I’ve not blogged much about work recently, but this story is a good one if somewhat tangled.

We are working, in the Glow blogs team, on the next release. This is mainly to address any problems with the upgrade to WordPress 4.0.1 that came out in January.

My work includes: watching reports come through the help desk; passing on problems that come directly to me (twitter, email and phone) through to the RM. I do a wee bit of tyre kicking and talking to the test team on the way.

On Tuesday I got a mail from a teacher, to the effect that the link to My Sites from the Local Authority home pages didn’t work. Talking to Grant, one of the test team, I found out he was chasing the same problem. We kicked it around a bit and found that if a new users creates a blog on their LA before accessing My Sites, the link did not work, it leads to a list of blogs that the user has a role on.

This is not a show stopper as the user can click on any of the blogs and then the My Site link in the Admin Bar as a work around.

While testing this out we noticed that although the Admin Bar is visible on any Glow blog in your Local Authority, the My Sites link on it leads to the same error (with a list of your sites page).

Thinking these were linked I raised a call to the RM help desk. This got passed through to the team at Automattic. They have quickly fixed the first issue and recorded the fix in our system (JIRA) for following development. The code will be in the next release, hopefully in two or three weeks.

At this point we asked about the second bug, we were told that is was in WordPress core and the team had not only reported it but proposed an initial fix. It is worth pointing out that this was put into the WordPress tracking system at quarter to eleven on Thursday night:

#31314 (My Sites admin bar link broken when on blogs you have no role on) – WordPress Trac

You can see from the linked page, that the ticked was closed at 6:29 on Friday morning. The fix and some improvements are currently attracting the attention and input from three other developers who are completely unconnected from Glow.

So What?

The people that helped with this one included:

  • The teacher who reported the problem
  • The Testers contracted to the Scottish Government
  • The RM Help Desk who are the first point of contact for Glow fault
  • The Developers from Automattic working for Glow
  • WordPress developers who have nothing to do with and likely no knowledge of Glow

Which quite a complex system, but it seems to be working. Most of these people are on the hook and doing their job, but I wonder if a bug in a commercial system would be fixed so quickly? We don’t have the bug fixed in our system but it looks good for being sorted out in a subsequent upgrade.

For me this was pretty exciting. It feels pretty good for those of us who think that Open Source and Openness in general is a good idea in Education.

Now we have moved Glow Blogs into the 21st century we are going have some fun.

The idea of the bootcamp is a place were folk can get help in starting or improving their class blogs.

The bootcamp will take you through creating a blog, adding features and a range of blogging activities. Classes will have the opportunity to link up with other glow blogs and the world wide blogging community.

Each week there will be ‘technical’ tips, blogging challenges and discussion points that can be carried out in your classroom and on your blog.

What you need: A Class, somewhere to blog (glow for example). No technical knowledge needed.

While most of the technical support will be aimed at glow users the bootcamp is open to any classroom.

Details of how to sign up are on the Blogging Bootcamp blog


Yesterday at 4 O’Clock the glow blogs system was upgraded to WordPress 4. The site was down for around 4 minutes.

Glow blog are now running on WordPress 4, not much a a big deal as most other WordPress blogging site are doing the same. But we just upgraded >140000 blog for WordPress 2.9.2 to WordPress 4.0.1 a pretty amazing effort. Setting up from scratch would be simple enough, looking after all of the foibles of a creaky system a bit more complex.

It has been a pleasure working with the Blogs Team for this release, including:

Sonali Nakhate Project Manager; Turnbull and John MacLeod from the technical team at Scottish Government; Grant Hutton and David Orr of the test department at Scottish Government and Code For The People, now part of Automattic who managed to get aquihired by the company behind WordPress.com during the project!

We also got a ton of support in all sorts of ways from the extended glow team at the Scottish Government and Education Scotland and from many in the wider Scottish Education community.

A First Step

Although this is the second phase of the blogs project it is really just the precursor to the next phase. We are starting to discuss the plans for phase three now. This is, I hope, the really exciting bit…

The Glow Help Blog is being updated and I am listing some of the main changes here: Blogs Update Phase 2 WordPress 4 – Glow Blog Help.


On of the real benefits to upgrading glow blogs to WordPress 4 will be its mobile interface. When WordPress 2.9.2 came out in 2010 we were just into the start of the mobile web and the term responsive web design had just been coined.

Now a large percentage of the population have devices in their pockets that are more than capable of posting content online.

. The WordPress  dashboard now  is responsive resizing and rearranging the tools to fit on my screen. Adding an image is simple and a gallery is easy enough.

WordPress now lets me select several images to insert in a post or create a gallery.

This post was started in the train, continued on the tube platform and finished on the couch all using my phone.

Personally I am not the greatest typest on any device. Many folk will be faster. Or I could start a post while mobile, capture images and save that as a draft for later.

I am looking forward to seeing how glow bloggers go mobile next year.


Since WordPress 3.9 the TinyMCE editor now automatically cleans out all but the semantic HTML from Word (or Rich text copied from elsewhere), meaning any fonts, styles, etc. You preserve headings, blockquotes, lists, links, bold, italic.

From: Peek in the SPLOT: TRU Writer

This means WordPress handles text pasted from word a lot better that the current WordPress 2.9.2 does

Even though, like Alan, I don't think writing everything in word is a great idea lots of folks do exactly that. This then should be useful for #glowblogs after the upgrade.

I'll be posting a few things here about the changes in glow blogs coming in January over the next few weeks.


We have just announce the hope that phase 2 of the Glow Blogs project will go live sometime in January next year. This is a wee bit later than our original plans. Personally I am not too disappointed as I can see how hard the team across the Scottish Government and Code For The People (as was)1 are working.

Before I started this business, I could not really see what all the fuss was about, surely all we need to do is upgrade WordPress and all would be well. And that would be fine if it was one blog, dealing with, and sorting out any wee snags and glitches. But width >130000 blogs we need to try and make sure, as much as possible, that the blog owners don’t have much work to do. A major benefit of the newer version of WordPress should be making people’s lives easier it would be a bad start if they need to do a lot of work to keep their blogs looking the same.

Some Details

Here is an example or two of the work that is being carried out.


The Anarchy Media Player plugin was used to display video and audio on Glow Blogs. This plugin is no longer supported or updated. Much of its functionality has been improved on in core WordPress. WorpdPress now lets you upload or add a link to audio or video and choose to link to the media or embed it.
If we just turn off the plugin that would result in existing links to media, that are embedded, just being presented as links. If we leave it in folk may continue to use the features which may not survive any future upgrades. After a bit of though the developers have produced a slimmed down version of the plugin that will continue to change links into embeds. This new version will not however present buttons on the posting tool bar and encourage its continued use.
Hopefully this will smooth the upgrade experience for some people.


The old glow blogs had an upload file limitation of 8mb, this has been increased to 50mb which should help people to post small videos and reasonable length audio files. There will be extra cost in hosting the files and we want to balance this out a bit. In the old blogs quite a few folk ran out of space just by uploading un-edited image files. A plugin, resize at upload plus was added to the service in the hope that people would turn this on, images would be resized and very large sizes would be remove.
In the new setup this plugin has been updated and will be turned on for all blogs. The images will be resized down to 1200 pixels maximum width. This will ensure that images will still look good but trim some size of the rather large images that come out of digital cameras. This resize can be turned off, just in case someone want to have a photography blog and allow huge images to be stored.

These are just two of many changes that the team are working on. There is also the effect of the upgrade on the themes used on blogs, particularly the > 60 profile/e-portfolio themes. Each change needs a fair bit of discussion and work from the developers, each bit of functionality needs to be tested and all the other functionality need to be tested to see if the change has unforeseen consequences.

The User’s Experience

This is going to improve, WordPress has always been regarded as a good bit of software from an end user perspective. Improvement however means change. I am confident that these changes will make things a lot better, but habits will need to adapt. Hopefully we can explain any points of possible pain before the upgrade. We will be changing centuries in software terms, 2.9.2 was released in 2010 version 4 came out this year.

As usual I am more than happy to discuss any aspect of glow blogs, please get in touch if you need more information.


1. Code for the people have joined the WordPress.com VIP Team at Automattic! They still are working on the Glow project.

Last Friday at the same time as the glow authentication changed, the new glow blogs service went live. I posted about this over on Glow Connect.

It was pretty exciting stuff, the developers were really working right up to the last minute and beyond to deliver the service. Even so we have gone live with a few know issues and have already discovered a few more.

At the start of the processes I certainly was not aware of all the complexities involved nor the scale of the job. Turns out it was a big complex job!

Luckily for me I ended up working with an amazing team, not only in the Scottish Government, but in the developers and suppliers. All of them worked long hours with very positive attitudes as I grumbled along. I am tempted to turn this post into a list of these characters and their qualities, but probably enough to say all of the blog team were essential to the process.

What Have We Got

Stray Puppy by p medved
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

At the end of this phase we have a working set of WordPress MU, one for each Local Authority, running the same version of the software as before and we have the known issues linked above.

The main improvement so far is around blog creation. There is no connection to SharePoint/old glow groups. This simplifies the process a great deal. This and other Main Changes are listed in the Glow Blog Help, some of these are not improvements but changes.

One more improvement, not listed, is that you can now upload files of up to 50mb to blogs. This should make it a lot easier to podcast or share small videos without using a third party site or service.

On Wednesday I popped back to North Lanarkshire to watch my colleague Ann McCabe set up a class of e-portfolios, this was much quicker than before, taking away at least half the steps. There is still plenty of room from improvement and I got a great idea to take back to Victoria Quay from the RM help desk who I visited in the afternoon.

Next Up

Given the above, if this was the end point in the process I’d be pretty disappointed. A lot of work for not much in the way of improvement. I am not disappointed due to two things, phase 2 and phase 3.

Phase 2 was looking quite simple, upgrade to a new version of WordPress. This will bring a host of benefits, better user experience especially on mobile being the main gain. More important, in the longer run, is that it gives us a much better base to develop on.
The other aspect of phase 2 will be to backfill in things that were dropped out of phase one or needs that were discovered in phase 1.

It looks like phase 2 will take a bit more work than I expected, but this will start straight off. Already some of the first problems to be discovered has been solved and the developer team are just waiting to decide when to deploy the code. Another potential ongoing problem with server load is now beginning to be understood and the team are working on finding the best solution. The team are keen that the server gets a chance to bed in and are suitably cautious about changing things on the live system, best practises for ongoing change and development are being put in place.

Bright Future

After we get to phase 3 of the project things might speed up a bit. We will be using WordPress 4 which will allow a lot of nice things to happen.

The one I am most excited about is giving a more flexible service. In the old glow blogs it was a constant frustration for myself and many others that our theme and plugin requests were never answered. I am not entirely sure of all the reasons for this, but having peeped behind the curtain I presume some of this was to do with testing.

Watching the new blogs service develop gave me a bit of a shock in the amount of time and effort it needs to deliver a service of this scale. Like many folk who publish stuff on the web I frequently make changes without much of a care and worry. The Technical Architects and developers for glow take a somewhat different view. There first concern is the preservation of users data and stability of the service and given they are taking care of over 100,000 blogs…

The glow blogs system now consists of 4 main servers: integration (where new code is added after code review), explore (for testing), pre-production (more testing) and live. With the older version of WordPress we are using a lot of the development and testing is manual, the testers here and volunteers going through lists of test to test the functionality of the blogs. In addition there is security, load and a many more tests.

Going forward the process should be automated, the newer version of WordPress can have a deal of automatic testing, code going onto the integrate server would be pushed through the different servers being automatically tested on the way, this gives us the possibility of a much more agile service.

On the Way

On Friday last week there was a fair amount of cheering and happy faces around the glow office, since then feedback has been mainly positive. I am not really ready to celebrate yet, there still is a lot to do before we reach the point learners and teachers in Scotland have a world class blogging platform. There so many possibilities out there for doing all sorts of things with WordPress. We would, of course be really interested to hear of any ideas of what you would like from Glow blogs.


Photo credit: WIKI by Kevin Baird, on Flickr Creative Commons — CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Along side the blog migration for Glow I’ve been working on the wiki procurement. Wikis were part of the services added to Glow in 2010 (AFAIR) along with blogs and forums. When it came to think about the new services and migration wiki migration was not in the plans and wikis were not on the map of new services.

The previous wiki solution was not particularly well used, around 4000 wikis were created over the projects lifetime (compare to >130,000 blogs). The software behind the wikis was mindtouch. This is now discontinued and I believe missed a few features that make wikis useful in the classroom. These included nice themes and a simple workflow for uploading and embedding images.

It was decided to look at the possibilities for continuing to have wikis as part of the glow offering. This might seem counter intuitive as O365 sharepoint sites can be though of as Wikis and certainly have wiki pages as part of sites. I think a separate wiki offers a simpler way of building on the internet and it is also important to have the facility to make a wiki public in some instances.

Personally I’ve had enough success with children publishing publicly on the internet that that would be my default position. Other teachers and educators may prefer closed environments and glow can provide for both.

As part of the process of provisioning wikis we evaluated many different solutions, wikispaces stood out as the best fit for our needs1. Wikispaces was also mentioned frequently by the folk who responded to our wiki survey. No other product was mentioned favourably.

As part of procurement three different vendors were invited to tender and their tenders evaluated against a set of requirements. Wikispaces were the best fit and their tender has been accepted.

It has been a while since I used wikispaces in the classroom but it looks like they have added a lot of classroom specific features to the service without over complicating the process. I am not exactly sure of how the wikis will connect up to glow but look forward to working on that development in the coming weeks.

I had a brief look through my bookmarks for interesting wikis which might give you an idea of how to use one:

As always I’d be interested to see how learners and teachers in Scotland are or would use wikispaces.


1. Personally I like wikitext and enjoyed using wikis that are not WYSIWYG but I think I am in a minority on that one.

I posted this this afternoon:

The Glow Blogs migration export will start on 19th September 2014

Any new posts or content added to blogs after that date will not be migrated to the new service.

The new service should be up and running by Oct 3rd 2014

The data from the current blog servers will be exported on the 19th of September and migrated to the new service ready for the go live date.

We’re making every effort to achieve the deadline of the new service for 3rd October. If anything changes, we will get in touch immediately.

This is not technically a content freeze as users will be able to add to their blog, rather it should be considered as a procedural content freeze.

We hope to be able to add a message to explain the situation to every blog dashboard but in case that is not technically possible we need as much help as we can get in spreading the word.

from: Glow Blogs Migration News | Glow Connect, Glow Connect is the information portal for Glow – a space for providing updates on the development and enhancement of the service and for sharing how teachers are using Glow.

Joshi by Juan Coloma Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

I am sorry that the warning time for the content freeze is only just over two weeks, but it is only now we can give an estimate, timing is tight, it might even slip a wee bit, but we though it best to try and give as much notice as we can.

Back in June we proposed a content freeze over a short period over the summer and possibly another in September or October, as it turned out the summer freeze did not happen as it would not have given us any advantage, we could do a text export without a freeze.

We (especially the coders, technical and test members of the team) are very much working flat out to get the blogs migration in on time, the date is the current best estimate of when we will be ready to export the data from the RM servers and import it into the new one.

Earlier we hoped that the freeze would be a bit shorter that we are now estimating, but it has become apparent that it will take a bit longer. Between the 19th and go live several things need to happen:

  • The database and web server files (images and uploads) need to be encrypted and copied to a secure disk. Before encryption a sort of fingerprint of the files is taken, this will let us know if the files we put on the new server are identical. The size of the database and files meant this will take a while.
  • The disk will be taken to the new hosting and copied onto the server.
  • It is then unencrypted and the md5 fingerprint compared to the original.
  • The files will be put in place and hooked up to WordPress, or rather 33 instances of WordPress one for each Local Authority plus a central one.
  • Lots of testing. Testing of other bits of the process, the new servers has already started.
  • There are several rounds of testing, of different types that I am just beginning to get my head round. This will insure we get the best possible service from the new blog. The final rounds of testing will involve users from across Scotland, first on a ‘test’ environment and then on the new server before it goes live.
  • After everything looks good the new server gets the old blogs.glowscotland.org.uk domain and the blogs will be updatable again.

I’ve not numbered the points above because I have missed out many more steps. The project plan has been worked over repeatedly to make sure the quality of the result is as good as can be and, by doing various things in parallel, we cut time down to the minimum. Extra test engineers have been borrowed from other parts of glow and other members of the team are helping with testing.

After the new service goes live the project will not stop, the blogs will then be upgraded to a current version of WordPress and then the third phase of the project, to enhance the blogs for learning and teaching will start.

super ruper by nnnnic Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

I’ve been trying to post information about the glow blogs migration here when I can, but still getting a few questions, via email, twitter etc. Here is a series of DMs:

Hi John. Been following the progress of GlowBlogs and reading your own blog. Question: Can I go ahead and set up a class blog using…

‘Old Glow’ and get class using it….then it’ll transfer across to ‘New-Glow’ with the bells and whistles in he coming weeks (months) ?

I (and other member of staff) really want to get cracking on this. How would we ensure the old style blog ‘goes accross’? Need to tell..

someone where it is?

Quite a few folk have asked the same sort of thing, can/should I set up a glow blog/e-portfolio now or wait?

The answer is: Yes if you set up a glow blog now it will be migrated to the new service.


There will be a procedural content freeze, and the possibility of downtime if we do not make the 3rd of October deadline (we are working very hard to ensure we will).

Content Freeze

The database and files that make up the blogs are currently on RM servers, this need to be moved to new servers. Given the size of the data this will involve copying onto a portable disk. The copy will be encrypted. The disks need to be moved, the encrypted data securely moved to the new setup, unencrypted and verified. The new system then need to be thoroughly tested.

During this time the old blogs will be up and running, but any content added to them will not be migrated and new blogs setup during the content freeze through the old glow Sharepoint portal will not be migrated.

I am not sure how long the content freeze will be but it looks like being a week or so.

We will publicize the content freeze as much as possible, telling Glow Key Contacts in each Local Authority, publishing on Glow Connect and I’ll post here and tweet.

We also hope to be able to add a warning message on the dashboards of all the current glow blogs, but that solution needs to be created and tested.