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.