Thursday, September 14, 2006

Experimenting with FeedDigest and blended feeds

I've set up a new CLC FeedDigest account to host the tag feed and the blend of member's feeds. This way anyone can adminster it (like the new Bloglines account).

The good news is the new feed is working fine (see the sidebar of this blog).

The bad news is that with a basic free FeedDigest account you can have a maximum of 5 digests, each with a maximum of 5 feeds each, but you can only have a combined total of 10 items anyway. This is fine for personal use, but not great for our use.

We could create multiple digests with six feeds in each and blend them into one mega-digest, but that would be too much hassle.

Mark has also been experimenting with blended feeds.

In this post - A SpeedyFeed page for CLC - he discusses how he's been experimenting with SpeedyFeed, a service which let's you display RSS feeds on a web page. He's set up a CLC SpeedyFeed page -

Mark also did some research into RSS mixers and found that can handle a large number of feeds. He's created a combined feed of all the CLC member's feeds here -

The down side of is that we can't just add new members to the feed - we have to create a new feed from scratch everytime.

If we are going to use a blended feed I think we need to find one that anybody can update.

If anyone would like to explore some of the other feed mixer options, Alan Levine has done a bit of a survey here - CogDogBlog » Barking » RSS Mixers - and there are some others listed here - RSS Compendium - RSS Re-mixers.

(Photo of Steel Blue Angora Blend by Diana LeRoi-Schmidt)

Using Bloglines to display blogrolls

I've set up a CLC bloglines account as a place to store member's feeds and other useful feeds.

This means we can use the Bloglines blogroll feature to display member's feeds in the sidebar of this blog.

The advantage of this method is that instead of manually adding the names and feeds to the blog template, we just have to subscribe to new member's blogs with the Bloglines account and they will automatically be displayed on the blog.

To add a blogroll to your blog from a Bloglines account:
  1. Log in to your Bloglines account and click on the 'Share' tab.
  2. Follow the instructions under 'Blogroll' to generate the HTML code.
  3. Copy and paste the HTML code into the sidebar of your blog template.
Of course this now means that the blog doesn't list members that don't have an RSS feed (they are still listed on the members page of the wiki) so those of you yet to set up a PLE need to get cracking!

Monday, September 11, 2006

A response to Mark's ideas on how to grow the CLC community

In a provocatively entitled post - Why the CLC will die (unless we do something about it) - Mark van Harmelen has posted some suggestions on how we can get the network happening.

Thanks to Mark for keeping the conversation going.

I'd like to address his ideas:

1a) Online synchronous sessions.

I certainly think these can be a really effective in forming a sense of community. We've been quite successful with this with the precursor of the CLC, the Online Mentoring Network.

But I have to ask - what would we talk about? And if people can't find the time to blog and comment, how are they going to find the time to go to online sessions anyway?

The drawcard of the OMN sessions was that they were instructional, teaching members how to use a range of online tools. I don't think this was ever the intention for the CLC, and there are plenty of other venues now that are running online sessions in how to set up and use blogs, wikis, RSS feeds etc.

I am planning to do some online versions of a workshop I did for LearnScope showing people how to tweak their blog template and add content from other Web 2.0 services to create their PLE, but I was waiting for a bit more activity in the network, and more people to actually set up a blog and start blogging before I did that.

I want to avoid the situation where we go to the trouble of arranging a synchronous event only to end up sitting there talking to the 2 or 3 usual suspects, which often happens.

This network is about shared responsibility, so if Mark or anyone else wants to set up a synchronous event and then invite members of the group then they are encouraged to do so. We even have access to Breeze web conferencing software you can use.

1b) Sharing information about online events, such as the 'Tapping into resources for e-learning' online event and Jo's Second Life tour.

Great idea! Mark suggests sending out emails... but isn't that what the project blog is for?

Even better, what about the feed?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the blog, as a centrally controlled space, may die or morph into something else one day, yet the feed will live forever. And being subscribed to the feed is a basic requirement of being part of the network.

Again, feeding this resource isn't just the responsibility of the facilitators - this should be the shared responsibility of the group, so when someone sees something they think the network could benefit from they should post it to and tag it with clcommunity.

2) Make comments on each other's blogs.

I've been encouraging people to do this all along. How can we actually achieve this?

3) Open the community blog to all community members.

I've addressed this in a previous post. If anyone wants to be a contributor to the blog please let us know.

4) Provide a mailing list for transient information with a short lifespan.

I agree that sometimes when one wants to post some short term information and send out timely alerts that using the Web 2.0 tools of blogging, commenting and adding resources to the feed can be a bit clumsy, but I don't think setting up a mailing list is the answer.

I expressed my main objections to using a mailing list, as with other group-centric tools such as forums and even group blogs, during the discussion about what the project's primary online space was going to be.

The problem with these tools is that they can become the focus of the network, and in my experience people take the easy route of posting to the mailing list instead of setting up their own blogs and posting there. The community contracts to this essentially closed system, and the network as a conversation between a collection of blogs suffers even more.

5) Encourage everyone to use a feed reader.

Once again, something I have been encouraging people to do from the start.

Mark also suggests 'getting volunteers to act as online sources of help for those new to feed readers', but who is going to volunteer considering the lack of participation already?

I would encourage members with a question or an issue they would like help with to post it on their blog and tap into the wisdom of the whole blogosphere. And if they want to alert the CLC about their post then they can bookmark it at with the 'clcommunity' tag.

6) Boost member numbers to overcome the 1% rule.

I think this will have one of the biggest impacts in terms of making the network 'work'. I am already in some negotiations about how we can introduce more people to the network. More on that later.

7) A help board.

Another online space for us to manage?! I think we need to concentrate as much activity on the spaces we already have, rather than set up new ones which could dilute the energy.

And as I mentioned in 5) I think it would be better to encourage members to take responsibility for seeking their own solutions and seek help from the blogosphere.

8) Make howto posts whenever possible.

Mark says: 'We need some way of centralising posts and pages on tools and techniques (the wiki?)'.

Yes, this is what the wiki is for.

I've created a few resources and added them to the wiki which is our central space for how-tos. Everyone is encouraged to add links to how-tos - either their own, like Jo's, or any they come across that they think are relevant.

I appreciate Mark's input - it's great to see someone putting in so much effort to this project - but at the end of the day, in order for this vision to work there needs to be member participation and input, and I don't think that setting up more spaces or having synchronous sessions is going to help if there isn't any more participation... we'll just end up with more empty spaces and more work for the few of us who are contributing!

(Photo of blossoms by Kate Mereand)

On the sustainability of this network

One of the goals of any E-learning networks projects such as this is to set up a network that is sustainable.

People on the Net are participating in learning networks all of the time, and they exist for as long as they serve a need.

I saw our role as facilitators of this project - which is about experientially exploring a distributed, networked learning model - as being responsible for setting up the online spaces and tools, creating the environment, articulating the vision, explaining how the network/community/model works and give instruction and guidance on how to get involved and participate.

Essentially our role is to kick-start a self-organising and self-sustaining network.

In time, the project would come to an end, the money will be spent, the facilitators will have moved on or become regular members of the network with their own PLEs, and the blog will have served it's purpose.

Hopefully, what we will be left with is a community of bloggers posting to their own blogs, commenting on other member's blogs, subscribing to other blogs in their RSS readers, linking to other blogs in their blogrolls and contributing resources using the 'clcommunity' tag on

In fact, the 'clcommunity' tag on may be the only 'tool' set up by the facilitators that is left to connect the community and even indicate that there is any community happening. Most of the other tools (excuding the wiki) need some form of adminstration or effort to keep going. The tag doesn't.

The blog may take on a new role and evolve into a place for discussion about the issues involved in Web 2.0 in education, PLE's, PLN's, networked learning etc. but there will be no centre of the network anymore, with all member's blogs existing as nodes in a flat network.

We are still exploring ways to create a combined feed (more on that in a later post) which may continue well after the project has officially finished, but, once again, if we don't find a tool that can be communally administered, then it may go by the wayside as well.

I wanted to re-iterate this vision and the importance of creating a sustainable network because I think it's important to remember that the project tools aren't the network - the network is a community of interconnected bloggers and their PLEs.

Funny little aside: when writing this post I discovered that Blogger's spell-checker doesn't recognise the words 'blog', 'blogging' or 'blogger'!

(Image by sillygwailo)