Thursday, 27 May 2010 developments

Back in April Mark and I went to the University of Lincoln to chat to Joss Winn about our Tagginganna project, and more specifically about ('a WordPress plugin that offers paragraph-level commenting in the margins of a text). It was really useful to hear from Joss some background to, including:
  • how The Institute for the Future of the Book kicked things off ('a small think-and-do tank investigating the evolution of intellectual discourse as it shifts from printed pages to networked screens' - isn't 'think-and-do tank' a brilliant term)
  • how Commentpress then developed ('an open source theme and plugin for the WordPress blogging engine that allows readers to comment paragraph by paragraph in the margins of a text')
  • how Joss and Tony Hirst set up Write to Reply using Commentpress to allow people to comment on public reports
  • how if:book developed out of Institute of the Future of the Book using Commentpress
  • how Eddie Tejeda, who has been pivotal in the software developments for all of the above then wrote
  • and how Cornell Univeristy and the New York Public Library are using in some fascinating projects (those links are to the projects not the institutions)
In addition to finding out more background to the other aim of our meeting with Joss was to discover how likely it was that we could influence the development of to make it more suitable for the the purpose for which we are wanting to use it (see Tagginganna progress). The developments we need are the ability for readers to tag comments and search comments, and the option for administrators to choose a layered table of contents (to allow for more 'chapters'). Joss thought all these would be things that would be useful to the evolution of more generally so said that Eddie would probably be willing to develop them (and clearly the best placed to do so). And as it has taken so long to recruit a Research Assistant to the project (it still hasn't happened yet) we have money in our project budget we can redirect to opensource software development rather than spending the majority on a Research Assistant.

So on Monday I had a Skype call to San Francisco with Eddie and explained our requirements and he was very positive. They'll be a major upgrade of in the next couple of weeks, after which we can start work on the detail. And by which time we will also have some exciting news regarding the Research Assistant. In fact, we hope to have that by Monday...

It's going to work after all.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Facebook page update

Recently I said I was feeling a bit behind the curve on Facebook pages so I've been thinking about it a lot lately including the other week when I put up a post Trying to get beyond 'Likes'.

I'm going to put a Like box in here - just because I can now ;)

Well, we've been trying a bit harder and we've been getting more interaction (more fans too, but it was interaction that we were after). During 10-14 May we tried to give a bit of a push on 'Exam time', Marta has been doing most of the work including:
Many of the items didn't yield much response but it did yield more than we normally get. It will take a while for us to learn what works and doesn't work but, importantly, it will also take a while for the culture of the page to change so people who like it will interact with it. Many people will want to use it just to receive updates, which is fine (and we'll never be as hip as the Students' Union), but if people want to interact they'll be more opportunity to do so.

Here's the page summary for the relevant week.
  • +24 fans this week (1,282 total fans)
  • 19 Wall posts, comments and likes this week (0 last week)
  • 932 visits to your page this week (543 visits last week)
And the pattern seems to be continuing, here's last week's stats:
  • +112 fans this week (1,394 total fans)
  • 9 Wall posts, comments and likes this week (19 last week)
  • 1,102 visits to your page this week (932 visits last week)
Which is an encouraging start.

Monday, 24 May 2010

I've just entered a whole new world

Yesterday I switched my blog. Not an earth shattering event you might think, but I think it might be (for me) significant. After having the idea months ago it took me a while to get round to it, not least because it involved finding a host at a reasonable price and deciding on a domain name. So, this is it. Nothing too fancy yet (I don't think I ever want it to be fancy) and still the same Titan theme, but at least I now have flexibility.

This is what setting it up involved

  • Finding a host - I went for siteground. I got a recommendation from Alan, and friend referrer rate. Thanks Alan :)
  • Deciding on a domain name - which is pretty tricky when all the good ones you can think of are already taken and you want something that is going to last, is easy to remember and is relevant to what you do. In the end I went for I'm not sure it meets all the criteria, but it's the best one I could think of.
  • Redirecting my previous blog using these helpful instructions (with support from Alun about the redirect here, about mapping urls here and about plugins here)
  • Exporting the content from my blog and importing it into my new siteground-hosted blog (thanks again Alun)
  • Changing embedded content that was set to work on because it now didn't display, e.g. Slideshare, Scribd etc.
All that probably only took about an hour - although it was stretched over a couple because I was in and out of the garden.

This is what I'm looking forward to


Thanks to Alan, Alun, JJ and Joss for their help in various ways.

And if anyone you have any helpful hints or suggestions (especially for themes and plugins) for a newbie - I'd love to hear from you.

And hopefully I've have set up Twitterfeed correctly so this post pushes out to Twitter as it used to with my other site...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Developments I'd like to see in Plone

After a really useful conversation with Nick and Jeff in the web team yesterday and some useful comments on my The automated feeds are working post (including one from Alexander Limi, the co-founder of Plone) I thought I'd put up another Plone post (my second ever).

I'm not a techie, but I have been using Plone now for more than four years so I know it pretty well from a user's perspective. Whilst there's no such thing as a perfect system I really like Plone and the ethos behind it, I especially like the flexibility of the sharing permissions that it gives us. The web team here at Leicester have done a great job in setting it up and supporting it with very limited resources (and for the record, they should get more).

So, here are some of the developments I'd like to see in the future (apologies in advance if I'm making any techie faux pas).

Selectively cascading portlets

In versions 2 and 2.5 of Plone the portlets were created as pages and you could just point to them from the relevant folder level and so have one portlet selectively cascading at different levels of the site. This system was a little complicated to use but it did give good flexibility and avoided having to create the same portlet multiple times at different levels. In version 3 it seems to be all or nothing - I can block or unblock the portlets above in the folder structure but I can't say 'do block this one but don't block this one'. Consequently, for example, the Contact us portlet on our site has to recreated six times futher down in the structure to allow different teams to have the same Contact us portlet but more specific news and events collection portlets.

Thumbnail images from news items into Facebook

I've set up news items to push out to Twitter and Facebook using the RSS and Twitterfeed (see this post for the Twitterfeed set up). What would be nice though would be if Plone could take a thumbnail of an image attached to a news item and put that in the Facebook post. Currently it doesn't do this so all our automated posts look very similar (look for the posts that come from Twitterfeed on our Facebook page)

NOT statement in collection fields

Within the Title and Description fields in collections it would be really useful if it allowed more logical statements. At the moment you can have AND and OR but not NOT. And NOT would allow more flexibility.

More flexibility in the start date field in collections

In order ro push out events to Facebook and Twitter I use a collection to create an appropriate RSS feed. However, I don't want to push out events to these networks as soon as they are published because often we schedule events as a block a term in advance. So to get round this I've set up collections with the following criteria:
  • Item type = event
  • Location = (relevant folder + search sub-folders)
  • State = published
  • Start date = 1 day, in the future, on the day
This works ok but it only lets me push out events the day before...

I've just looked at the criteria again and it looks like I should just be able change the 'which day' field to 2 days or 5 days or a week. That looks like it should solve my problem but I think I tried that before and it didn't work. I set it up more than six months ago though so I can't remember. I'll have another check but if anyone can tell me so I don't have to check that would be great :)


I understand there's an addon for bookmarklets (share on Twitter, Delicous, Facebook etc)  but it conflicts with the feed mixer portlet. It would be good to get this fixed.

Editor bugs

I prefer the TinyMCE editor to Kupu, on the whole, but there's a bug in TinyMCE which means that if you add a link to an image in a portlet the image dissapears (but works fine with Kupu editor).

I've probably got some other suggestions but I'll just throw those out as a starter. It's not meant to be critical - just suggestions from an avid user.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The automated feeds are working

I've just realised that if you edit a news item in Plone that's already published and then save the changes it acts like a newly published item. How do I know this interesting piece of information, I hear you cry? Well, it's funny you should ask that...

Yesterday I was showing a colleague how to create a collection in Plone that would pull in not only the news items that she published in her area of the website but also appropriate news items that others published elsewhere in the Student Development website. So in order to demonstrate this I went to a relevant news item and categorized it (that's what Plone calls it but most people will call this 'tagging') and then saved the changes. The collection item was set up appropriately to display item type (="news item"), location (=, categories (="Leicester Award") and state (="published") - so the item was fed into the collection accordingly. However, it wasn't until I was on Twitter a few minutes later that I realised that adding a category to a news item (or presumably any kind of editing) and then saving the changes causes the item to be re-published. Not only did the news item appear in my colleague's collection it also re-appeared:
Not only that, but within 15 minutes the story was retweeted by University Leicester (followers = 278) and Aaron Porter (followers = 2,031).

The problem was the story was six months old! So we quickly added a sentence to the bottom of the news item to say "The deadline for completion of this year's programme has already passed, but you can register now for the 2010/11 programme."

As my colleague said "It's all good publicity". And at least I know all the feeds are working. Thanks for the retweets!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Image suggestions outcome

I put up a rather lame post last week called Image suggestions please. It didn't result in any suggestions but it did prompt me to think about it more and do something about it.

So here are the images I came up with.

They look a bit corporate but at least they are consistent and more identifiably us. Though not everyone will like them, as this tweet proved.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

OER study skills tutorials

In my Inspired by Shirky post a few weeks ago I finished up by saying:
If there’s enough interest this post will need a part two, which will be more of a how-to, including the original template files.
Well, I kind of followed it up with Making the plagiarism tutorials creative commons (this is a very self-referential post!), including a link to the template file for the plagiarism tutorials. But it's the critical student tutorial format that I think has more mileage because of the reasons I mentioned in the original post:

  • you don’t need much technical skill (other than a good working knowledge of PowerPoint animation) to create them;
  • other than PowerPoint the tools you can create them with are free (I used Screenr to do the screen capture and audio);
  • neither do the tools require any installation (useful when working in an environment that restricts such things);
  • when published on YouTube you can add closed captions (useful for accessibility reasons);
  • it’s embeddable;
  • and the format is even suitable for mobile devices (like the iPhone).

I also mentioned that we'd need 'a space to discuss and collaborate on the development of the resources.' So I've set up a friendfeed group called OER study skills which will aggregate anything tagged in delicious with 'oerstudyskills' and the hashtag in twitter #oerstudyskills. It will also, of course, allow threaded and searchable discussion to take place.

I had a number of useful and some useful ones on Twitter too, including this one from Michael Fawcett in New Zealand:
So I looked up WikiEducator, the purpose of which is:
I did a search for study skills and it looks like something is already started, but it's at a very early stage and mostly just consists of links out. I think it's a project that will be good to contribute to but but I think the  will be an easier space to discuss and collaborate in, however we can put content on WikiEducator when it's developed.

This post will now need a part three (or part four if you include the Making the plagiarism tutorials creative commons post). The focus of this post ended up being about ideas about facilitating discussion and collaboration (please let me know what you think), the focus of the next one will be the promised 'how to'.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Image suggestions please

The little image icons I use on Twitter and Facebook for our Student Development accounts are a bit limited and don't even match (the Twitter one was always meant to be temporary). So bearing in mind we're not supposed to have logos, has anyone got any good suggestions of what I can use instead?

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Trying to get beyond 'Likes'

I've had two meetings recently where I've been able to glean some useful advice regarding Student Development's use of Facebook. The first was with David Morgan a couple of Friday's ago (after which I shared his really helpful social media guidelines) and the second with Alan Cann and Jennifer Jones last Friday. The meetings were different but the outcomes the same - a recognition that I need to encourage more interaction on our Student Development Facebook page.

I've been really pleased with the steady increase in the number of people who 'like' (Facebook's new language for what were page 'fans') our Facebook page but we need to do more with it. Currently the page updates are either automated via RSS feeds from our website or published manually by our Helpdesk via Hootsuite. This has provided a good foundation for the page but I'd like to begin to do more. Our Students' Union use their Facebook page really well and get a lot of engagement through it as a result. Three noteworthy differences in the set up of the pages are:
  1. they push out news updates from Facebook to Twitter whereas I've set the Student Development accounts to push out news updates from Twitter to Facebook;
  2. they put a Facebook like box very prominently on their website (ours is a bit squirreled away);
  3. they have at least 6 people set up as admins on their page whereas for Student Development it's just me.
In terms of the content they post the Students Union are very creative (in many ways more so than we could ever be) but they aren't just being creative for the sake of it, they are doing it to encourage interaction. To borrow again from David's social media guidelines they:
  • start conversations;
  • attach content - photos, videos and tagging (have a look at this video about an office move);
  • announce, remind and excite (whilst trying not to annoy);
  • think carefully about timing;
  • remember that followers can just turn them off.
So, I've decided to experiment with a bit of a push on revision and exam skills next week sometime. Currently we tend to just push links to relevant study guides but I think we need to do more to engage people so I'm thinking of the following:
  • embed our Revision and exam - top ten tips in the Facebook page (rather than just ink to it);
  • ask people for their own top revision tips;
  • give more staff in Student Development admin rights on the page so we can reply to comments more promptly;
  • link to other relevant content, including our workshops and consultations, accordingly;
  • and in all of this try not to annoy people by going on about stuff too much.
That doesn't look like much of a plan. What do you suggest?