“We aint one-at-a-timin’ here, we’re mass communicatin’!”

Well, if you don’t know the quote from O Brother, Where art thou? it is worth a listen for it speaks to what exactly we’re doing over at ELS Blogs -this project ain’t no one off -this is the whole kit and kaboodle in one simply complex install!

We are getting ready to build a more extensive WPMu installation for UMW that touches many departments throughout the campus that will be starting with many of the Freshman Seminars for the Fall and Spring semesters -but by no means limited to these seminars. That being said, I have been using the last couple of weeks to experiment more extensively with WordPress Multi-User, something I enjoy tremendously. It was nice to discover that there are a lot of cool new options, plugins and theme packs (see this post for more on themes) that I will be blogging about in the near future. But right now I want to focus in particular on the aggregating possibilities that are beginning to emerge in WPMu.

WP-Autoblog has been around for single-installations of WordPress for a while now which does a nice job of aggregating content into blog posts from various feeds around the web -much like WP-o-Matic discussed here. I like WP-o-Matic a lot because it uses SimplePie parsing that does an excellent job with images and other objects, while being relatively feed agnostic. Unfortunately, WP-o-Matic is not compatible with WPMu just yet. WP-Autoblog, on the other hand, has been made to play nice with WPMu (get the WPMu version of this plugin here) and it is a really dead simple interface that allows for an easy cut and paste approach to including feeds. So, I got to thinking a couple of things:

  • What about taking all the feeds from ELS Blogs and putting them into a WP-Autoblog blog -you can see an example of this up and running here. What WP-Autoblog provides is a site wide aggregator in the guise of a K2-themed blog (although you have 66 other themes to choose from on ELS Blogs) that is capturing all the content from around the environment. Simple enough to do and yet another way to capture and re-present all the rich content that is coming in over the wires, or is it tubes?
  • OK, so now we have this plugin that pretty much anyone with a blog on ELS Blogs can use to create an aggregator of feeds within a blog (with these feeds themed to their preference). Hmmm, so does this mean that professors and their ilk can create their own aggregator blog by asking students to record their blog’s RSS feeds in something like wiki, google docs, spreadsheet, or what have you? It is a quick and easy way to locate content in one specific blog that may give folks who come across a blog like this an interesting and different visualization of a group of posts in relationship to one another within the context of a “class blog,” which is quite distinct from the logic that will emerge on an individual student blog. We have experimented with aggregation like this already here, but it wasn’t something anyone in the environment could do by simply activating a plug-in and copying and pasting feeds. And while I like this aggregation space referenced (find out how the two plugins BDP RSS and Optimal were used to create this space here) it requires a small php hack which is impossible for general users on WPMu. So rather than hacking around these limitations, the idea here is to make it simple in order to multiply the ways people can access content and map relationships within various contexts.
  • Last, and by no means least, the best way at cross-pollinating student content within a specific class as well as throughout the entire ELS Blogs environment might be to create these little blog aggregators (and remember that anyone on the system has access to this plugin -a splog nightmare if you aren’t careful) in order to syndicate sites they are reading and highlight content that they are interested in. The genius here is that content becomes re-purposed and propagated throughout an environment (sometimes redundantly) with the idea that you create myriad possibilities for serendipity by republishing content in various spaces throughout this distributed collection of blogs.

I’m pretty excited about this because I think it offers a quick, easy and informal way for users, profs and students alike, to create spontaneous collections of feed-driven content that will in turn populate blogs throughout the community, potentially giving rise to a certain amount of content chaos that may ultimately result in a new way of avoiding the “one-at-a-timin’ [Aggregator and single WordPress installs in relative isolation] so that we can work towards mass communicatin’ [throughout campus]” the web for one another on a more regular basis within a specific environment.

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8 Responses to “We aint one-at-a-timin’ here, we’re mass communicatin’!”

  1. Pingback: “We aint one-at-a-timin’ here, we’re mass communicatin’!” at ELS Blogs

  2. OK — I’ve been meaning to get back to you about this — but haven’t got back to try the aggregators you mention.
    But you are right (that is, if I understand your comment on my post) that the aggregators could do a lot of ePortfolio work. That is the students have their blogs, which feed into a meta-blog, and the meta-blog can get tagged (and hopefully pruned?). No need to prepopulate category tags, because the tags happen in the meta-blog.
    The one question is where files/attachments etc live. I imagine on the student blogs in the uploads dir?
    Now the larger comment — this sounds wonderful. What you’re doing here is creating a truly student centered system, and then using technology to tie the pieces together, rather than shoehorning them in. The system allows students to wander off the reservation if they want as well — provided they can feed back, right?
    It’s a classic loose system, and a more humane one to boot.
    Will students be encouraged to use the same blog across multiple classes? That is, does this get finally to that unified view of the student that LMS (Elgg excepted) so often violate?
    Finally, not to start a drupal war, but I do feel like the emphasis on the personal that is built into wordpress — I don’t know, I should itemize it, but it just FEELS more humane than the CMS systems. CMS/LMS’s feel like someone has prepared a small box where I will live. WordPress feels like someone just gave me my own car.
    Or something like that.

  3. jimgroom says:


    I fully agree with you that WPMu offers a loose space of experimentation for students, while at the same time framing a very specific community that is not so portal or CMS based. This space is a platform, as you noted, not an application. The WP-autoblog is cool because they can use a whole bunch of blogs to highlight different features of their work, aggregate the work of others they want to follow, or even bring in feeds from anywhere on the web with RSS. Moreover, they can export them all as one big user file and take it with them when they go. The looseness you describe might very well be the key -and the WP-autoblog solution is nice -I personally prefer WP-o_Matic- but they do the same thing in the end. Moreover, WPMu is no longer about content management as we traditionally understand it -it is about using the web as a repository and making connections and drawing in resources, not building an impregnable resource. Web 2.0 is about surfaces in the Foucauldian sense -i.e., the relationships are not necessarily about drilling to the depths of meaning. Rather, the web allows us to use the vast surfaces of information to draw connections, uncover resources, and trace patterns of thinking. In other words, to trace the relationship between statements that serve to create “discursive formations” that frame a particular web of understanding through a host of both planned, unintentional, and serendipitous relationships. WPMu, given the ability to aggregate anarchically, may allow for so many of these options.

    As for files, makes students who want to upload documents, videos, images, etc -make them use google docs, youtube, flickr, and/or what have you. The less stuff they put in the actual blog as a repository the less they have to lose. Also, WordPress works best when you are bringing multimedia, images, etc. into it from sources like flickr and YouTube. Once they see how simple it is, they may also see the value for keeping all these things separate, but loosely joined. Additionally, the more they can manipulate access and openness to such resources the better off we all will be in terms of framing an accessible archive for teaching and learning (formally or not) through a series of surface connections.

  4. Pingback: WPMu Smackdown: RSS, Autoblogs, Aggregators, o-matics, and more… at bavatuesdays

  5. Pingback: WPMu Smackdown: RSS, Autoblogs, Aggregators, o-matics, and more… at ELS Blogs

  6. Pingback: jimgroom » WPMu Smackdown: RSS, Autoblogs, Aggregators, o-matics, and more…

  7. Pingback: jimgroom » “We aint one-at-a-timin’ here, we’re mass communicatin’!”

  8. Pingback: “We aint one-at-a-timin’ here, we’re mass communicatin’” at ELS Blogs

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