Blog Aggregation

As with other MOOCs, the #fslt12 MOOC offers blog aggregation

From my perspective this has been one of the most difficult aspects of organizing the technologies we are using for this MOOC. How should we do the aggregation and where should the aggregation appear? Ultimately the decision was to aggregate the blog feeds into our WordPress home site. I wasn’t involved in setting it up, but I have been interested in the discussions around what to do and how to do it.

I have been aware for some time of Stephen Downes’ grsshopper aggregator which he openly shares in detail, but recently I have become aware of the Planet Aggregator .

I have also been very interested in the work that Gordon Lockhart  has been doing on scraping blog comments

In the past six weeks I have been participating (as a mentor) in  CPsquare’s   Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop. This is a community of practice on communities of practice. I have been a member since 2007 when I was a participant in the Workshop. Part of the workshop experience is to work for two weeks with other participants on a project of your choice. This year one of the participants, Mel Chua was keen to try out the Planet Aggregator to pull in blog posts about communities of practice or which reference CPsquare.  This is where the project has got to: Demo site

This project has raised some very interesting issues, most notably the issue of tagging. We didn’t want to pull in authors, so much as the posts that relate to communities of practice of specific authors . Obviously people blog about a variety interests, some of which wouldn’t be relevant to this blog stream.

We discovered that some people don’t use tags at all, even if they write good posts on communities of practice.  Others (me included) are inconsistent in their use of tags or use a variety of tags to represent posts on communities of practice. So discussions at the moment are around whether or not only ‘invited’ people can submit their blog to the aggregator and then whether they should be required to use a given tag, for their blog to appear in the stream.

This has led to a further discussion about boundaries. CPsquare has a ‘permeable’ boundary. It has some aspects of it’s work ‘open’ to the world such as it’s wiki and it’s website , but it also has a private members area where there are ongoing private conversations. Members pay a membership fee.  So the question has been whether any of those conversations should appear on the aggregated blog stream, or whether only members should be invited to submit their blogs to the stream. I think the idea is that the stream will include ‘trusted’ friends who write about CoP related issues, but are not necessarily paid up members of the community.

The suggestion from Mel has been that CPsquare will need a ‘planetmaster’ to manage the invitation of subscribers.

Although a lot of hard work has gone into looking through members’ blogs for relevant tags and categories, Mel and John Smith (community steward for CPsquare) seem to have been able to set up a demo site in a relatively short space of time – so it would seem that aggregation of blogs might be easier in the future – maybe even for non-technical people like me?

7 thoughts on “Blog Aggregation

  1. gbl55 May 17, 2012 / 9:50 pm

    Thanks for the mention Jenny. I hadn’t come across Planet Aggregator and need to figure out how it compares with the sort of news aggregator I’m more familiar with – eg (driven BTW by a module in a Drupal Content Management System – very easy to use). On the whole, I prefer an abbreviated format (eg as per the Change11 Newsletter) or simply a list of links one click away from actual blogs as opposed to a lengthy page involving lots of scrolling. Comment scraping (at least my conception of it) has a rather different purpose: to bring together brief summarised versions of recent blog posts with their comments for quick impressions of current MOOC activity – where and what. I originally intended to make use of tags when I started the Comment Scraper and it’s not difficult to search blogs for them but as you point out, they are not used consistently – evidently some degree of ‘curation’ is difficult to avoid.

  2. Mark McGuire May 17, 2012 / 11:29 pm

    Hi Jenny, Gordon and others

    The considered creation and use of metadata is becoming increasingly important as more and more people depend on their ability (assisted by software) to locate, aggregate, sort, and archive useful resources. Contributing a response that can become part of a conversation also requires the addition of considered metadata so that the contribution can be found — so that the speaker can be heard. Whatever approach is chosen, I think it would be sensible to highlight the usefulness of — in fact the need for — metadata literacy. I think it would be helpful if the intelligent use of tags (as well as titles, categories, and other ways if adding information to our information) could be highlighted, discussed, and encouraged.

    Mark McGuire

  3. jennymackness May 18, 2012 / 6:21 pm

    Hi Gordon and Mark – thanks for your comments. It does seem that a little bit of education on how to use tags, categories etc. would be helpful. I rather made it up as I went along. Do you know if there’s any quick way of sorting out your tags retrospectively? And do you have any tagging tips?

    And I agree Gordon – that an aggregator that just lists headings of posts rather than pulls in the whole text is preferable. I’m not sure what’s possible with the system we’ve used in WordPress.


  4. VanessaVaile May 21, 2012 / 2:32 am

    Perhaps some jump right into tagging getting it right (surely tweeters have an advantage there), but most of us, I suspect, grow into better, more effective tagging with time and practice. Or back into it. There is nothing quite like back tagging a huge batch of bookmarks or blog posts to remind you: tag first then save.

  5. gbl55 May 21, 2012 / 8:05 am

    I’m afraid I have several thousand bookmarks and no tagging tips! My ‘system’ just grew like Topsy and is now out of control – not sure if I have the patience to back tag or even a strategy for doing it 😦

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