I just read this on OLDaily ~ by Stephen Downes in my RSS reader.

Points to

apparently YouTube has decided to allow users to follow channels via RSS again,

from: YouTube has (apparently) reinstated RSS feeds – BiteofanApple

It seems to work, I’ve aded my own channel to my RSS reader, Inoreader, and it worked fine. Tested in a WordPress sidebar widget and here using the RSS Via Shortcode for Page & Post WordPress Plugins

[rssonpage rss="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc0gdVM7MLneoiJHp4HUqkA" feeds="4" excerpt="summary" target="_blank"]

Gives me links to my last 4 videos.

The feeds seem to lack description, inoreader (and I’d guess other RSS readers) pick up the video from the media:content tag (I’d guess).

This could be useful for bringing content together with other feeds. Perhaps YouTube will bring back tags too…

Image cropped from public domain flickr image: Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) ...

I’ve been following the work of Dave Winer for a while now. His pioneering work with RSS, blogging and podcasting is central to my use of the web. I’ve even dipped my toes into and blogged about Fargo his outliner tool a few times, I tried myword.io a couple too.

The product I am most interested in was the Rivers project. This is a take on RSS readers, where you view collections of RSS in a stream, rather than a folder structure.

In the past I set up River3 and River4. These products really need a server that goes a bit further than web hosting. I had some working locally but this was not ideal. The instructions for using the previous version of River tended to involve Amazon Web Services and a server elsewhere.


River5 changes all of this, it is designed to keep everything in the same place, one server. The only difficulty is that it requires a server running node.

This is pretty simple to set up locally on a mac. You need to use the terminal. You install node. Then you follow the instructions on the River5 github page and you are away.

What is very nice indeed is that you can add feeds you want to read in several different formats opml (handy for export from other RSS readers), json and plain text. There is a set of example feeds provided that will let you see everything is working.

I wanted to be able to have the rivers running all the time and be accessible from other computers. For that I need a server that I could install and run node on. Turns out I have one, john’s pi server. That sits on my window sill mostly taking pictures of the sky. It was running a twitter bot but that is broken at the moment.

Setting up River5 on a Raspberry Pi

I do most things on my pi via the terminal on a mac or iPad, suing ssh to logon.

I had installed node on the pi a while back.

Download the latest:
wget http://node-arm.herokuapp.com/node_latest_armhf.deb

then install:

sudo dpkg -i node_latest_armhf.deb

I seem to have done that a while back when I was failing to get something else up and running.

All I need to do to get River5 installed was to download the files from github and upload them to the pi with scp.
I then unzipped them went into the folder and ran these two commands:

npm install

node river5.js

This set everything up, a plie of stuff streams by in the terminal and all looked ok. (I had problems the first time I tried but an update came out immediately that fixed things for Linux servers. I got a very quick response on the River5 Forum).

My Pi already has a sub domain so I visited http://pi.johnj.info:1337 and could see the rivers flowing with Dave’s Feeds.

I’ve now removed the original ones and replace them with lists of feeds of my own.

Rivers Forever

After that I went to bed, next morning I tried the link and it was down. The problem is I need to keep the application up and running even when I am not logged onto the server. I recalled reading on Dave’s blog about Forever. As usual google found the instructions to install and use: Keep a node.js server up with Forever.

This is pretty simple you install Forever with:

sudo npm install forever

npm is a package manager for JavaScript so it installs stuff.

After it is installed we can start up the river5 with:
forever start river5.js and it keeps going.

Mine has been running for a few days now on the pi without any problems.I’ve been enjoying an alternative view of some of my RSS feeds. My next steps are probably to move things around a bit so that I don’t relay on the built in node server, and can pull the river json over to here.

I am pretty amazed by the ease of doing this. The software has been made to be very easy to install and the Raspberry Pi turns out to be a very capable wee box.

Last evening I noticed on twitter:

And jumped in without thinking too much.

Rich (@richardtape) was providing drop in support on a Google Hangout. Rich works at University of British Columbia which is, of course, organizing the Teaching with WordPress course I am trying to follow.

I had, for a short while, the floor to myself. Unfortunately I made poor use of the time, my teacup was too full. Rich was extremely patient and told me the answer to my problem several times, I just didn’t notice. Hopefully I’ve learned a lesson for the next time I have a similar opportunity (hoping against experience here).

The problem is the one described in the previous post. To display a question/assignment/challenge post along with responses to that post. Christina solved it with the loop shortcode plugin. We do not have that plugin on GlowBlogs.

Five Thirty am Enlightenment

After mulling over the problem in bed this morning I suddenly listened to Rich again. He had repeatedly told me the best way to do this would be RSS but I had focused on plugins and facilities we do not have (yet?) in GlowBlogs.

So the way I would solve this in Glow blogs would be to use RSS widgets, to pull in responses. These responses would be on the same blog as the questions (but could be pulled in with the syndication plugin, or on another blog that does the aggregation). The widget would only be displayed on the post with the question as it would have a unique category. The responses would have a unique category or tag.

Here is a quick example: Challenge 2 Red.

On that post you can see the challenge (show something red). In the sidebar there is a widget showing a list of posts tagged red. This only shows up on the challenge page. I’ve added some information to the post to give more details.

There are a couple of drawbacks to this method.

  1. It is a bit fiddly for the person setting up the challenge. They need to create a widget per challenge and a category per challenge.
  2. The RSS update is not immediate. A WordPress query would be better.

I would be interested in using it for something like the bootcamp and see how it goes.


The new Syndication plugin gives Glow Blogs the ability to bring content in from other sources aggregating content into one space.

For example a School site could aggregate several department or class blogs. This gives the classes/departments a degree of autonomy and control. Schools could decide to only pull in posts with a particular category or tag onto the mothership site.

I’ve been a big fan of aggregation of information ever since I started blogging. Blogs provide a stream of their posts as RSS. This can be used to keep on top of a lot of content through an RSS reader and RSS can be used to distribute information. For example you can show posts from one blog on the sidebar of another with the RSS widget.

Going further than that usually takes a bit more work and either a plugin, specialised software or a workaround. For example on the Blogging Bootcamp I am pulling in links from over 50 blogs through one aggregate RSS feed. The aggregation is being done by an external site inoreader. The only option was to display this in the blog sidebar. I hope to be able to do similar projects from now on with the syndication plugin and displaying posts.

The Syndication Plugin

In phase 2.2 of the Glow Blogs project we added the syndication plugin. This is a simplified version of a more complex plugin being developed by Automattic. The plugin allows you to add RSS feeds so that their posts appear on the syndicating blog. Once you have activated the plugin you can create a group, add sites to it via their RSS feeds and pull that content onto your blog where it is published. Importantly you can set it so that the source link for the post is the original blog and commentators will be redirected there, you do not need to steal the content.

This is what we do on ScotEduBlogs where over 100 blogs are aggregated for easy reading. Until now it would not  be possible to do this in Glow.

It is also how the best, in my opinion, course on the internet is run DS106.. There the course activities are posted and participants responses, published on their own sites are pulled in. the syndication plugin will give us a chance to do this inside Glow Blogs.

I’ve started a guide to using the plugin on the Glow Help Blog (Syndication Plugin | Glow Blog Help) and am starting to use the plugin for a couple of projects (#ShareOurLearning | Gathering Learning from around Scotland).

A couple of weeks ago I kicked of a blogging bootcamp as part of my day job. The idea is to help folk through getting started with class blogging. Each week for 10 weeks there are, technical tasks, discussions and blogging challenges which participating classes (or teachers) can choose to do.

My thinking is based on my own experience in a few online classes/MOOCs and, of course ds106. The bit I really wanted to do was aggregate the participants blogs back to the bootcamp blog. Hopefully this would lead to some connections and community.

I had hoped as part of the progress with glow blogs we would by now have had a plugin in place that would help with this. Unfortunately this has not happened yet.

My next though was to set up a blog outside glow, install the necessary plugin (FeedWordPress probably) and aggregate the posts there. This aggregation could be brought back to the bootcamp blog as an RSS feed.

I ended up going for much less work. I use Inoreader as my RSS reader. It has the rather nice feature when you can get an RSS feed for any of your folders of feeds. This is how it works.

After participants make their first post, they send me a link. We are asking them to categorize their posts bootcamp so I use the feed for that. For example Wemyss Bay Primary P6, their bootcamp category is:


So the RSS feed will be


I add that to my Inoreader and put it in the BootCamp folder:

inoreader screeshot

From the Folder Settings menu I can then get a link to the aggregated RSS feed and a page that aggregates all the posts too.

Back on the bootcamp blog I’ve added a RSS widget to the sidebar using this feed. This displays the last 20 posts from participants on the blog.

rss widget on bootcamp blog

I’d prefer to show more of the participants post on the main section of the blog but I believe this is a further wee story that shows how nice this sort of technique could be. If we get a suitable plugin in glow blogs, we could run all sots of ‘events’ and learning experiences by just aggregating participating class or school blogs through a ‘mothership’ blog.

Like many education folk I follow Doug Belshaw for lots of good reasons. This week I bumped into Doug at Opening Educational Practices in Scotland Forum and launch (a lot to digest from that). Doug reminded attendees about the Survey: 5 proposals for Web Literacy Map 2.0 he is organising. After a quick review of the Web Literacy Map and other resources Doug listed I filled in the survey. This leads, backsides forward, to looking at the Map again. It is a great resource1 well organised and deep. It seems to add content every time I look at it. A couple of the questions were around the organisation and complexity of the map. I had a few thoughts. Given the complexity and depth of the resource I wonder if it would be interesting exposing it in different formats for folk to remix. Initially I though of JSON as I’ve made a couple of experiments with this in webmaker. I am now wondering if OPML might be an interesting approach too? This would export to most mind-mapping softwares. I’ve been playing with fargo occasionally and it might allow manipulation of the OPML too.

A Job for RSS

The other thing that I was reminded of was the series of chats Doug has been recording with interesting and interested parties. For the most part I’d seen these stream by on Tumblr and only listened to fragments. Doug has put the audio on the internet archive with a nice CC0 license, so I’ve done a little remixing of my own. I’ve uploaded an RSS feed to my google drive: http://tinyurl.com/dougweblit2chats so that I can pull the audio onto my phone. I can then subscribe to this feed in the podcast app on my phone and listen on the go. (I use overcast as my usually podcast app but thought it might be nice to have this as a temporary separate thing). doug-chats-podcast-app I’ve listened to the Stephen Downes episode on my commute this morning and if the rest are as interesting it will be a delight getting through them. Feel free to subscribe to the feed if you want to do the same thing, be aware I’ve made little effort to make the feed validate, the enclosures don’t have a length etc.


1. Caveat, I am not working with learners and have never taught Web literacy in any depth. I did teach some of ‘this stuff’ as part of teaching ict, blogging, podcasting and the like.

I woke up the other morning morning to a bit of serendipity in my RSS reader that cheered me up.
First I read Alan’s great post Don’t Be a Platform Pawn. Next up was Marco Arment Linking and quoting Waffle on Social Media which quoted in turn Community Services which pointed to What’s a Twitter Timeline?. On the back of these posts and more Doug Belshaw posted Twitter, algorithms, and digital dystopias (I got the last link via twitter, but it arrived in my rss reader too).

At the heart of all this the current worries about what you see and who curates your reading. It is also linked in my mind at least, to worries about who owns the space you publish in and the idea around being the product if you are not the customer. It cheers me to see so much pushback against the commercial monoliths.

I’ve read and even posted about this before, as have many others, but it bears rethink or more mulling, it is pertinent again with the redefinition of the twitter timeline and various facebook problems that are popping up.

Doug points out:

they need to provide shareholder value which, given the web’s current dominant revenue model, is predicated on raising advertising dollars. Raising the kind of money they need depends upon user growth, not necessarily upon serving existing users. After all, if they’ve provided the space where all your friends and contacts hang out, you’re kind of locked in.

And we are ‘kind of’, we can also use a mix of tools and spaces and give them up when the discomfort is to great or the utility is poor. Doug has given up RSS in favour of twitter, G+ and facebook. I’ve stuck with it along with scanning twitter (and harvesting links to my RSS reader) and a smidgen of G+. I lack Doug’s guilt at a pile of unread links in my feedreader and I am more than happy to mark all as read now and then.

I think both Alan and Doug would agree that it is ok to use and be used by the silos as long as you are aware and the positives outweigh the negatives?

What is great about Alan’s post is he gives you recipes for how he gains the benefit of flickr, twitter and the like by having control over them, there are a lot of different recipes and links to follow. This presumes that you will use the tools with care, though and a willingness to learn. I’d argue that it is also good fun. here are a few tips of my own.

Know RSS from your elbow

RSS is still useful, an old trailing edge technology I still find my RSS reader better that twitter for finding interesting things to read. Perhaps because things pile up rather than steam by, perhaps because I follow around 2000 folk but have only a couple of hundred feeds or so in my reader.

One of the things I look forward to each week is Doug’s newsletter, Things I We Learned This Week. It is an email list, but I subscribe in my RSS reader, I’ll leave any readers to work out how this is done:-) I’ve also got siftlinks hooked up to my twitter account, this give me a feed of tweets with links from my timeline, it also gives me a feed for my favourites with links. This is great, I use the favourite button in twitter to give feedback to folk (I liked this) and to ‘save’ interesting things. IFTT has several recipies that will convert stuff to RSS so you may find something useful there.

The nice thing about RSS is you can move from laptop to desktop to mobile and keep reading the content. The other major factor for me is how inoreader (web) and FeeddlerPro (iOS) allow me to post links to twitter, tumblr and more importantly to pinboard.

Email is still interesting

I go out of my way to get Doug’s mail in my feed reader because it is content I want to hold onto for a while, but there are an increasing number of email services that provide reading, link or a mix, katexic clippings being a favourite example at the moment. Email lists are also a great way to get information pushed to you from a group.

Play with new things

Along with the old trailing edge technology.

As twitter and facebook and flickr evolve watch out for the new things that are popping up all over the place, I am currently kicking the tyres of Fargo, known and keeping half a eye on Little Facebook Editor. Both known and Little Facebook Editor can post to silos and other spaces, WordPress for LFE and known published to itself and optionally twitter, flickr and Facebook. I am pretty sure that I’ll not adopt these tools for major stuff anytime soon, but it is good to keep up with some different ways of doing thing.

Update, I didn’t post this yesterday because I got distracted by MDwiki, and ended up building a quick test wiki in my dropbox.

flickr photo by krystian_o Attribution License

43/365 by krystian_o Attribution License

TL:DR I’ve just migrated my blog, please let me know if you find broken things and I’ll try and fix them.

In the midst of the glowblogs migration project I am involved in professional I’ve been working on a wee migration of my own. For the past nine years I’ve been blogging using pivot (later pivotx) this weekend I’ve moved to WordPress.


I started using pivot back in 2004 as my class blog mainy because it did not need a database on the website and then that cost a bit more. I stuck to it as I found it easy to theme, and adapt for various classroom projects. It seemed fairly natural to use the same system myself.

Pivotx seems to be changing but quite slowly, the promise of pivot 4 was from 2012.

I’ve been attracted to several interesting WordPress technologies and plugins and now use it for edutalk, ScotEduBlogs and my ds106 blog. The feedwordpress plugin is of especial interest.

A wish to eat my own dog food given I am promoting WordPress for glow.


Originally I though of turning the whole site/domain to WordPress, to include my ds106 blog: 106 drop in, but that looked a wee bit to tricky at the moment. I also have a bunch of straightforward html pages and experiments which I want to leave in place. Also there are a few challenges to moving the pivot posts to WordPress that seemed enough for now.

There is not a simple pivotx imported for wordpress, I found Migrating your blog from PivotX to WordPress | filmvanalledag which looked as if it was a near fit, but missed out tags and comments. I’ve also been using disqus comments for my blog but wanted to move to standard ones without losing disqus.

That filmvanalledag post gave me a great start with example.org/?feed=rss&c=*&n=10000 I used this to download the rss feed for all of my posts (>800).

I decided that the RSS import would lose all my tags and comments so went for another approach. I have a bit of experience with kludging together a standard WordPress import from other things. This is probably of little interest to anyone but myself, but briefly I use SuperCard to creat a simple pseudo database of the rss add in the missing keywords by downloading them directly from the database and then manipulate it into a wordpress friendly format, for example getting the tag list like this:


Directly from the database and turning it into:

<category domain="post_tag" nicename="glowscotland"><![CDATA[glowscotland]]></category>
<category domain="post_tag" nicename="glowscot"><![CDATA[glowscot]]></category>
<category domain="post_tag" nicename="blogging"><![CDATA[blogging]]></category>
<category domain="post_tag" nicename="wordpress"><![CDATA[wordpress]]></category>
<category domain="category" nicename="wwwd"><![CDATA[wwwd]]></category>
<category domain="category" nicename="jj"><![CDATA[jj]]></category>

For each post.

I tested the import of my export on a local version of wordpress and also worked out some htaccess stuff.
My old blog links were like this: http://johnjohnston.info/blog/?e=2462 and wordpress expects this http://johnjohnston.info/blog/?p=2462.

It took me a fair bit of googling and testing to get something that worked, although not quite correctly, http://johnjohnston.info/?e=2464 once I turned on pretty links goes to http://johnjohnston.info/blag/what-is-openness/?e=2464, not removing the ?e=2464, ?p=2464 works properly. Once tested I created a new WordPress on the site, at /blag, set it up, did a little more testing and have just moved it to /blog after changing the urls in the General Settings Screen.

The other main problem was that I was using disqus for my comments on the old blog and being a packrat I did not want to leave them behind. So I’ve added a bit of logic to this new blog where older posts will display the disqus form and any comments but going forward I’ll use the standard WordPress ones. I can’t see any way to import the old disqus comments into WordPress at this point.

There are more things to fix, and I’ll try to pick these up as I go along. After that I’ll be looking to play around with some wordpress plugins and the like.


A little blue sky thinking.

For the last few weeks I’ve been kicking the tyres of the new MS 365 glow. It is not without its teething problems, although these do seem to be getting found and fixed. Education Scotland seem confident that everything will get sorted but we have not had much indication of how long it will take.

The Glow Migration Update from Bill Maxwell, hints that the Local Authorities can take their time moving into 365 and new services will be rolling out:

This means authorities will be able to ensure, that together, we create the best possible experiences for Glow users, matched to their users’ needs.

The services and applications required to support this will be rolled out in partnership with local authorities. This will include the opportunity for any blogs, wikis and other services which local authorities want further time to consider to be uploaded.

There is a lot of work being done in getting the 365 site to work well for education, designing ways to aggregate content and build learner experiences. The one interesting place in the new glow so far is the LearnCat site, which is full of activities,

Scottish learners – you can learn to create, make, build, bake, grow, collect, code, tell stories ……and more

This is exciting stuff. It is hard to tell how this will work out until we have a lot of learners in the 365 glow, but to me, the concept looks great.

I think the main problem with the old glow and the new 365 service is its size, a bit of a behemoth, hard to change and adapt to particular circumstances. A lighter weight and more flexible solution might suit conceprs like learncat better?

Domain of One’s Own: Notes from the Trailing Edge

Yesterday I watch the video of this presentation at TEDx Sagrado Corazón by Jim Groom, who has blogged his slides and text: Domain of One’s Own: Notes from the Trailing Edge.

I think there are some great ideas for taking glow forward in the way Bill Maxwell wants:

we create the best possible experiences for Glow users, matched to their users’ needs.

The services and applications required to support this will be rolled out

(My selection from the Quote from Mr Maxwell above).

Jim says,

A forward thinking IT infrastructure (which would be fairly loose, fast, and cheap using open standards of syndication) would work to connect these various individuals into a network, creating serendipitous connections that taken together reflect the rich tapestry of who the people are that make up any institution.

Jim discussed the idea of giving users, flexible webhosting in a domain of their own. Jim linked to Jon Udell’s post, MOOCs need to be user innovation toolkits where Jon writes:

There’s a reason I keep finding novel uses for these trailing-edge technologies. I see them not as closed products and services, but rather as toolkits that invite their users to adapt and extend them. In Democratizing Innovation, Eric von Hippel calls such things “user innovation toolkits” — products or services that, while being used for their intended purposes, also enable their users to express unanticipated intents and find ways to realize them.

Jim goes on to say:

This is exactly what UMW’s Domain of One’s Own is philosophically grounded in. Giving every student, staff, and faculty their own User Innovation Toolkit so that they can fully understand the principles of the web. Interrogate its limits, and extend its possibilities.

Jim then links to A Personal Cyberinfrastructure where Gardner Campbell writes,

To build a cyberinfrastructure that scales without stiflling innovation, that is self-supporting without being isolated or fatally idiosyncratic, we must start with the individual learners. Those of us who work with students must guide them to build their own personal cyberinfrastructures, to embark on their own web odysseys. And yes, we must be ready to receive their guidance as well.


What if….

The quotes above are from folk working in tertiary education, I am wondering if they could be adapted to schools. What if

  • Glow gave every learner and teacher in Scotland a domain. (Perhaps not at nursery, start with training wheels, at a certain point the wheels are taken off, 13 or 16 maybe). The domain could be kept for life. When a learner left full time education they could take their domain with them.
  • Glow added simple webhosting to it services for every user.
  • Folk could use something like c-panel to start up a new blog/wiki/eportfolio/whatever.
  • Glow was therefore open to using old tools in new ways.
  • This part of glow would not be one large application but lots of small ones that can be linked and aggregated in lots of ways.

Sounds a bit like glew.org.uk, it is a lot like Glew with even less centrality.

It does not preclude using 365, google docs or anything else. This would be a service that users would use their glow authentication to logon to.

I do not think this would need to be expensive. By using trailing edge technology, that is used all over the internet, this could be started fairly simply and grow if there was a demand.

Give teachers and learners in Scotland the opportunity to innovate. Much of the innovation in online education has not come from new applications, but teachers finding ways to use old ones in innovative and creative ways.

The argument in the current glow for not being able to add plugins or update the software for blogs (for example) was security and stability. By adopting standard webhosting, these problems would be to a large extent negated. Most webhosts can handle users doing daft things without the whole thing falling over. (I say this, not because I understand webhosting, but because I’ve done a few daft things as a customer). Taking things even further how would something like OpenShift, where it takes minutes to get a cloud application up and running, fit.

Why Not Just use the ‘real’ web

It has been suggested a few times that Scotland gives up glow, and teachers can choose to use any existing services on the internet. This might be fine if we all had access to use these services and they met with national and local security and data protection needs. As things stand we do not and there is not a level playing field across Scotland.

What Then…

Who knows, the field would be open. Just thinking about blogs and RSS (and I don’t think of a lot else), I’ve blogged ideas for using blogs and aggregating them a few times:

I’ve no real idea of how easy it would be to set up authenticated web and domain hosting for a whole nation, but give the time and money that has been put into glow as a large central service, it might not cost too much to provide a structure for a lightweight loosely joined corner of the web for Scottish learners and teachers?

Might it be that by being at the trailing edge, using tried and tested tools, thatost and risk might be low, but provide platforms for teachers and learners to innovate?

I’ve not posted anything about the Scottish Learning Festival or the associated TeachMeet here. I did do a quick audio review of my two days SLF 2013 on EDUtalk and am starting to post tmslf2013 audio at EDUtalk too.

One of the three things I talked about in my 7 minutes at teachmeet was the new ScotEduBlogs site. I posted plans about this here, ScotEduBlogs Evolving a while back. The new site is now running at the old domain. It seems to be running fairly smoothly with a fair number of posts pulled in so far:


I particularly love the zero spam comments. Although the new site is a blog there is no opportunity for commenting, clicking on titles of articles directs you to the original post.

So far I’ve kept the them very minimal, just using the standard Twenty Twelve theme, with a few adjustments in a child theme, the main one being the ability to toggle the amount of text show for each post. I’d expect some folk just to want to scan down the titles, clicking on the ones that interest them, this will open the original post in a new tab.

Seb View

I’d be happy to get advice on this or any other aspect of how the site runs.

We have refocused the site on professional blogs at the moment, to see how it holds up.

I’ve also installed the jetpack pluging mostly for the mobile theme:


Please Join In

If you are a Scottish educational blogger and you are not listed please Add Your blog. Please also spread the word if you know any other Scottish educational bloggers who might like to join in.

FeedWordPress a glow wish

As you might know, glow, Scotland’s national intranet is undergoing a refresh at the moment. I believe a new wordpress provider is being commissioned, I really hope that the new service will either alow us to install our own plugins or includes the feedwordpress plugin too. This pluging powers the aggregation at ScotEduBlogs. This would be a wonderful tool for glow. Teachers could aggregate all their pupils eportfolio onto one blog, schools could aggregate posts from their class blogs onto a school one. I also hope they are going to enable the MetaWebLogAPI that allows posting from mobile apps, this is sadly missing from the current glow blogs.