The Sixth “R” of Open Educational Resources

The 5 R’s

I’ve seen the five R’s used many times in reference to the OER space (Open Educational Resources). They include the ability to allow others to: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and/or Redistribute content with the appropriate use of licenses. These are all some incredibly powerful building blocks, but I feel like one particularly important building block is missing–that of the ability to allow easy accretion of knowledge over time.

Version Control

Some in the educational community may not be aware of some of the more technical communities that use the idea of version control for their daily work. The concept of version control is relatively simple and there are a multitude of platforms and software to effectuate it including Git, GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket, SVN, etc. In the old days of file and document maintenance one might save different versions of the same general file with increasingly different and complex names to their computer hard drive: Syllabus.doc, Syllabus_revised.doc, Syllabus_revisedagain.doc, Syllabus_Final.doc, Syllabus_Final_Final.doc, etc. and by using either the names or date and timestamps on the file one might try to puzzle out which one was the correct version of the file that they were working on.

For the better part of a decade now there is what is known as version control software to allow people to more easily maintain a single version of their particular document but with a timestamped list of changes kept internally to allow users to create new updates or roll back to older versions of work they’ve done. While the programs themselves are internally complicated, the user interfaces are typically relatively easy to use and in less than a day one can master most of their functionality. Most importantly, these version control systems allow many people to work on the same file or resource at a time! This means that 10 or more people can be working on a textbook, for example, at the same. They create a fork  or clone of the particular project to their personal work space where they work on it and periodically save their changes. Then they can push their changes back to the original or master where they can be merged back in to make a better overall project. If there are conflicts between changes, these can be relatively easily settled without much loss of time. (For those looking for additional details, I’ve previously written Git and Version Control for Novelists, Screenwriters, Academics, and the General Public, which contains a variety of detail and resources.) Version control should be a basic tool of every educators’ digital literacy toolbox.

For the OER community, version control can add an additional level of power and capability to their particular resources. While some resources may be highly customized or single use resources, many of them, including documents like textbooks can benefit from the work of many hands in an accretive manner. If these resources are maintained in version controllable repositories then individuals can use the original 5 R’s to create their particular content.

But what if a teacher were to add several new and useful chapters to an open textbook? While it may be directly useful to their specific class, perhaps it’s also incredibly useful to the broader range of teachers and students who might use the original source in the future? If the teacher who forks the original source has a means of pushing their similarly licensed content back to the original in an easy manner, then not only will their specific class benefit from the change(s), but all future classes that might use the original source will have the benefit as well!

If you’re not sold on the value of version control, I’ll mention briefly that Microsoft spent $7.5 Billion over the summer to acquire GitHub, which is one of the most popular version control and collaboration tools on the market. Given Microsofts’ push into the open space over the past several years, this certainly bodes well for both open as well as version control for years to come.

Examples

A Math Text

As a simple example, lets say that one professor writes the bulk of a mathematics text, but twenty colleagues all contribute handfuls of particular examples or exercises over time. Instead of individually hosting those exercises on their own sites or within their individual LMSes where they’re unlikely to be easy to find for other adopters of the text, why not submit the changes back to the original to allow more options and flexibility to future teachers? Massive banks of problems will allow more flexibility for both teachers and students. Even if the additional problems aren’t maintained in the original text source, they’ll be easily accessible as adjunct materials for future adopters.

Wikipedia

One of the most powerful examples of the value of accretion in this manner is Wikipedia. While it’s somewhat different in form than some of the version control systems mentioned above, Wikipedia (and most wikis for that matter) have built in history views that allow users to see and track the trail of updates and changes over time. The Wikipedia in use today is vastly larger and more valuable today than it was on its first birthday because it allows ongoing edits to be not only improved over time, but those improvements are logged and view-able in a version controlled manner.

Google Documents

This is another example of an extensible OER platform that allows simple accretion. With the correct settings on a document, one can host an original and allow it to be available to others who can save it to their own Google Drive or other spaces. Leaving the ability for guests to suggest changes or to edit a document allows it to potentially become better over time without decreasing the value of the original 5 Rs.

Webmentions for Update Notifications

As many open educational resources are hosted online for easy retention, reuse, revision, remixing, and/or redistribution, keeping them updated with potential changes can potentially be a difficult proposition. It may not always be the case that resources are maintained on a single platform like GitHub or that users of these resources will necessarily know how to use these platforms or their functionality. As a potential “fix” I can easily see a means of leveraging the W3C recommended specification for Webmention as a means of keeping a tally of changes to resources online.

Let’s say Robin keeps a copy of her OER textbook on her WordPress website where students and other educators can easily download and utilize it. More often than not, those using it are quite likely to host changed versions of it online as well. If their CMS supports the Webmention spec like WordPress does via a simple plugin, then by providing a simple URL link as a means of crediting the original source, which they’re very likely to do as required by the Creative Commons license anyway, their site will send a notification of the copy’s existence to the original. The original can then display the webmentions as traditional comments and thus provide links to the chain of branches of copies which both the original creator as well as future users can follow to find individual changes. If nothing else, the use of Webmention will provide some direct feedback to the original author(s) to indicate their materials are being used. Commonly used education facing platforms like WordPress, Drupal, WithKnown, Grav, and many others either support the Webmention spec natively or do so with very simple plugins.

Editorial Oversight

One of the issues some may see with pushing updates back to an original surrounds potential resource bloat or lack of editorial oversight. This is a common question or issue on open source version control repositories already, so there is a long and broad history of for how these things are maintained or managed in cases where there is community disagreement, an original source’s maintainer dies, disappears, loses interest, or simply no longer maintains the original. In the end, as a community of educators we owe it to ourselves and future colleagues to make an attempt at better maintaining, archiving, and allowing our work to accrete value over time.

The 6th R: Request Update

In summation, I’d like to request that we all start talking about the 6 R’s which include the current 5 along with the addition of a Request update (or maybe pull Request, Recompile, or Report to keep it in the R family?) ability as well. OER is an incredibly powerful concept already, but could be even more so with the ability to push new updates or at least notifications of them back to the original. Having the ability to do this will make it far easier to spread and grow the value of the OER concept as well as to disrupt the education spaces OER was evolved to improve.

Featured photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash

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Our Daily Bread — A short 30 day podcast history of wheat and bread in very short episodes

Drop what you’re doing and immediately go out to subscribe to Our Daily Bread: A history of wheat and bread in very short episodes!

Subscribe: Android | Google Podcasts | RSS | More

The illustrious and inimitable Jeremy Cherfas is producing a whole new form of beauty by talking about wheat and bread in a podcast for thirty days.

It’s bundled up as part of his longer-running Eat This Podcast series, which I’ve been savoring for years.

Now that you’re subscribed and your life will certainly be immeasurably better, a few thoughts about how awesome this all is…

Last December I excitedly ran across the all-too-well-funded podcast Modernist Breadcrumbs. While interesting and vaguely entertaining, it was an attempt to be a paean to bread while subtly masking the fact that it was an extended commercial for the book series Modernist Bread by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya which had been released the month prior.

I trudged through the entire series (often listening at 1.5-2x speed) to pick up the worthwhile tidbits, but mostly being disappointed. As I finished listening to the series, I commented:

Too often I found myself wishing that Jeremy Cherfas had been picked up to give the subject a proper 10+ episode treatment. I suspect he’d have done a more interesting in-depth bunch of interviews and managed to weave a more coherent story out of the whole. Alas, twas never thus.

A bit later Jeremy took the time to respond to my comment:

I’ve no idea how the series actually came about, or what anyone aside from Chris really thought about it. It would be nice to see any kind of listener engagement, but it’s hard to find anything. There are three tweets over the entire series that use the show’s official tags.

Still, what’s done is done, and I doubt anyone would want to support another series all about bread. Or would they … ?

I’ll admit I did spend a few long and desperate weeks salivating with \hope over that ominously hanging “Or would they…?” statement. Ultimately, I let it pass distracted by listening to Jeremy’s regular Eat This Podcast episodes. Then this past week I’ve been bowled over by discovering what has obviously been fermenting since.

I’d love to take credit for “planting the seed” as it were for this new endeavour, but I suspect that the thousands upon thousands of adoring listening fans that Mssr. Cherfas’ podcast has, he’s heard dozens of similar requests every day over the years. Even more likely, it’s his very own love of bread that spawned the urge (he does, after all, have a bread blog named Fornacalia!), but I’ll quietly bask as if I had my very own personal suggestion box to have a first-class production staff at my beck and call to make me custom podcast content about food, science, and culture.

It’s always amazing to me how scintillating Jeremy Cherfas’ work manages to be in these. What is not to love about his editorial eye, interview skills, his writing, his production abilities? I’m ever astounded by the fact that his work is a simple one man show and not a 20 person production team.

I’m waiting for the day that the Food Network, The Cooking Channel, HGTV, or a network of their stripe (or perhaps NPR or PBS) discovers his supreme talent and steals him away from us to better fund and extend the reach of the culinary talent and story-telling he’s been churning out flawlessly for years now. (I’m selfishly hoping one of them snaps him up before some other smart, well-funded corporation steals him away from us for his spectacular communication abilities to dominate all his free time away from these food-related endeavors.)

Of course, if you’re a bit paranoid like me, perhaps you’d find his fantastic work is a worthwhile cause to donate to? Supporting his work means there’s more for everyone.

Now, to spend a moment writing up a few award nominations… perhaps the Beard first?

 

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Think the unthinkable: My Version for the Future of Digital Teaching and Learning for EDU522

I’m still evolving what my version of the future of digital teaching and learning looks like, but I am certainly enamored of the idea of mixing in many ideas of the open internet and IndieWeb ways of approaching it all. Small, open, relatively standardized, and remixable pieces can hopefully help lower barriers to teachers and learners everywhere.

The ability to interact directly with a course website and the materials in a course using my own webspace/digital commonplace book via Webmention seems like a very powerful tool. I’m able to own/archive many or most of the course materials for later use and reflection. I’m also able to own all of my own work for later review or potential interaction with fellow classmates or the teacher. Having an easier ability to search my site for related materials to draw upon for use in synthesizing and creating new content, also owned on my own site, is particularly powerful.

Certainly there are some drawbacks and potential inequalities in a web-based approach, particularly for those who don’t have the immediate resources required to access materials, host their own site, own their own data, or even interact digitally. William Gibson has famously said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Hopefully breaking down some of the barriers to accessibility in education for all will help the distribution.

There’s also questions relating to how open should things really be? How private (or not) should they be? Ideally teachers provide a large swath of openness, particularly when it comes to putting their materials in the commons for others to reuse or remix. Meanwhile allowing students to be a bit more closed if they choose to keep materials just for their own uses, to limit access to their own work/thoughts, or to potentially limit the audience of their work (eg. to teachers and fellow classmates) is a good idea. Recent examples within the social media sphere related to context collapse have provided us with valuable lessons about how long things should last, who should own them, how public should they be in the digital sphere? Students shouldn’t be penalized in the future for ideas they “tried on” while learning. Having the freedom and safety to make mistakes in a smaller arena can be a useful tool within teaching–those mistakes shouldn’t cost them again by being public at a later date. Some within the IndieWeb have already started experimenting with private webmentions and other useful tools like limiting audiences which may help these ideas along despite their not existing in a simple implementation for the masses yet.

Naturally the open web can be a huge place, so having some control and direction is always nice. I’ve always thought students should be given a bit more control over where they’re going and what they want out of a given course as well as the ability to choose their own course materials to some extent. Still having some semblance of outline/syllabus and course guidelines can help direct what that learning will actually be.

Some of what I see in EDU522 is the beginning of the openness and communication I’ve always wanted to see in education and pedagogy. Hopefully it will stand as an example for others who come after us.

Written with Module One: Who Am I? in mind.

IndieWeb technology for online pedagogy

An ongoing case study

Very slick! Greg McVerry, a professor, can post all of the readings, assignments, etc. for his EDU522 online course on his own website, and I can indicate that I’ve read the pieces, watched the videos, or post my responses to assignments and other classwork (as well as to fellow classmates’ work and questions) on my own website while sending notifications via Webmention of all of the above to the original posts on their sites.

When I’m done with the course I’ll have my own archive of everything I did for the entire course (as well as copies on the Internet Archive, since I ping it as I go). His class website and my responses there could be used for the purposes of grading.

I can subscribe to his feed of posts for the class (or an aggregated one he’s made–sometimes known as a planet) and use the feed reader of choice to consume the content (and that of my peers’) at my own pace to work my way through the course.

This is a lot closer to what I think online pedagogy or even the use of a Domain of One’s Own in an educational setting could and should be. I hope other educators might follow suit based on our examples. As an added bonus, if you’d like to try it out, Greg’s three week course is, in fact, an open course for using IndieWeb and DoOO technologies for teaching. It’s just started, so I hope more will join us.

He’s focusing primarily on using WordPress as the platform of choice in the course, but one could just as easily use other Webmention enabled CMSes like WithKnown, Grav, Perch, Drupal, et al. to participate.

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An IndieWeb Magazine on Flipboard

This morning I set up an IndieWeb Magazine on Flipboard. While it is “yet another silo”, it’s one that I can easily and automatically syndicate content from my site (and others) into. I’ve already seeded it with some recent posts for those who’d like to start reading.

Until more tools and platforms like micro.blog exist to make it easy for other Generation 2+ people to join the IndieWeb, I thought it made at least some sense to have some additional outreach locations to let them know about what the community is doing in a silo that they may be using.

While I’ll syndicate articles of a general and how-to nature there, I’m likely to stay away from posting anything too developer-centric.

If you’d like to contribute to the magazine there are methods for syndicating content into it via POSSE, which I’d recommend if you’re able to do so. Otherwise they have some useful bookmarklets, browser extensions, and other manual methods that you can use to add articles to the magazine. Click this link to join as a contributor. For additional information see also Flipboard Tools.

View my Flipboard Magazine.

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📅 Virtual Homebrew Website Club Meetup on July 25, 2018

Are you building your own website? Indie reader? Personal publishing web app? Or some other digital magic-cloud proxy? If so, come on by and join a gathering of people with likeminded interests. Bring your friends who want to start a personal web site. Exchange information, swap ideas, talk shop, help work on a project…

Everyone of every level is welcome to participate! Don’t have a domain yet? Come along and someone can help you get started and provide resources for creating the site you’ve always wanted.

This virtual HWC meeting is for site builders who either can’t make a regular in-person meeting or don’t yet have critical mass to host one in their area. It will be hosted on Google Hangouts.

Homebrew Website Club Meetup – Virtual Americas

Time:  to
Location: Google Hangouts

  • 6:30 – 7:30 pm (Pacific): (Optional) Quiet writing hour
    Use this time to work on your project, ask for help, chat, or do some writing before the meeting.
  • 7:30 – 9:00 pm (Pacific): Meetup

More Details

Join a community of like-minded people building and improving their personal websites. Invite friends that want a personal site.

  • Work with others to help motivate yourself to create the site you’ve always wanted to have.
  • Ask questions about things you may be stuck on–don’t let stumbling blocks get in the way of having the site you’d like to have.
  • Finish that website feature or blog post you’ve been working on
  • Burn down that old website and build something from scratch
  • Share what you’ve gotten working
  • Demos of recent breakthroughs

Skill levels: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced

Any questions? Need help? Need more information? Ask in chat: http://indiewebcamp.com/irc/today#bottom

RSVP

Add your optional RSVP in the comments below; by adding your indie RSVP via webmention to this post; or by RSVPing to one of the syndicated posts below:
Indieweb.org event: https://indieweb.org/events/2018-07-25-homebrew-website-club#Virtual_Americas
Twitter “event”: https://twitter.com/ChrisAldrich/status/1020460581038391296

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Creating a tag cloud directory for the Post Kinds Plugin on WordPress

Yesterday after discovering it on Xavier Roy’s site I was reminded that the Post Kinds Plugin is built on a custom taxonomy and, as a result, has the ability to output its taxonomy in typical WordPress Tag Cloud widget. I had previously been maintaining/displaying a separate category structure for Kinds, which I always thought was a bit much in my category area. While it’s personally nice to have the metadata, I didn’t like how it made the categories so overwhelming and somehow disjointed.

For others who haven’t realized the functionality is hiding in the Post Kinds Plugin, here are some quick instructions for enabling the tag cloud widget:

  1. In the administrative UI, go to Appearance » Widgets in the menu structure.
  2. Drag the “Tag Cloud” widget to one of your available sidebars, footers, headers or available widget areas.
  3. Give the widget a title. I chose “Post Kinds”.
  4. Under the “Taxonomy” heading choose Kinds.
  5. If you want to show tag counts for your kinds, then select the checkbox.
  6. If necessary, select visibility if you want to create conditions for which pages, posts, etc. where the widget will appear.
  7. Finally click save.

You’ll end up with something in your widget area that looks something like this (depending on which Kinds you have enabled and which options you chose):

The tag cloud for the Post Kinds plugin data

If you’re interested in changing or modifying the output or display of your tag cloud, you can do so with the documentation for the Function Reference wp tag cloud in the WordPress Codex.

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IndieWeb Summit 2018 Recap

Last week was the 8th annual IndieWeb Summit held in Portland, Oregon. While IndieWeb Camps and Summits have traditionally been held on weekends during people’s free time, this one held in the middle of the week was a roaring success. With well over 50 people in attendance, this was almost certainly the largest attendance I’ve seen to date. I suspect since people who flew in for the event had really committed, the attendance on the second day was much higher than usual as well. It was great to see so many people hacking on their personal websites and tools to make their personal online experiences richer.

The year of the Indie Reader

Last year I wrote the post Feed Reader Revolution in response to an increasingly growing need I’ve seen in the social space for a new sort of functionality in feed readers. While there have been a few interesting attempts like Woodwind which have shown a proof-of-concept, not much work had been done until some initial work by Aaron Parecki and a session at last year’s IndieWeb Summit entitled Putting it all Together.

Over the past year I’ve been closely watching Aaron Parecki; Grant Richmond and Jonathan LaCour; Eddie Hinkle; and Kristof De Jaeger’s collective progress on the microsub specification as well as their respective projects Aperture/Monocle; Together; Indigenous/Indigenous for iOS; and Indigenous for Android. As a result in early May I was overjoyed to suggest a keynote session on readers and was stupefied this week as many of them have officially launched and are open to general registration as relatively solid beta web services.

I spent a few minutes in a session at the end of Tuesday and managed to log into Aperture and create an account (#16, though I suspect I may be one of the first to use it besides the initial group of five developers). I also managed to quickly and easily add a microsub endpoint to my website as well. Sadly I’ve got some tweaks to make to my own installation to properly log into any of the reader app front ends. Based on several of the demos I’ve seen over the past months, the functionality involved is not only impressive, but it’s a properly large step ahead of some of the basic user interface provided by the now-shuttered Woodwind.xyz service (though the code is still available for self-hosting.)

Several people have committed to make attempts at creating a microsub server including Jack Jamieson who has announced an attempt at creating one for WordPress after having recently built the Yarns reader for WordPress from scratch this past year. I suspect within the coming year we’ll see one or two additional servers as well as some additional reading front ends. In fact, Ryan Barrett spent the day on Wednesday hacking away at leveraging the News Blur API and leveraging it to make News Blur a front end for Aperture’s server functionality. I’m hoping others may do the same for other popular readers like Feedly or Inoreader to expand on the plurality of offerings. Increased competition for new reader offerings can only improve the entire space.

Even more reading related support

Just before the Summit, gRegor Morrill unveiled the beta version of his micropub client Indiebookclub.biz which allows one to log in with their own website and use it to post reading updates to their own website. For those who don’t yet support micropub, the service saves the data for eventual export. His work on it continued through the summit to continue to improve an already impressive product. It’s the fist micropub client of its kind amidst a growing field of websites (including WordPress and WithKnown which both have plugins) that offer reading post support. Micro.blog has recently updated its code to allow users of the platform the ability to post reads with indiebookclub.biz as well. As a result of this spurt of reading related support there’s now a draft proposal to add read-of and read-status support as new Microformats. Perhaps reads will be included in future updates of the post-type-discovery algorithm as well?

Given the growth of reading post support and a new micropub read client, I suspect it won’t take long before some of the new microsub-related readers begin supporting read post micropub functionality as well.

IndieAuth Servers

In addition to David Shanske’s recent valiant update to the IndieAuth plugin for WordPress, Manton Reece managed to finish up coding work to unveil another implementation of IndieAuth at the Summit. His version is for the micro.blog platform which is a significant addition to the community and will add several hundred additional users who will have broader access to a wide assortment of functionality as a result.

The Future

While work continues apace on a broad variety of fronts, I was happy to see that my proposal for a session on IndieAlgorithms was accepted (despite my leading another topic earlier in the day). It was well attended and sparked some interesting discussion about how individuals might also be able to exert greater control over what they’re presented to consume. With the rise of Indie feed readers this year, the ability to better control and filter one’s incoming content is going to take on a greater importance in the very near future. With an increasing number of readers to choose from, more people will hopefully be able to free themselves from the vagaries of the blackbox algorithms that drive content distribution and presentation in products like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. Based on the architecture of servers like Aperture, perhaps we might be able to modify some of the microsub spec to allow more freedom and flexibility in what will assuredly be the next step in the evolution of the IndieWeb?

Diversity

While there are miles and miles to go before we sleep, I was happy to have seen a session on diversity pop up at the Summit. I hope we can all take the general topic to heart to be more inclusive and actively invite friends into our fold. Thanks to Jean for suggesting and guiding the conversation and everyone else for continuing it throughout the rest of the summit and beyond.

Other Highlights

Naturally, the above are just a few of the bigger highlights as I perceive them. I’m sure others will appear in the IndieNews feed or other blogposts about the summit. The IndieWeb is something subtly different to each person, so I hope everyone takes a moment to share (on your own sites naturally) what you got out of all the sessions and discussions. There was a tremendous amount of discussion, debate, and advancement of the state of the art of the continually growing IndieWeb. Fortunately almost all of it was captured in the IndieWeb chat, on Twitter, and on video available through either the IndieWeb wiki pages for the summit or directly from the IndieWeb YouTube channel.

I suspect David Shanske and I will have more to say in what is sure to be a recap episode in our next podcast.

Photos

Finally, below I’m including a bunch of photos I took over the course of my trip. I’m far from a professional photographer, but hopefully they’ll give a small representation of some of the fun we all had at camp.

Final Thanks

People

While I’m thinking about it, I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who came to the summit. You all really made it a fantastic event!

I’d particularly like to thank Aaron Parecki, Tantek Çelik, gRegor Morrill, Marty McGuire, and David Shanske who did a lot of the organizing and volunteer work to help make the summit happen as well as to capture it so well for others to participate remotely or even view major portions of it after-the-fact. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Martijn van der Ven for some herculean efforts on IRC/Chat in documenting things in real time as well as for some serious wiki gardening along the way. As always, there are a huge crew of others whose contributions large and small help to make up the rich fabric of the community and we wouldn’t be who we are without your help. Thank you all! (Or as I might say in chat: community++).

And finally, a special personal thanks to Greg McVerry for kindly letting me join him at the Hotel deLuxe for some late night discussions on the intersection of IndieWeb and Domain of One’s Own philosophies as they dovetail with the education sector.  With growing interest and a wealth of ideas in this area, I’m confident it’s going to be a rapidly growing one over the coming years.

Sponsors

I’d also like to take a moment to say thanks to all the sponsors who helped to make the event a success including Name.com, GoDaddy, Okta, Mozilla, DreamHost, and likely a few others who I’m missing at the moment.

I’d also like to thank the Eliot Center for letting us hosting the event at their fabulous facility.

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The Pepper Drive Parade

Our local neighborhood gets together at 10am on the 4th of July for a neighborhood parade. There are far more people in the parade than watching it, so it’s more like a gathering at the top of the street in preparation followed by a procession to the bottom of the street where there’s another gathering with snacks and drinks. Those who are along the parade route seem to eventually join the parade and walk to the end for the party.

There were some truly creative little costumes and decorations, but I think my favorite part of the parade today was a bewildered coyote that was coming up the street in the opposite direction of the parade who was shocked to see a mob of people with horses and a firetruck coming down the street. He managed to run off down a side street and escape.

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Threaded conversations between WordPress and Twitter

I’ve written about threading comments from one WordPress website to another before. I’ve long suspected this type of thing could be done with Twitter, but never really bothered with it or necessarily needed to do it, though I’ve often seen cases where others might have wanted to do this.

For a post today, I wrote on my own site and syndicated it to Twitter and got a reply back via webmention through Brid.gy. This process happens for me almost every day, and this all by itself feels magical.  The real magic however, and I don’t think I’ve done this before or seen it done, was that I replied to the backfed comment on my site inline and manually syndicated to Twitter using a permalink of the form http://www.example.com/standard-permalink-structure/?replytocom=57527#respond, where 57527 is the particular comment ID for my inline comment. (This comment ID can typically be found by hovering over the “Reply” or “Comment” button on one’s WordPress website in most browsers.)

Where to find the comment ID to provide the proper permalink to get properly nested comments backfed to your site.

When a reply to my second syndicated Twitter post came in, Brid.gy properly sent it as a comment to my comment AND nested it properly!

I’ve now got a nested copy of the conversation on my site that is identical to the one on Twitter.

I suspect that by carefully choosing the URL structure you syndicate to Twitter, you’ll allow yourself more control over how backfed comments from Brid.gy nest (or don’t) in your response section on your site.

Perhaps even more powerfully, non-WordPress-based websites could also use these permalinks structures for composing their replies to WordPress sites to have their replies nest properly too. I think I’ve seen Aaron Parecki do this in the wild.

Since the WordPress Webmention plugin now includes functionality for sending webmentions directly from the comments section, I’ll have to double check that the microformats on my comments are properly marked up to  see if I can start leveraging Brid.gy publish functionality to send threaded replies to Twitter automatically. Or perhaps work on something that will allow automatic replies via Twitter API. Hmmm…

Despite the fact that this could all be a bit more automated, the fact that one can easily do threaded replies between WordPress and Twitter makes me quite happy.

Thread onward!

For more on my IndieWeb explorations with Twitter, see my IndieWeb Research page.

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Plans and Thoughts for IndieWebSummit

IndieWeb Summit is upon us. Going into it I thought I’d jot down a handful of areas I’d like to play around with this week (and in coming weeks) as well as make a short list of things I might like to potentially build on day two. Things are sure to change as I see presentations and have conversations throughout the day, but at least I’ll have the ideas to hack around on in the coming weeks and months afterwards.

Session ideas

IndieWeb for Education (edtech, OER, outreach, DoOO)
Readers
Annotations
Publics/Audience
Vouch
Journalism
Syndication
Commonplace books online
WordPress Outreach (microformats for theme developers)

Build

Fix micropub set up for my site (esp. for reads/checkins)
TwentyTwelve theme fork with mf2 compatibility
Annotations post kind
Itch post kind
IFTTT code for PESOS from various RSS feeds
Plugin for the fragmentioner
Add annotations/highlights to the post types page
Tweaks to the Hypothesis Aggregator plugin to suit my workflow

 

An Outline for Using Hypothesis for Owning your Annotations and Highlights

I was taken with Ian O’Byrne’s righteous excitement in his video the other day over the realization that he could potentially own his online annotations using Hypothesis, that I thought I’d take a moment to outline a few methods I’ve used.

There are certainly variations of ways for attempting to own one’s own annotations using Hypothesis and syndicating them to one’s website (via a PESOS workflow), but I thought I’d outline the quickest version I’m aware of that requires little to no programming or code, but also allows some relatively pretty results. While some of the portions below are WordPress specific, there’s certainly no reason they couldn’t be implemented for other systems.

Saving individual annotations one at a time

Here’s an easy method for taking each individual annotation you create on Hypothesis and quickly porting it to your site:

Create an IFTTT.com recipe to port your Hypothesis RSS feed into WordPress posts. Generally chose an “If RSS, then WordPress” setup and use the following data to build the recipe:

  • Input feed: https://hypothes.is/stream.atom?user=username (change username to your user name)
  • Optional title: 📑 {{EntryTitle}}
  • Body: {{EntryContent}} from {{EntryUrl}} <br />{{EntryPublished}}
  • Categories: Highlight (use whatever categories you prefer, but be aware they’ll apply to all your future posts from this feed)
  • Tags: hypothes.is
  • Post status (optional): I set mine to “Draft” so I have the option to keep it privately or to publish it publicly at a later date.

Modify any of the above fields as necessary for your needs. IFTTT.com usually polls your feed every 10-15 minutes. You can usually pretty quickly take this data and turn it into your post kind of preference–suggestions include read, bookmark, like, favorite, or even reply. Add additional categories, tags, or other metadata as necessary for easier searching at a later time.

Here’s an example of one on my website that uses this method. I’ve obviously created a custom highlight post kind of my own for more specific presentation as well as microformats markup.

A highlight from Hypothesis posted on my own website using some customized code to create a “Highlight post” using the Post Kinds Plugin.

Aggregating lots of annotations on a single page

If you do a lot of annotations on Hypothesis and prefer to create a bookmark or read post that aggregates all of your annotations on a given post, the quickest way I’ve seen on WordPress to export your data is to use the Hypothesis Aggregator plugin [GitHub].

  • Create a tag “key” for a particular article by creating an acronym from the article title followed by the date and then the author’s initials. This will allow you to quickly conglomerate all the annotations for a particular article or web page. As an example for this article I’d use: OUHOAH062218CA. In addition to any other necessary tags, I’ll tag each of my annotations on the particular article with this somewhat random, yet specific key for which there are unlikely to be any other similar tags in my account.
  • Create a bookmark, read, reply or other post kind to which you’ll attach your annotations. I often use a bookmarklet for speed here.
  • Use the Hypothesis Aggregator’s short code for your tag and username to pull your annotations for the particular tag. It will look like this:
    [hypothesis user = 'username' tags = 'tagname']

    If you’re clever, you could include this shortcode in the body of your IFTTT recipe (if you’re using drafts) and simply change the tag name to the appropriate one to save half a step or need to remember the shortcode format each time.

If you’re worried that Hypothes.is may eventually shut down, the plugin quits working (leaving you with ugly short codes in your post) or all of the above, you can add the following steps as a quick work-around.

  • Input the shortcode as above, click on the “Preview” button in WordPress’s Publish meta box which will open a new window and let you view your post.
  • Copy the preview of the annotations you’d like to keep in your post and paste them over your shortcode in the Visual editor tab on your draft post. (This will maintain the simple HTML formatting tags, which you can also edit or supplement if you like.)
  • I also strip out the additional unnecessary data from Hypothesis Aggregator about the article it’s from as well as the line about who created the annotation which isn’t necessary as my post will implicitly have that data. Depending on how you make your post (i.e. not using the Post Kinds Plugin), you may want to keep it.

As Greg McVerry kindly points out, Jon Udell has created a simple web-tool for inputting a few bits of data about a set of annotations to export them variously in HTML, CSV, or JSON format. If you’re not a developer and don’t want to fuss with Hypothesis’ API, this is also a reasonably solid method of quickly exporting subsections of your annotations and cutting and pasting them onto your website. It does export a lot more data that one might want for their site and could require some additional clean up, particularly in HTML format.

Perhaps with some elbow grease and coding skill, sometime in the future, we’ll have a simple way to implement a POSSE workflow that will allow you to post your annotations to your own website and syndicate them to services like Hypothesis. In the erstwhile, hopefully this will help close a little of the data gap for those using their websites as their commonplace books or digital notebooks.

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Some thoughts on highlights and marginalia with examples

Earlier today I created a read post with some highlights and marginalia related to a post by Ian O’Bryne. In addition to posting it and the data for my own purposes, I’m also did it as a manual test of sorts, particularly since it seemed apropos in reply to Ian’s particular post. I thought I’d take a stab at continuing to refine my work at owning and controlling my own highlights, notes, and annotations on the web. I suspect that being able to better support this will also help to bring more self-publishing and its benefits to the halls of academe.

At present I’m relying on a PESOS solution to post on another site and syndicate a copy back to my own site. I’ve used Hypothesis, in large part for their fantastic UI and as well for the data transfer portion (via RSS and even API options), to own the highlights and marginalia I’ve made on the original on Ian’s site. Since he’s syndicated a copy of his original to Medium.com, I suppose I could syndicate copies of my data there as well, but I’m saving myself the additional manual pain for the moment.

Rather than send a dozen+ webmentions to Ian, I’ve bundling everything up in one post. He’ll receive it and it would default to display as a read post though I suspect he may switch it to a reply post for display on his own site. For his own use case, as inferred from his discussion about self-publishing and peer-review within the academy, it might be more useful for him to have received the dozen webmentions. I’m half tempted to have done all the annotations as stand alone posts (much the way they were done within Hypothesis as I read) and use some sort of custom microformats mark up for the highlights and annotations (something along the lines of u-highlight-of and u-annotation-of). At present however, I’ve got some UI concerns about doing so.

One problem is that, on my site, I’d be adding 14 different individual posts, which are all related to one particular piece of external content. Some would be standard replies while others would be highlights and the remainder annotations. Unless there’s some particular reason to do so, compiling them into one post on my site seems to be the most logical thing to do from my perspective and that of my potential readers. I’ll note that I would distinguish annotations as being similar to comments/replies, but semantically they’re meant more for my sake than for the receiving site’s sake. It might be beneficial for the receiving site to accept and display them (preferably in-line) though I could see sites defaulting to considering them vanilla mentions as a fallback.  Perhaps there’s a better way of marking everything up so that my site can bundle the related details into a single post, but still allow the receiving site to log the 14 different reactions and display them appropriately? One needs to not only think about how one’s own site looks, but potentially how others might like to receive the data to display it appropriately on their sites if they’d like as well. As an example, I hope Ian edits out my annotations of his typos if he chooses to display my read post as a comment.

One might take some clues from Hypothesis which has multiple views for their highlights and marginalia. They have a standalone view for each individual highlight/annotation with its own tag structure. They’ve also got views that target highlights/annotation in situ. While looking at an original document, one can easily scroll up and down through the entire page’s highlights and annotations. One piece of functionality I do wish they would make easier is to filter out a view of just my annotations on the particular page (and give it a URL), or provide an easier way to conglomerate just my annotations. To accomplish a bit of this I’ll typically create a custom tag for a particular page so that I can use Hypothesis’ search functionality to display them all on one page with a single URL. Sadly this isn’t perfect because it could be gamed from the outside–something which might be done in a classroom setting using open annotations rather than having a particular group for annotating. I’ll also note in passing that Hypothesis provides RSS and Atom feeds in a variety of ways so that one could quickly utilize services like IFTTT.com or Zapier to save all of their personal highlights and annotations to their website. I suspect I’ll get around to documenting this in the near future for those interested in the specifics.

Another reservation is that there currently isn’t yet a simple or standard way of marking up highlights or marginalia, much less displaying them specifically within the WordPress ecosystem. As I don’t believe Ian’s site is currently as fragmentions friendly as mine, I’m using links on the date/time stamp for each highlight/annotation which uses Hypothesis’ internal functionality to open a copy of the annotated page and automatically scroll down to the fragment as mentioned before. I could potentially see people choosing to either facepile highlights and/or marginalia, wanting to display them in-line within their text, or possibly display them as standalone comments in their comments section. I could also see people wanting to be able to choose between these options based on the particular portions or potentially senders. Some of my own notes are really set up as replies, but the CSS I’m using physically adds the word “Annotation”–I’ll have to remedy this in a future version.

The other benefit of these date/time stamped Hypothesis links is that I can mark them up with the microformat u-syndication class for the future as well. Perhaps someone might implement backfeed of comments until and unless Hypothesis implements webmentions? For fun, some of my annotations on Hypothesis also have links back to my copy as well. In any case, there are links on both copies pointing at each other, so one can switch from one to the other.

I could imagine a world in which it would be nice if I could use a service like Hypothesis as a micropub client and compose my highlights/marginalia there and micropub it to my own site, which then in turn sends webmentions to the marked up site. This could be a potential godsend to researchers/academics using Hypothesis to aggregate their research into their own personal online (potentially open) notebooks. In addition to adding bookmark functionality, I could see some of these be killer features in the Omnibear browser extension, Quill, or similar micropub clients.

I could also see a use-case for adding highlight and annotation kinds to the Post Kinds plugin for accomplishing some of this. In particular it would be nice to have a quick and easy user interface for creating these types of content (especially via bookmarklet), though again this path also relies on doing individual posts instead of a single post or potentially a collection of posts. A side benefit would be in having individual tags for each highlight or marginal note, which is something Hypothesis provides. Of course let’s not forget the quote post kind already exists, though I’ll have to think through the implications of that versus a slightly different semantic version of the two, at least in the ways I would potentially use them. I’ll note that some blogs (Colin Walker and Eddie Hinkle come to mind) have a front page that display today’s posts (or the n-most recent); perhaps I could leverage this to create a collection post of highlights and marginalia (keyed off of the original URL) to make collection posts that fit into my various streams of content. I’m also aware of a series plugin that David Shanske is using which aggregates content like this, though I’m not quite sure this is the right solution for the problem.

Eventually with some additional manual experimentation and though in doing this, I’ll get around to adding some pieces and additional functionality to the site. I’m still also interested in adding in some of the receipt/display functionalities I’ve seen from Kartik Prabhu which are also related to some of this discussion.

Is anyone else contemplating this sort of use case? I’m curious what your thoughts are. What other UI examples exist in the space? How would you like these kinds of reactions to look on your site?

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Visually indicating post types on blogs and microblogs

It’s been a while since I’ve actively read Om Malik‘s blog, but I noticed that he’s using graphical indicators that add some semantic detail about what each post is. It’s a design element I’ve only seen lately out of the IndieWeb community with plugins like the Post Kinds Plugin for WordPress or done manually with emoji in post titles the way Aaron Davis has done relatively religiously, particularly on his “Collect” site.

Om Malik is using some graphical indicators to give quick additional semantic meaning to what he’s posting.

I highly suspect that he’s using the Post Formats functionality from WordPress core to do some of this using a custom theme. Sadly it’s generally fallen out of fashion and one doesn’t see it very often any more. I suspect that it’s because WordPress didn’t take the functionality to its logical conclusion in the same way that the Post Kinds Plugin does.

The way Aaron Davis uses emoji in his posts helps to provide additional context about what is being written about to indicate what is going on in a link before it’s clicked.

I think some of my first experience with its resurgence was as helpful UI I saw suggested by Tantek Çelik on the Read page of the IndieWeb wiki. I’ve been doing it a lot myself, primarily for posts that I syndicate out to micro.blog, where it’s become a discovery function using so-called tagmoji (see books, for example), or Twitter (reads, bookmarks, watches, listens, likes). In those places, they particularly allow me to add a lot more semantic meaning to short notes/microblog posts than others do.

I do wish that having emoji for read posts was more common in Twitter to indicate that people actually bothered to read those articles they’re sharing to Twitter, the extra context would be incredibly useful. I generally suspect that article links people are sharing have more of a bookmark sentiment based on their click-bait headlines. Perhaps this is why I like Reading.am so much for finding content — it’s material people have actually bothered to read before they shared it out. Twitter adding some additional semantic tidbits like these would make it much more valuable in my mind.

It doesn’t appear that Om has taken this functionality that far himself though (at least on Twitter). Perhaps if WordPress made it easier to syndicate out content to Twitter with this sort of data attached it would help things take off?

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Defining the IndieWeb

The concept of IndieWeb is something slightly different to many people and it’s ever evolving and changing, just like the internet itself.

Trying to define it is somewhat akin to trying to define America: while it has a relatively well-defined geographic border and place in time, its people, laws, philosophies, and principles, while typically very similar, can vary and change over time. What it is can be different for everyone both within it as well as outside of it. It can be different things to different people based on their place, time, and even mood. In the end maybe it’s just an idea.

A basic definition of IndieWeb

In broadest terms I would define being part of the IndieWeb as owning your own domain name and hosting some sort of website as a means of identifying yourself and attempting to communicate with others on the internet.

At its simplest, one could say they have an IndieWeb site by buying their own domain name (in my case: boffosocko.com) and connecting it to a free and flexible service like Tumblr.com or WordPress.com. Because you’ve got the ability to export your data from these services and move it to a new host or new content management system, you have a lot more freedom of choice and flexibility in what you’re doing with your content and identity and how you can interact online. By owning your domain and the ability to map your URLs, when you move, you can see and feel the benefits for yourself, but your content can still be found at the same web addresses you’ve set up instead of disappearing from the web.

If you wished, you could even purchase a new domain name and very inexpensively keep the old domain name and have it automatically forward people from your old links to all the appropriate links on your new one.

By comparison, owning your own domain name and redirecting it to your Facebook page doesn’t quite make you IndieWeb because if you moved to a different service your content might be able to go with you by export, but all of the URLs that used to point to it are now all dead and broken because they were under the control of another company that is trying to lock you into their service.

Some more nuanced definition

Going back to the analogy of America, the proverbial constitution for the IndieWeb is generally laid out on its principles page. If you like, the pre-amble to this “constitution” is declared on the IndieWeb wiki’s front page and on its why page.

Some people may choose to host the business card equivalent of a website with simply their name and contact information. Others may choose to use it as the central hub of their entire online presence and identity. In the end, what you do with your website and how you choose to use it should be up to you. What if you wanted to use your website like Twitter for short status updates or sharing links? What if you wanted to use it like Facebook to share content and photos with your friends and family? What if you want to host audio or video like Soundcloud, YouTube, or Vimeo allow?

The corporate social media revolution was a lovely and useful evolution of what the blogosphere was already doing. Thousands of companies made it incredibly easy for billions of people to be on the internet and interact with each other. But why let a corporation own and monetize your data and your ability to interact with others? More importantly, why allow them to limit what you can do? Maybe I want to post status updates of more than 280 characters? Maybe I want the ability to edit or update a post? Maybe I want more privacy? Maybe I don’t want advertising? Why should I be stuck with only the functionality that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn and thousands of others allow me to have? Why should I be limited in communicating with people who are stuck on a particular service? (Would you use your phone to only call friends who use AT&T?) Why should I have hundreds of social accounts and an online identity shattered like just so many horcruxes when I could have one that I can fully control?

By decentralizing things to the level of owning a domain and having a simple website with control of my URLs, I can move to cheaper or more innovative web hosts or service providers. I can move to more innovative content manage systems that allow me to do more and communicate better or more broadly with others online. As a side effect of empowering myself, I can help create more competition and innovation in the space to do things I might not otherwise be capable of doing solely by myself.

Web standards

Almost all of the people behind the IndieWeb movement believe in using some basic web standards as a central building block. Standards help provide some sort of guidance to allow sites to be easier to build and provide a simpler way for them to communicate and interact with each other.

Of course, because you have control of your own site, you can do anything you wish with it. (In our America analogy we could consider standards to be like speech. Then how might we define free speech in the IndieWeb?) Perhaps a group of people who want some sort of new functionality will agree on a limited set of new standards or protocols? They can build and iterate and gradually create new standards that others can follow so that the infrastructure advances and new capabilities emerge. Generally the simpler and easier these standards are to implement, the more adoption they will typically garner. Often simple standards are easier to innovate on and allow people to come up with new ways of using them that weren’t originally intended.

This type of growth can be seen in the relatively new W3C recommendation for the Webmention specification which grew out of the IndieWeb movement. Services like Facebook and Twitter have a functionality called @mentions, but they only work within their own walled gardens; they definitely don’t interoperate–you can’t @mention someone on Facebook with your Twitter account. Why not?! Why not have a simple standard that will allow one website to @mention another–not only across domain names but across multiple web servers and even content management systems? This is precisely what the Webmention standard allows. I can @mention you from my domain running WordPress and you can still receive it using your own domain running Drupal (or whatever software you choose). People within the IndieWeb community realized there was a need for such functionality, and so, over the span of several years, they slowly evolved it and turned it into a web standard that anyone (including Facebook and Twitter) could use. While it may have been initially meant as a simple notifications protocol, people have combined it with another set of web standards known as Microformats to enable cross-site conversations and a variety of other wonderous functionalities.

Some people in the IndieWeb might define it as all of the previous ideas we’ve discussed as well as the ability to support conversations via Webmentions. Some might also define an IndieWeb site as one that has the ability to support Micropub, which is a standard that allows websites to be able to accept data from a growing variety of applications that will allow you to more easily post different types of content to your site from articles and photos to what you’re drinking or reading.

Still others might want their own definition of IndieWeb to support the functionality of WebSub, MicroSub, IndieAuth, or even all of the above. Each small, free-standing piece expands the capabilities of what your personal website can do and how you can interact online. But since it’s your website and under your control, you have the power to pick and choose what and how you would like it to be able to do.

So what is the IndieWeb really?

Perhaps after exploring the concept a bit, most may not necessarily be able to define it concretely. Instead they might say–to quote United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart“But I know it when I see it […]”.

The IndieWeb can be many different things. It is:

  • a website;
  • an independent network of websites;
  • an idea;
  • a concept;
  • a set of broad-based web standards;
  • a set of principles;
  • a philosophy;
  • a group of people;
  • a support network;
  • an organization;
  • an inclusive community;
  • a movement;
  • a Utopian dream of what the decentralized, open Internet could be.

In some sense it is all of these things and many more.

In the end though, the real question is:

What do you want the IndieWeb to be?

Come help us all define it.

IndieWeb.org

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