Monday, August 28, 2006

Drupal mashups, internet cafes and Korean food

After coming back home from Manchester last Friday I was just relaxing and checking out what tabs were still open in my laptop's browser from my recent browsing while in Manchester. In one of the tabs I chanced on a Drupal drop in a mile away from home. Drupal is something I've been meaning to check out ever since I discovered that SocialText, a corporate wiki, is powered by Drupal.

It was only 10, and the drop in ended at 11.30. So I hotfooted over to the Be The Reds internet cafe. A little bit of history, the particular cafe was the first internet cafe, Cyberia, established by Eve Pascoe on 1 September, 1994. The subsequent Cyberia chain was sold to Koreans and re-branded Be The Reds -- the support-chant for the Korean national football (soccer) team. I'd been to the original cafe a few times, and even talked about presenting courses in their space, hadn't visited since it became Be The Reds. Time for a visit, and I ended up finding the drop in group in the basement bar/cafeteria.

Robert Castelo, a Drupal developer and drop in organiser ended up chatting to me (thanks) and mentioned the ease of constructing mashups in Drupal, refering me to Zack Rosen 's ten minute mashup of San Fransisco crimes and Google Maps. Here's a shot from the video:

Interesting stuff. I notice however that the source material is coming from a file and not from a web source. Thus this can not be considered a true mashup in the sense of "A mashup is a website or Web 2.0 application that uses content from more than one source to create a completely new service." [from Wikipedia entry] I need to find out if one could import live from a service or feed. I've sent off a few queries, so I'll add an update to this post.
Update from Robert Castelo by email 28 Aug 06 to the effect of: Not yet but coming soon, work that will allow this is here and, possibly, here.

Conclusion: For Now this provides a handy Google Maps mashup technique for anyone working with relative static file based data.
And as for Be The Reds, well I think it has potential: Beer, and apparently good food, but no internet connections downstairs. Having neither Korean nor any really adventurous eaters in the Drupal group, no one from the group had yet summoned up enough courage to try the chicken intestines. They are looking for a volunteer, so if you live in London, are interested in Drupal and eat chicken intestines, they want feedback on the dish. And I presume that they don't want technicolour feedback! Their regular drop in is on the last Friday of the month.

I like other Korean dishes, so I may be back to try the chicken intestines. Hey, I've never eaten frogs legs, chicken or duck feet, or chicken intestines -- time to get a life!

PLE notes

Here my browser is my PLE, and I am maintaining URL-based context by being able to suspend operations in Manchester (simply shutting my laptop) and resuming them in London (opening my laptop), using precisely the same open tabs.

This brings me back to an idea I had in the development of the Manchester Framework, a now-abandoned project for a relatively heavyweight web-connected desktop PLE: The user should be able to return to his or her previous learning context each time s/he restarted the PLE. This would be an admirable property for any PLE, avoiding the breakdown (Winograd and Flores, 1990) experienced by users when confronted with systems where context has to be manually restored.

I first encountered this marvelous idea when I worked in Smalltalk, and used the wonderful Smalltalk environment which saved its state on shutting down, restoring the state on the subsequent startup.


T. Winograd and F. Flores. Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. Addison-Wesley, 1990.

CLC in Wikipedia and CLC in Australia

I've been hacking up an entry in Wikipedia to document the History of personal learning environments in response to the blackboard patent and Blackboard's announcement of interest in elearning2.0. See here, in my other blog (not much there yet) for a rationale for the Wikipedia page.

I've entered CLC and one of Leigh's posts into the Wikipedia entry because I believe they are useful expressions of the web2.0 / elearning2.0 strand of PLEs.

Incidentally, I was quietly musing on why CLC had 'broken out' in Oz, rather than anywhere else. Things became a bit clearer for me while I was re-reading a post by James Falmer [Falmer 2004] yesterday evening. James starts the post with a quote:
"Online learning environments (OLEs) are now critical to teaching and learning across Australian higher education. Their influence impacts on the availability of content, the design of courses and, perhaps most pedagogically significantly, the nature of communication. The discussion board is the ubiquitous communication tool within these OLEs and hence significantly shapes the kind of communication that takes place. In light of this, the degree to which a successful community of inquiry can be facilitated through the use of discussion boards is examined and compared to the possibilities afforded by weblogs in the same role. Weblogs, it is argued, offer new opportunities in the development of social, cognitive and teacher presence online and should be considered in the development of or alongside established OLEs." (Falmer's paper at ASCILITE 2004, in Perth )

Enough for me I think, unless someone can give me a better story than this one which seems self-evident to me: Because of distance concerns, Australia has a strong tradition of online communication for education, and the Connected Learning Community is an expression of this tradition.



James Farmer, Communication dynamics: Discussion boards, weblogs and the development of communities of inquiry in online learning environments, 5 October 2004

James Falmer, Communication dynamics: Discussion boards, weblogs and the development of communities of inquiry in online learning environments, ASCILITE 2004, Perth, 5-8 December, 2004

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Do the last thing first

Serendipitously I chanced on site offering a random selection of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategies today, just before I did a google on wiki like blog.

Oblique strategies is a set of cards with suggestions for musicians searching for inspiration and ways to unblock creative impasses. And the card I drew?

"Do the last thing first".

'Hmm', I thought, 'I wonder if that has anything to say to me.....'

I was actually engaged in hunting down information pertaining to an interesting chunk of text I had found previously: "Some blogs allow the user to store reference pages as part of the blog just as some wikis."

So I did the last thing, googled for wiki like blog, something I should have done before I did the first thing, writing a post on wigi pages, wiki-like pages in a blog. Some interesting results emerged from my search. The best are summarised below. Of course, I should have done this search before, but just didn't have the right search string at the front of my brain. Duh: "Do the last thing first."

So, wiki-like features in blogs have been around, here are two references
  • Wikipedia on Blikis. I don't agree with the supposition that a true wiki is collaborative -- to me a wiki provides a way of structuring information that is typically collaboratively created and modified, but may be individually created and modified. There are many links to investigate on this page.
  • Martin Fowler's WhatIsABliki. He's using a homebrew system implemented in Ruby. However, Martin does not have a comment feature... hmmm, not a variant for me then. Incidentally Martin points to the term bliki as being coined by Ward Cunningham, inventor of wiki.
OK, so I haven't seen the bliki that I want to use yet; I'll keep looking. I know a fellow elearning colleague Mike Malloch (over at the KnowNet) wants to move their blogging software in an bliki-like direction later in the year. I'll be trying to supply some future-user input to them if I don't find what I want to support my learning style.

Now I'm off to do the last thing first for another project...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Blogger beta has tags (aka labels)

Well, as of Aug 14 2006 Blogger has tags in the new beta. Just a ten days after I added them in a bricolage style (see Wot no tags and Posting with tags). Wasted effort, but fun nonetheless. I haven't converted to Blogger beta yet, I'm always a little cautious with betas, but give it a month or so and I'll be there...

Blogger is calling tags labels, which seems less than desirable, seeing as the rest of the web seems to be using tags as the preferred terminology. If you agree, and labels are not renamed, fill in a note on this page for the blogger staff, leaving the top 'blogger beta' radio-button selected.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Wigis: Wikis inside blogs

This post has been superceded (see here), wigis have been around for a few years under the name bliki. However, please keep reading for some rationale for blikis/wigis.

There was formerly a ceative commons licence on the idea of wigis, but the licence is clearly inappropriate and now withdrawn, because prior art is demonstrated elsewhere.

This text deleted: I have no firm idea if wigis have already been proposed or implemented, but an initial survey indicates not. So, given recent and highly inappropriate patent granted to Blackboard, I've taken the precaution of adding a creative commons licence to this page (on 19th August 2000). I am also making the entire blog contents subject to the same creative commons licence (as of 19th August 2000). Click on a Creative Commons Licence symbol to see the particular terms (Including commercial use allowed, attribution needed, and share alike).

Why blikis/wigis in Education?

As per the experiment going on in this blog, one could envision a wigi -- a wiki inside a blog.

You are reading a simulation of a wigi page in a simulated wigi now. These are only simulations because I am adding to the blog template manually to make it appear as though it contains a wigi. As with a wiki page, this simulated wigi page will change over time.

Each wigi page is simply a blog post that appears in the blog as a post (small variation below). A wigi page may be part of network of other wigi pages, just as a wiki page may be part of a network of other pages. As with a wiki page, a wigi page is probably developed over time.

Putting wiki functionality into a blog may provide value for bloggers who want to learn about something over time, documenting what they learn. Or the pages may be suitable for incremental development. The pages appear in the blog, everyone reading can get to see the pages when they are first posted, maintaining blog-like chronological posting functionality and making all wigi users aware of new entries.

One user interface mechanism that could be used is that a wigi page is simply flagged as such before publishing the post. As an extension of that, any blog page could be toggled between being a wigi page or not.

Correspondingly, if a page had wigi status the page would be automatically listed (and clickable) in something like the blog sidebar. This is good for small numbers of pages, as so far in this blog. [Unfortunately, for now, these links only appear in the home-page sidebar. To get to the home page, click on 'markz space' at the top of any page. The sidebar links will later be added to each page.]

For larger wigis, perhaps a set of 'starting-navigation' wigi page links would be displayed on each blog page's sidebar, rather than all wigi page links.

Networks of pages could be created if the page creation and editing facilities accepted wiki-like syntax for other blog pages [[Example page]], even, wiki-like, to the point of allowing pages to be made if they do not exist when their links are clicked. The syntax might include other blogs and their pages [[clcommunity:Example Page]], enabling cross-blog networks of knowledge to be constructed. One would only be able to create a new page if the link being clicked on was in a blog where the user was logged in, or could log in en route to creation.

The pages in the wigi would likely be re-edited by one person (for a personal blog) or many people (for a group blog).

In a sophisticated version perhaps posts would be switchable between blog-displayed or not. The latter for structure pages in the wigi which would convey little in the blog out of the task context in which they are used, when the blog is being read as a chronological or tag structured entity.

Building in too much functionality might affect usability unless carefully presented. I have heard people complaining that wikis appear overcomplicated with respect to all the links around the main text. I sympathsise with them, even though I like wikis.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Posting with tags

Blogger doesn't have tags, but after a short search I found out that one can use technorati or use for this task. Probably there are many different implementations and these are just two of them. The latter solution is the one for me, I use Handily, the fix also submits the tagged post to technorati, and in my experience so far technorati searches on single and multiple tags work well, even for tags which have been changed.

The implementation involves installing greasemonkey first. Which in turn means you have to be running firefox, and that you are logged into your delicious account.

I was keen to try it out, in an the first version of this post, with two tags. To get the new post to be linked to from delicious I had to press the publish post button, then select link to delicious and then save the resulting delicious entry.

However, the resulting link in delicious didn't work! The url was
... /posting-with-tags_04.html
This had an superflous _04 in it.

I tried a few more posts (now deleted) and they worked, so I simply changed the url for this post in delicious to what it should be
... /posting-with-tags.html

After deleting my test posts from the blog I had to manually remove the corresponding entries in delicious, and now the tagging works.

If you change the tags when you are editing a previously published post, look at how commas are used in the tag field [e.g. 'tags, experiment'] as a guide to using commas in your changes. To propagate the changes to delicious you need to publish post and then link to delicious Duplicate your post's tag changes in the resulting delicious page's tag field (no commas used here) before saving the entry.

I'll keep my eye on the urls in future entries made in delicious, and see if they are right.

I've had to hand edit in the tags to the side column. I guess that it should be possible to interrogate delicious about all markzspace tags and automatically display them in the sidebar, perhaps in a space-saving arrangement.

Wot no tags?

Being able to attach one or more tags to a post is a good method of being able to later to topic search by tags; using them to index into the posts. Blogger doesn't have them. Bummer. We can do a bit of work and fix that, but the solution here is not as seamless blog which has inbuilt tags.

If you haven't seen tags in a blog you could nip over to LKL Social Software to have a look. Click on the categories on the right hand side to see this in action.


Persistent Posts to provide accessible developing information

One thing I'm interested in is developing information over time, and having this information persistently accessible from the blog. This would perhaps satisfy my need to be able to develop information as I learn more about a topic.

So as an experiment with this support for learning, I'll make the links to some posts available via the sidebar. I'll then edit those posts, and develop the topic as I learn more about it. This same mechanism could be used in a collaborative way by a blog team.

This post will be the first of these posts.

The difference from a wiki is that there is
  • (negatively) no easy interlinking of posts, and
  • (positively) ability to comment (but there is the talk pane in some wikis, e.g. mediawiki). As I change the page some comments may become superfluous, and maybe can be removed, should that be done?
We'll see what practice develops as commenters (such as there may be) add comments and pages change. We can try different things, maybe discuss different proceedures to accomodate this dynamic change in the CLC group facilities (blog, wiki).

For now I'm calling these persitent posts wigi pages, after wiki and blog. I explore the idea of a wigi here.