Your School Website Dynamic” is a popular course!

Let your (Post) feed subscribers see a comments count

If a visitor subscribes to the main RSS feed from an Exc-el WPMU blog, they’ll see the recent Posts, but not the corresponding Comments. To see if there are any comments on a given Post, they’ve got these choices:

  • subscribe to the Comments feed, and use that by:
    • going to the comments feed in their aggregator, then
    • browsing through the list of comments looking for matching titles
  • visit the blog itself, and look at the comments count there
  • click the Comments link for each post to actively look for Comments on a given Post

Any of these requires a bit of clicking around. Wouldn’t it be good to avoid that? Continue reading Let your (Post) feed subscribers see a comments count

firstRSS: In-Post RSS Aggregator

One of the biggest hurdles we’ve got in the edublogging community is bridging the RSS chasm.

  • If you’re an edublogger, chance are you’ve got at least a basic idea of what it’s all about. You’ll probably use an RSS reader, or aggregator, such as Bloglines, to keep track of the blogs you read. You maybe even use an RSS feed or two to provide some content for your blog, such as news headlines.
  • For most people in schools, though, RSS is just another bit of jargon. The potential benefits of RSS tools in education can’t be obtained. And because – if you’ll pardon the Rumsfeld-ism – they don’t know they don’t know it, let alone what the benefits might be, there’s no demand for training…

What has to happen for people to “get it”? In my experience, demonstrating a feed aggregator is a key step. I usually use Bloglines for this, as it has a good user interface. But if you want to try to explain RSS in your blog, as Tess does here, you’re at a disadvantage – you can’t so easily show a live feed in the context of your writing.

But what if you could put a little RSS feed reader right inside your blog post? Continue reading firstRSS: In-Post RSS Aggregator

Get overloaded – subscribe to all the Exc-el Post feeds

OverloadIf you really want to do this, just point your feed aggregator to the OPML file I’m using for Grazr and get importing. If your aggregator – like Bloglines – expects a local OPML file, you’ll need to right-click that link and use Save Link As… to save a local copy first.

There are 224 feeds to date, and this file includes ’em all, including some that aren’t yet showing much sign of life. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Link to OPML file:

Image by tajai.

Surf the Exc-el blog feeds with Grazr

Grazr demoWith Grazr we can let users surf the Exc-el blog feeds. I’ve made a mock-up, based on every blog in the Exc-el WPMU site. You can try it here.

Grazr usually appears as a little feedreader-like widget that can be embedded in a blog sidebar, and

  • can be expanded to full-window size, as in the photo
  • offers 3 views: a 3-panel display, as shown, a list or a slider
  • via a full range of code snippets, embedded into WordPress sidebars, posts – or other blogs

Visit the Grazr URL to get code snippets to use it yourself. You can post a badge like this, for example:Open Grazr

I’ve used this capability to create a Flake in PageFlakes. You can see the Flake in the explore all eduBuzz blogs page which Ewan and I have been trying out. (Click Edit on that Flake, and you can get the HTML snippet behind the Flake for use on your own blog or web page if you want)

update: PageFlakes page not working -sorry – not sure why