Decentering Syndication or, a Push Away from RSS

Yesterday Steve Covello tweeted a post at my way.

I was prepared  to read about a premium suite of plugins that I could buy for the privilege, but was pleasantly surprised to find Chris Knowles’s post “How to Publish to Multiple WordPress Sites from a Single Install” to be a thoughtful, clear, and  beautifully documented articulation of how the spoke/hub model for pushing content from one site out to another works more generally in Content Management Systems, but for the purposes of his example in WordPress in particular.

452_oseAt first I was interested in this post to start showing faculty and students alike how they can use their WordPress sites to push content out to a number of different social media services like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., but still keep their own version of everything they publish. That, for example, is one relatively simple and powerful reason to use such a spoke and hub model, you are the hub that pushes content out to the various spaces around the web you want it to appear.

But as we got talking in DTLT about this model at 9:30 this morning, it started to get much more interesting. In particular, the plugin that is pushing ones posts, images, videos, etc. in WordPress to all these different sites (what I’ll affectionately called “the pusher”) is Push Syndication  Syndicate out [Update: Tim and Martha tried Push Syndication but couldn;t get it to work so went with a similar plugin Syndicate Out]. One way to think about this plugin is it is does the absolute opposite thing then FeedWordPress, rather then pulling RSS feeds in, it uses XML-RPC to  push content out. So, as Marx did to Hegel, DTLT is doing to distributed course blogs—we’re standing syndication on its head 🙂 Rather than insisting on making the course the hub as has been the case with ds106 (and scores of courses sites on UMW Blogs over the years), why not decentralize the syndication and allow each of the sites to push their content to the hub. Same effect, jut a different approach.

But why? What are the benefits? 1)  it is techncially inline with the ethos of giving the students more control over their work; they can control the syndication in this regard because “the pusher” plugin is installed on their blog. 2) It is far simpler than FeedWordPress for faculty to get up and running with—you don’t have to ask faculty to load in tens of feed URLs for the syndication engine to work. 3) It’s immediate, with XML-RPC, there is no wait for the post to show up. Publishing on the course hub is immediate. 4) It allows for both students and faculty alike to become a hub or a spoke. When I was at the Reclaim Open hackathon at the MIT Media Lab in April Kin Lane was conceptualizing the Reclaim Your Domain around this idea. 5) Less load on the server CPU pulling 100s feeds as weas the case in ds106, in this model you decenter that to a distributd push. 6) The whole process can be automated to some great degree on both the Reclaim Hosting and the Domain of One’s Own server thanks to Installatron. Tim Owens did a mock-up of what this might look like for students and faculty alike.



When going through the process of installing a WordPress site in Installatron (pictured above), we can actually build in a dropdown list of courses that you want to publish to from your own site. Martha Burtis, who has been working on the idea of packaging WordPress plugins suites  in Installatron already, is seeing if we can’t get the Syndicate Out plugin to not only get automatically installed and activiated on the student (or spoke) blog, but also identify the hub it will be publishing to based on the dropdown selction. If a student or faculty member choses to create a course on the fly by selecting that option and then naming it accordingly, it will immediately populate in the dropdown along with  a unique identifier. Instantaneously it will allow others to subscribe to it seamlessly. All of this with no mention of RSS! EDUGLU heresy, and I love it!

Thinking out loud here, what Howard Rheingold labored through for his Social Media Issues site, which admittedly is awesome, could be accomplished at the server level with next to no overhead. This is the in-a-box that we actually need to make synidcation course practical in highered. It is a bit hazy here for me (as much of it is right now), but I  think we can manage copy all the login information from the student blogs into the hub at the level of Installatron by grabbing their username and password and copying them to the hub database.  In other words, every student and faculty in such an environment becomes a spoke and/or hub, the idea of the motherblog becomes deprecated  and we start to move toward a more decentered approach wherein each learner can control what syndicates where.

And this is just the beginning, this model would also allow students with a Domain of One’s Own blog at UMW to use the Syndicate Out plugin to seamlessly send their posts out to any UMW Blogs blog they’re an author of. We tried it out today, and it’s absolutely seamless. You can see the spoke post here and the hub republishing on here. So cool.

We still have a lot to figure out with all this, but as we were talking about it today we started recognizing the fact that Domain of One’s Own has already given way to Reclaim Hosting, Installatron plugins and theme packages, and now a whole new way of approaching spoke/hub syndication models for courses. And I firmly believe this is just the beginning of a whole new level of re-conceptualization, experimentation, and innovation—we’re just now realizing that Domain of One’s Own is more than just giving everyone a domain, WordPress blog, portfolio site, etc.— it’s quickly beginning to feel like a  paradigm shift for what’s possible when it comes to digital publishing at UMW and beyond. It’s actually kinda hard to explain just how exciting it is to go to work these days—my head is constantly buzzing, it’s almost hard to think, no less concentrate, on anything else. DTLT is in the zone right now….

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16 Responses to Decentering Syndication or, a Push Away from RSS

  1. Matt says:

    This is exciting! This reminds me of when people were talking about Personal Learning Environments/Networks before MOOCs came in and stole the show. But I think most people were content to sit back and let students have a scattered presence while the course still took a larger role in the big picture. It was kind of like “well, the technology is not there, so we will still do this student-centered-lite version and… done! We have PLE!”

    I know a lot of people hate the term “Learning Management System”… but would’t this idea be the first step to making a true LMS? If the learner is the hub, and they can control (manage) where their content (proof of learning) goes (rather than the other way around), and it is basically a system of plug-ins that makes it happen…. it would be a system for the management of your learning. Just subverted, upside down thinking with you (the learner) in the middle that smacks the posers out there calling themselves LMSs in the face.

    • Reverend says:


      I absolutely agree, a model like this brings back the idea of Learning Management System with a lot more focus on everyone pushing their stuff there rather than worrying about making that the temproary homebase. I think this idea is absolutely aligned with the models you have been talking about for awhile, and what is exciting to me about it is it actually might be both doable and relatively simple. That is the real gold here 🙂

  2. Scott says:

    Hi Jim,
    If on the same network you might want to check out the “nsync” plugin @enej developed. There are a few groups using it here at UBC with success. which requires:

    When the JSON API is complete for WordPress I think we will start to see some really cool things start to happen.


    • Reverend says:

      I should have guessed you all were already on to this. I would love to talk to you and Enej about this very thing. We have some ideas we are batting around, and we also wanted to get a sense of the secutory issues with passing stuff through XML-RPC. We would love to talk, let me know if you have any time this semester. Very excitied to start exploring the API based possibilities for syndication with WOrdPress.

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  5. > Rather than insisting on making the course the hub as has been the case with ds106 (and scores of courses sites on UMW Blogs over the years), why not decentralize the syndication and allow each of the sites syndicating in push their content. Same effect, jut a different approach.

    That’s what I find I am doing more and more with gRSShopper. But it should not be seen as a replacement for RSS, rather, an additional way to distribute content.

    I do it in two major ways. One is to use the APIs from various social media. That’s how I syndicate to Twitter.

    Another is to use my RSS feed as the push mechanism and use IFTTT to handle the individual services. That’s how I syndicate to Facebook.

    I’ve never abandoned the idea of the PLE, but the concept is a lot harder to implement than it looks. These WP addons look interesting. But what we will want in push syndication is something that is not WP specific.

    What I’m seeing here looks a lot like PubSubHubbub. I haven’t used that directly myself but it’s the sort of comment that can reduce a lot of unnecessary polling traffic.

    • Reverend says:

      I agree there is going to have to be both syndication through RSS and options like this that take advantage of XML-RPC and JSON APIs. THe reason I am excited about it is it makes much of the ehavy lifitng we have been doing with faculty a bit easier for them. What’s exciting there is we can have a means through which faculty and students alike can be a hub or a spoke indiscriminately. That said, this is all still very WordPress-centric, and I really am trying to break free of my reliance on that application—but I can;t find anything better. Maybe there is, but I haven;t heard about it.

      It will be interest to see if we can wrap this into a package on the Domain of one’s own server and roll it out for faculty and students alike, that’s when we’ll see if this has legs. There are so issues with passing passwords through Syndicate Out that we are going to try and resolve first 🙂

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  7. Jason Green says:

    I’m unclear as to how this would work with a course site like ds106. Particularly how would an instructor/facilitate whitelist what spokes were allowed to push to the central site. Without that , I have a horrific vision of blog spam.

    • Reverend says:

      At least for the example, we have the user signup for the course hub at the server side when installing there blog so their username is immediately added to the profs space preventing spam all together. This is an issue more generally, but we’ve figured it out for our model (and on Reclaim Hosting) and then imagine others can and will abstract out the broader uses.

      Another way at this is share a password for the class an add some like the Add users widget to a blog sidebar and have students add and/or create a username and password for that course hub so that can use that to syndicate out.

      Does that make sense?

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