The user is in control

Just a quick nod to Andy Powell’s post yesterday about Identity in a Web 2.0 World. As I’ve said before, I’m trying to catch up with the issues Andy discusses and develop them into a blueprint for the Mozilla/Creative Commons/P2P University Open Education course, I am participating in.

Andy writes:

…identity in a Web 2.0 world is not institution-centric, as manifest in the current UK Federation, nor is it based on the currently deployed education-specific identity and access management technologies.  Identity in a Web 2.0 world is user-centric – that means the user is in control…. The important point is that learners (and staff) will come into institutions with an existing identity, they will increasingly expect to use that identity while they are there (particularly in their use of services ‘outside’ the institution) and that they will continue using it after they have left.  As a community, we therefore have to understand what impact that has on our provision of services and the way we support learning and research.

I am therefore reassured that my blueprint outline is not completely off the wall:

University students are at least 18 years old and have spent many years unconsciously accumulating or deliberately developing a digital identity. When people enter university they are expected to accept a new digital identity, one which may rarely acknowledge and easily exploit their preceding experience and productivity. Students are given a new email address, a university ID, expected to submit course work using new, institutionally unique tools and develop a portfolio of work over three to four years which is set apart from their existing portfolio of work and often difficult to fully exploit after graduation. I think this will be increasingly questioned and resisted by individuals paying to study at university.

My proposal is to show there are existing technical solutions which would allow an individual to register as a student at a university, provide the institution with their Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, OpenID, etc. identification and from then on, the student uses their existing ID to authenticate against any university online resource. There’s an example of how this might happen in the JISC Review of OpenID, which describes one of the project aims as the development of

bridging software that will allow OpenIDs from any source to be used as identities within the production UK (SAML) federation.

The University of Kent host a demonstrator of this OpenID-to-Shibboleth bridge.

The other aspect of my blueprint is institutional support of a Personal Learning Environment (PLE). I am suggesting that the WordPress Multi User platform is one technology that could support the characteristics of a PLE, being:1

  • Focus on coordinating connections between the user and services
  • Symmetric relationships
  • Individualized context
  • Open Internet standards and lightweight proprietary APIs
  • Open content and remix culture
  • Personal and global scope

The PLE implementation which I have in mind is not, like the VLE, a monolithic system but rather a platform which aggregates and co-ordinates external user-centric services into a coherent learning environment. It is a parasitic system, feeding off content from existing online services such as blogs, social bookmarking, wikis and social networks, but also a rewarding environment which supports and develops the student’s existing portfolio2 throughout their period of study.

I’ve shown how WordPress can aggregate and archive course activity, how it can enhance the discovery and connectivity of an individual’s and institution’s online profile through the addition of semantic-web-enabling plugins, how it can syndicate filtered content to other internal and external systems (through the use of feed2js, it can also syndicate content to legacy systems like Blackboard, which don’t support embedded web feeds). I’ve also shown that it can support a lightweight social network that integrates with an institution’s LDAP/Active Directory authentication system, and that social network can be OpenID enabled, allowing users to optionally link their OpenID to their WordPress/LDAP account and login via OpenID instead.3

Finally, the institutional and wider benefits to the public can be found when the cumulative data of the platform is itself aggregated into a structured site that enables discovery and re-use of content. An example of this is our Community Posts site, and I have also previously discussed the potential development and exploitation of this resource. Designed and licensed carefully, such a site could provide open educational resources at both user and programmatic levels.

So what empowers the user/student and puts them in control? Data-Portability and Creative Commons licensing?4.

  1. Taken from, Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems. Scott Wilson, Prof. Oleg Liber, Mark Johnson, Phil Beauvoir, Paul Sharples & Colin Milligan, University of Bolton. 2006 []
  2. In many ways, I am thinking of ‘Identity’ and ‘Portfolio’ as being largely synonymous during the student’s period of study. []
  3. I’ve tested this with DiSo’s OpenID plugin, which works in principle, but I suspect that once set up, the OpenID login for the specified account, completely bypasses the LDAP authentication. Surely just a small amount of development would provide tighter integration. Incidentally, a Shibboleth plugin (by the same author of the OpenID plugin) for WordPress also exists. []
  4. Actually, I’m starting to think that CC licensing is little more than an interim step to a better understanding of ‘data’. See ‘You don’t nor need to own your data‘ When knowledge is transmitted online, every aspect of its representation is in a form of data. Both information and instruction become ‘data’ – isn’t it backwards to think of knowledge in terms of something ‘owned’ Do you think of instructional methods as ‘yours’? []

Triplify: Make your blog mashable

Last week, I wrote about how it is relatively simple to ‘pimp your ride on the semantic web‘. Over the weekend, I stumbled upon Triplify, a small ‘plugin’ for pretty much any web publishing platform, that “reveals the semantic structures encoded in relational databases by making database content available as RDF, JSON or Linked Data.” What is so appealing about Triplify is how easy it is to implement, especially alongside a WordPress site.

I can confirm that the three-step installation process is all it takes, although I wouldn’t undertake implementing this blindly as you are, literally, exposing a semantic representation of your database content. In other words, you should look at the configuration file you’re using and check that it’s going to expose the right data and not clear text passwords and unpublished posts and comments. Before I  implemented it, I realised that it would expose comments on a bunch of posts that I have since made private (they were imported from an old, private blog), so I had to ‘unapprove’ those comments so the script didn’t expose them to the public. A five minute job. Alternatively, the script could probably be modified to work around my problem, by only exposing comments after a certain date, for example.

The end result is that, with a WordPress site, you expose a semantic representation of your users, posts, pages, tags, categories, comments and attachments in RDF (N-Triples) and JSON formatted data (for JSON, just add ‘?t-output=json’ to the end of the URI). Like I said though, it could be used on any database driven web application. Here’s what you get when you expose the high level links to your content:


<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/> <http://www.w3.org/2000/01/rdf-schema#comment> "Generated by Triplify V0.5 (http://Triplify.org)" .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/> <http://creativecommons.org/ns#license> <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/uk/> .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/post> <http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#type> <http://www.w3.org/2002/07/owl#Class> .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/attachment> <http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#type> <http://www.w3.org/2002/07/owl#Class> .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/tag> <http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#type> <http://www.w3.org/2002/07/owl#Class> .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/category> <http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#type> <http://www.w3.org/2002/07/owl#Class> .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/user> <http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#type> <http://www.w3.org/2002/07/owl#Class> .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/comment> <http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#type> <http://www.w3.org/2002/07/owl#Class> .

Here’s an example of what you get when you expose the full content:


<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/post/154> <http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#type> <http://rdfs.org/sioc/ns#Post> .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/post/154> <http://rdfs.org/sioc/ns#has_creator> <http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/user/1> .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/post/154> <http://purl.org/dc/terms/created> "2008-10-06T05:55:25"^^<http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema#dateTime> .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/post/154> <http://rdfs.org/sioc/ns#content> "Up early to go to Sheffield for LPI exams. The last week has left me underprepared. Never mind." .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/post/154> <http://purl.org/dc/terms/modified> "2008-10-06T20:12:15"^^<http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema#dateTime> .

...

<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/post/154> <http://www.holygoat.co.uk/owl/redwood/0.1/tags/taggedWithTag> <http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/tag/27> .

...

<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/post/154> <http://www.holygoat.co.uk/owl/redwood/0.1/tags/taggedWithTag> <http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/tag/41> .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/post/154> <http://www.holygoat.co.uk/owl/redwood/0.1/tags/taggedWithTag> <http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/tag/42> .

...

<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/post/154> <http://sdp.iasi.rdsnet.ro/semantic-wordpress/vocabulary/belongsToCategory> <http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/category/22> .

...

<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/tag/154> <http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#type> <http://www.holygoat.co.uk/owl/redwood/0.1/tags/Tag> .
<http://blog.josswinn.org/triplify/tag/154> <http://www.holygoat.co.uk/owl/redwood/0.1/tags/tagName> "valentine" .

You can choose to expose different levels of information in your HTML source. If you have more than a moderate amount of content, you’ll probably want to just expose the top level links as in the first example and let the users of your data dig deeper. You’ll also note that you can (and should) attach a license to your data.

A number of namespaces are recognised as well as a WordPress vocabulary.


$triplify['namespaces']=array(
'vocabulary'=>'http://sdp.iasi.rdsnet.ro/semantic-wordpress/vocabulary/',
'rdf'=>'http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#',
'rdfs'=>'http://www.w3.org/2000/01/rdf-schema#',
'owl'=>'http://www.w3.org/2002/07/owl#',
'foaf'=>'http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/',
'sioc'=>'http://rdfs.org/sioc/ns#',
'sioctypes'=>'http://rdfs.org/sioc/types#',
'dc'=>'http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/',
'dcterms'=>'http://purl.org/dc/terms/',
'skos'=>'http://www.w3.org/2004/02/skos/core#',
'tag'=>'http://www.holygoat.co.uk/owl/redwood/0.1/tags/',
'xsd'=>'http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema#',
'update'=>'http://triplify.org/vocabulary/update#',
);

So, what’s the point in doing this? Well, it’s fairly trivial and if you think that structured, linked, machine-readable licensed data is a Good Thing, why not?  The Triplify website lists an number of advantages:

Such a triplification of your Web application has tremendous advantages:

  • The installations of the Web application are better found and search engines can better evaluate the content.
  • Different installations of the Web application can easily syndicate arbitrary content without the need to adopt interfaces, content representations or protocols, even when the content structures change.
  • It is possible to create custom tailored search engines targeted at a certain niche. Imagine a search engine for products, which can be queried for digital cameras with high resolution and large zoom.

Ultimately, a triplification will counteract the centralization we faced through Google, YouTube and Facebook and lead to an increased democratization of the Web

The vision of the semantic web and semantic publishing is one of meaningfully identifying objects (and people) on the Internet and showing their relationships. This should improve searches for things on the web, but also improve how we exchange knowledge, re-use information and help clarify our identity on the web, too. It’s an ambitious task, but made easier with tools like Triplify.  The semantic web also raises questions over individual privacy and, if data is well formed and accessible, it may be easier to control and therefore censor. The creator of Triplify recently gave a technical presentation on Triplify and how it is being used to publish data collected by the OpenStreetMap project. It shows how geodata exposed in this way can result in mashup applications that directly benefit you and me.

Open Education Project Blueprint

Each participant on the Mozilla Open Education Course, has been asked to develop a project blueprint. Here is the start of mine. It’s basically a ‘Personal Learning Environment’ (PLE)1and I’m going to try to show how WordPress MU is a good technology platform for an institution to easily and effectively support a PLE. I’m going to place an emphasis on ‘identity’ because it’s something I want to learn more about.

Short description

University students are at least 18 years old and have spent many years unconsciously accumulating or deliberately developing a digital identity. When people enter university they are expected to accept a new digital identity, one which may rarely acknowledge and easily exploit their preceding experience and productivity. Students are given a new email address, a university ID, expected to submit course work using new, institutionally unique tools and develop a portfolio of work over three to four years which is set apart from their existing portfolio of work and often difficult to fully exploit after graduation.

I think this will be increasingly questioned and resisted by individuals paying to study at university. Both students and staff will suffer this disconnect caused by institutions not employing available online technologies and standards rapidly enough. There is a legacy of universities expecting and being expected to provide online tools to staff and students. This was useful and necessary several years ago, but it’s now quite possible for individuals in the UK to study, learn and work apart from any institutional technology provision. For example, Google provides many of these tools and will have a longer relationship with the individual than the university is likely to.

Many students and staff are relinquishing institutional technology ties and an indicator of this is the massive % of students who do not use their university email address (96% in one case study). In the UK, universities are keen to accept mature, work-based and part-time students. For these students, university is just a single part of their lives and should not require the development of a digital identity that mainly serves the institution, rather than the individual.

How would it work?

Students identify themselves with their OpenID, which authenticates against a Shibboleth Service Provider.2 They create, publish and syndicate their course work, privately or publicly using the web services of their choice. Students don’t turn in work for assessment, but rather publish their work for assessment under a CC license of their choice.

It’s basically a PLE project blueprint with an emphasis on identity and data-portability. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get a fully working model to demonstrate by the end of the course, but I will try to show how existing technologies could be stitched together to achieve what I’m aiming for. Of course, the technologies are not really the issue here, the challenge is showing how this might work in an institutional context.

I think it will be possible to show how it’s technically possible using a single platform such as WordPress which has Facebook Connnect, OAuth, OpenID, Shibboleth and RPX plugins. WordPress is also microformat friendly and profile information can be easily exported in the hCard format. hResume would be ideal for developing an academic profile. The Diso project are leading the way in this area.

Similar projects:

UMW Blogs?

Open Technology:

OpenID, OAuth, RPX, Shibboleth, RSS, Atom, Microformats, XMPP, OPML, AtomPub, XML-RPC + WordPress

Open Content / Licensing:

I’ll look at how Creative Commons licensing may be compatible with our staff and student IP policies.

Open Pedagogy

No idea. This is a new area for me. I’m hoping that the Mozilla/CC Open Education course can point me in the right direction for this. Maybe you have some suggestions, too?

  1. See Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems []
  2. See the JISC Review of OpenID. []

Pimping your ride on the semantic web

Yesterday, I wrote about how I’d marked up my home page to create a semantic profile of myself that is both auto-discoverable and portable. A place where my identity on the web can be aggregated; not a hole I’ve dug for myself, but an identity that reaches out across the web but always leads back home.

While I enjoy polishing my text editor regularly and hand-crafting beautifully formed, structured data, we all know it’s a fool’s game and that the semantic web is about machines doing all the work for us. So here’s a quick and dirty run down of how to pimp your ride on the semantic web with WordPress and a few plugins.

You’ll need a self-hosted WordPress site that allows you to install plugins. I’ve got one on Dreamhost that costs me $6 a month. Next, you’ll want to install some plugins. I’ll explain what they do afterwards. One thing to note here is that I’m using plugins from the official plugin repository whenever possible. It means that you can install them from the WordPress Dashboard and you’ll get automatic updates (and they’re all GPL compatible). In no particular order…

I think that’s quite enough. All but the SIOC plugin are available from the official WordPress plugin repository. Here’s what they provide:

APML: Attention Profile Markup Language

APML (Attention Profiling Mark-up Language) is an XML-based format for capturing a person’s interests and dislikes. APML allows people to share their own personal attention profile in much the same way that OPML allows the exchange of reading lists between news readers.

The plugin creates an XML file like this one that marks up and weighs your WordPress tags as a measure of your interests. It also lists your blogroll/links and any embedded feeds.

Extended Profile

This plugin adds additional fields in your user profile which is encoded with hCard semantic microformat markup and can then be displayed in a page or as a sidebar widget. You can import hCard data, too. There might also be another use for this, too. (see below)

Micro Anywhere

Provides a couple of additional editor functions that allow you to create an hCard or hCalendar events page. Here’s an example.

OpenID

This plugin allows users to login to their local WordPress account using an OpenID, as well as enabling commenters to leave authenticated comments with OpenID. The plugin also includes an OpenID provider, enabling users to login to OpenID-enabled sites using their own personal WordPress account. XRDS-Simple is required for the OpenID Provider and some features of the OpenID Consumer.

This is key to your identity. You can use your blog URL as your OpenID or delegate a third-party service, such as MyOpenID or ClaimID. In fact, you’ve almost certainly got an OpenID already if you have a Yahoo!, Google, MySpace or AIM account. It’s up to you which one you choose to use as your persistent ID. Read more about OpenID here. It’s important and so are the issues it addresses.

XRDS-Simple

This is required to add further functionality to the OpenID plugin. It adds Attribute Exchange (AX) to your OpenID which basically means that certain profile information can be passed to third-party services (less form filling for you!) Like a lot of these plugins, install it and forget about it.

SIOC

Provides auto-discoverable SIOC metadata. “A SIOC profile describes the structure and contents of a weblog in a machine readable form.”

wp-RDFa

Provides an auto-discoverable FOAF (Friend of a Friend) profile, based on the members of your blog. I’ve been in touch with the author of this plugin and suggested that the extended profile information could also be pulled into the FOAF profile. This is largely dependent on the FOAF specification being finalised, but expect this plugin to do more as FOAF develops.

OAI-ORE Map

Provides an auto-discoverable OAI-ORE resource map of your blog. It conforms to version 0.9 of the specification, which recently made it to v1.0, so I imagine it will be updated in the near future. OAI-ORE metadata describes aggregated resources, so instead of seeing your blog post permalink as the single identifier for, say, a collection of text and multimedia, it creates a map of those resources and links them.

LinkedIn hResume

LinkedIn hResume for WordPress grabs the hResume microformat block from your LinkedIn public profile page allowing you to add it to any WordPress page and apply your own styles to it.

I like this plugin because you benefit from all the features of LinkedIn, but can bring your profile home. Ideal for students or anyone who wants to create a portfolio of work and offer their resume/CV on a single site. Depending on the theme you use, it does require some additional styling.

Get_OPML

This is a nice way to create an OPML file of your sidebar links. If, like on my personal blog, your links point to resources related to you, you can easily create an OPML file like this one. There’s a couple of things to note about this plugin though. The instructions mention a Technorati API key. I didn’t bother with this. When you create your links, just scroll down the page to the ‘advanced’ section and add the RSS feed there. Secondly, the plugin author has, for some stupid reason, hard-coded the feed to their own site into the plugin. Assuming you don’t want this spamming your personal OPML file, download a modified version from here or comment out line 101 in get-opml.php. I guess the plugin author thinks that you’ll be using this to import the OPML into a feed reader and from there, you can delete his feed. That’s no good to us though. Finally, you’ll want to make your OPML file auto-discoverable. You can do this by adding a line of html in your header, using the Header-Footer plugin below.

Header-Footer

This simply allows you to add code to the header and footer of your blog. In our case, you can use it to add an auto-discovery link to the header of every page of your blog.


<link rel="outline" type="text/xml+opml" title="ADD YOUR TITLE HERE" href="http://YOUR_BLOG_ADDRESS/opml.xml" />

WP Calais * + tagaroo

These three plugins use the OpenCalais API to examine your blog posts and return a bunch of semantic tags. I’ve written about this in more detail here (towards the end).

The Calais Web Service automatically creates rich semantic metadata for the content you submit – in well under a second. Using natural language processing, machine learning and other methods, Calais analyzes your document and finds the entities within it. But, Calais goes well beyond classic entity identification and returns the facts and events hidden within your text as well.

It’s an easy way to add relevant tags to your content and broadcast your content for indexing by OpenCalais. They place an additional link in your header that lists the tags for web crawlers and, I guess, improves the SEO for your site.

Extra Feed Links

I’ve written about this plugin previously, too. It adds additional autodiscovery links to your blog for author, category and tag feeds. WordPress feed functionality is very powerful and this plugin makes it especially easy to make those feeds visible.

Lifestream

This isn’t a semantic web plugin, but is a powerful way of aggregating all of your activity across the web into a single activity stream. See my example, here. It also produces a single RSS feed from your aggregated activity. Nice ;-)

Wrapping things up

If you set all of this up, you’ll have a WordPress site that can act as your primary identity across the web, aggregates much of your activity on the web into a single site and also offers multiple ways for people to discover and read your site. You also get a ‘well-formed’ portfolio that is enriched with semantic markup and links you to the wider online community in a way that you control.

Bear in mind that some of these plugins might not appear to do anything at all. The semantic web is about machines being able to read and link data, right? If you look closely in the source of your home page, you’ll see a few lines that speak volumes about you in machine talk.


<link rel="meta" href="./wp-content/plugins/wp-rdfa/foaf.php"type="application/rdf+xml" title="FOAF"/>
<rdf:RDF xmlns:rdf="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#" xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/">
<link rel="meta" type="text/xml" title="APML" href="http://blog.josswinn.org/apml/" />
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="NoteStream RSS Feed" href="http://blog.josswinn.org/feed/" />
<link rel="resourcemap" type="application/atom+xml" href="http://blog.josswinn.org/wp-content/plugins/oai-ore/rem.php"/>

If you do want a way to view the data, I recommend the following Firefox add-ons

Operator: Auto-discovers any embedded microformats and provides useful ways to search for similar data via third-party services elsewhere on the web.

OPML Reader: Auto-discovers an OPML file if you have one linked in your header. Allows you to either download the file or read it on Grazr.

Semantic Radar: Auto-discovers embedded RDF data. Displays custom icons to indicate the presence of FOAF, SIOC, DOAP and RDFa formats.

The Tabulator Extension: Auto-discovers and provides a table-based display for RDF data on the Semantic Web. Makes RDF data readable to the average person and shows how data are linked together across different sites.

As always, please let me know how this overview could be improved or if you know of other ways to add semantic functionality to your WordPress blog. Thanks.

A few notes on data portability

I had a bit of fun over the weekend looking at how I could both aggregate my online presence and make it portable, all under my own domain name. I ended up touching on a bunch of interesting initiatives revolving around web and data standards. The minor output of this is over on my personal ‘home page’ at http://josswinn.org

You’ll see that there’s an Attention Profile (APML), Friend of a Friend document (FOAF), hCard generated from my contact details, an OPML file of the significant feeds I have spotted around the web (Delicious, this blog, Twitter, Last.fm, etc), an aggregated feed of my OPML file, and a link to my LinkedIn profile, which I happily learned includes hResume microformat markup. My OPML, FOAF profile and RSS feed are all auto-discoverable.

All links on the page are marked up using the XFN markup rel=”me” tag, which should help consolidated my identity on the web. There’s an interesting discussion over on Marshall Kirkpatrick’s blog about how our Twitter profiles are starting to rank higher in search engines than our personal blogs or home pages because Twitter is using the rel=”me” tag. Marshall suggests that we start using rel=”me” somewhere on our own sites to counteract that.

To add to the fun, I also tried to get the page to validate as HTML5, but in doing so, I had to remove the meta tag that provides OpenID Attribute Exchange via my OpenID Service Provider. I get the error:

Bad value X-XRDS-Location for attribute http-equiv on element meta.

Apparently the draft HTML5 spec currently disallows values for http-equiv. OpenID AX is a good thing if you want to consolidate your identity while at the same time ensure it is portable. It’s certainly more useful to me than validating as HTML5.

In addition to this, I added a Google Friend Connect (OpenSocial) widget and integrated Apture. I thought about adding the ability to leave comments via Disqus, the advantage being that comment authors could retain control over their own comments. But to be honest, I don’t think you or I need yet another method of communicating with each other. There are plenty of ways to do that already.

Other than providing a playground for fun, what this bit of tinkering on my home page has taught me is that microformats and the ethos of data portability is being embraced quite widely on the web and although I spent my time hand-crafting my new home page, there are opportunities to do much the same, quite easily, through the use of a WordPress blog and a bunch of third-party services. More on that later…

Addicted to feeds

I’ve been a long time consumer of news feeds and spend a lot of time reading the web via 200+ feeds in Google Reader. More recently, and largely as a result of working on WriteToReply, I’ve become just as addicted to publishing feeds from any data end point I can find.

WordPress makes this quite easy for developers, providing a whole load of functions and template tags for feeds. For the rest of us, there’s also documentation which is useful is you’re wondering what kinds of feeds can be generated from a basic WordPress site.

All the examples below, assume you’re using ‘pretty URLs’. If your URLs are something like http://example.com/?p=123 then the same principles apply but you’ll use the format /?feed=feed_type i.e. http://example.com/?feed=rss2 The documentation shows full examples.

So, here are the basic content feeds. RSS is RSS version 0.92 and RDF is RSS version 1.0, if you were wondering.

http://example.com/feed/
http://example.com/feed/rss/
http://example.com/feed/rss2/
http://example.com/feed/rdf/
http://example.com/feed/atom/

It’s also pretty straightforward to create a feed from a category or tag

http://example.com/category/my_category/feed/
http://example.com/tag/my_tag/feed/

You can also create feeds from combined tags

http://example.com/tag/tag1+tag2+tag3/feed/

And we know that a feed is available for site comments

http://example.com/comments/feed/

and it’s simple to grab a feed of comments from a single post by appending /feed/ to the end of the post permalink.

http://example.com/2009/01/01/my-latest-post/feed

You can also create a feed of a single post itself, by appending '?withoutcomments=1' to the end of the URL

http://example.com/2009/01/01/my-latest-post/feed/?withoutcomments=1

There is a feed for each author of the blog

http://example.com/author/joss/feed

but alas, as far as I know, no feed for the comments by any particular person.

You can also do something fancy with dates

http://example.com/2009/feed
http://example.com/2009/01/feed
http://example.com/2009/01/15/feed

and one of my favourite types of feed is from a search

http://example.com/?s=search_term&feed=rss2

Now all of this is well and good, but how many readers are going to know or care about constructing the various types of feeds available? Fortunately, it’s possible to make many of these feeds auto-discoverable either by adding some simple code to your theme’s header.php or installing a plugin.

By default, two feeds are auto-discoverable on your WordPress site: An atom and rss2 feed of your posts.

By using the Extra Feed Links plugin, you can make your comments, category, tag, author and search feeds autodiscoverable.

It’s also got a useful template tag that allows you to show the feed links in your theme, making the discovery of feeds even easier.  I created a simple widget for the plugin to display the feed and an RSS icon in the sidebar

Here’s the code. Let me know where it could be improved as I just hacked it together from looking at other widgets.

<?php
function widget_extrafeeds_register() {
function widget_extrafeeds($args) {
extract($args);
?>
<br />
<?php echo $before_widget;
echo $before_title;
echo $widget_name;
echo $after_title; ?>
<ul class="sidebarList">
<?php extra_feed_link(); ?> <?php extra_feed_link('http://path/to/your/feed/icon/feed.png'); ?>
</ul>
<?php echo $after_widget; ?>
<?php
}
register_sidebar_widget('Extra Feeds',
'widget_extrafeeds');
register_sidebar_widget('Extra Feeds','widget_extrafeeds');}
add_action('init', widget_extrafeeds_register);
?>

To get this to work with the plugin, you need to add this to the very bottom of the plugin’s main.php file

// widget support
require(dirname(__FILE__) . '/widget.php');

Like I said, if anyone can improve on this, do let me know. Also note that you’ll need to point the URL in the widget to a feed icon. A lot of themes include them in their /images/ directory, which makes it easy.

By using the widget or template tag, you can have these appearing on the relevant pages.

Try it by using http://writetoreply.org/tags :-)

If you’re interested in how to add category and tag auto-discovery feeds to your theme’s source code, try adding this to your header.php

<?php if (is_category()) { ?>
<link rel="alternate" type="application/atom+xml" title="<?php bloginfo('name'); ?> &amp;raquo; <?php single_cat_title(''); ?> Atom Feed" href="<?php echo
get_category_feed_link(get_query_var('cat'), 'atom'); ?>" />
<?php } ?>

<?php if (is_tag()) { ?>
<link rel="alternate" type="application/atom+xml" title="<?php bloginfo('name'); ?> &amp;raquo; <?php single_tag_title(''); ?> Atom Feed" href="<?php echo
get_tag_feed_link(get_query_var('tag_id'), 'atom'); ?>" />
<?php } ?>

<?php if (is_category()) { ?>
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="<?php bloginfo('name'); ?> &amp;raquo; <?php single_cat_title(''); ?> RSS2 Feed" href="<?php echo
get_category_feed_link(get_query_var('cat'), 'rss2'); ?>" />
<?php } ?>

<?php if (is_tag()) { ?>
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="<?php bloginfo('name'); ?> &amp;raquo; <?php single_tag_title(''); ?> RSS2 Feed" href="<?php echo
get_tag_feed_link(get_query_var('tag_id'), 'rss2'); ?>" />
<?php } ?>

<?php if (is_category()) { ?>
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rdf+xml" title="<?php bloginfo('name'); ?> &amp;raquo; <?php single_cat_title(''); ?> as RDF data" href="<?php echo
get_category_feed_link(get_query_var('cat'), 'rdf'); ?>" />
<?php } ?>

<?php if (is_tag()) { ?>
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rdf+xml" title="<?php bloginfo('name'); ?> &amp;raquo; <?php single_tag_title(''); ?> as RDF data" href="<?php echo
get_tag_feed_link(get_query_var('tag_id'), 'rdf'); ?>" />
<?php } ?>

I learned this from the author of this related plugin, which is similar but not quite as powerful as the Extra Feed Links plugin.

Finally, if you use FeedBurner, beware that it breaks some of the above feeds. One fix for ensuring that tag and category feeds continue to work as they should is to modify the FeedBurnerFeedSmith plugin as noted here. Simply change the line

is_feed() &amp;&amp; $feed != 'comments-rss2' &amp;&amp; !is_single() &amp;&amp;

to read

is_feed() &amp;&amp; $feed != 'comments-rss2' &amp;&amp; !is_single() &amp;&amp; !is_tag() &amp;&amp;

That’ll do for now. I intend to learn more about the RSS and Atom specifications over the next few weeks and will post anything I think relevant here. If you can add anything to this post, please do leave a comment. Thanks.

Mozilla & Creative Commons Open Education Course /1

Yesterday, I started a six week course on Open Education, organised by the Mozilla FoundationCreative Commons and The Peer 2 Peer University. Like all 26 participants, I’ll be blogging about the course with the tags ‘MozOpenEd’ or ‘MozOpenEdCourse’ and it looks like we’ll be aggregating as much online activity as possible into a blog I’m setting up here.

The course outline looks really interesting and yesterday’s first online session got off to a good start. Working with people both synchronously and asynchronously online is always interesting and the enthusiasm and democracy within the group is going to be quite infectious.  Some good Case Studies have been provided for discussion and we’ve each been asked to work on a blueprint project over the next six weeks. I’ll be working on student identity, data portability, portfolios and the transition to and from university, using this WordPress/BuddyPress platform I run at the University of Lincoln. My starting point is that university life should not necessarily encumber students with a further digital identity, should build on their existing digital identity and portfolio and that all digital products of student life should be portable as they are increasingly becoming elsewhere.

My thinking is not at all clear right now, but I’ve got a strong gut feeling that this topic is going to both interest me and be practically implementable. I’m working on a project with a colleague who teaches animation and it may be that I can combine these projects to the benefit of all. I signed up for the course so that I would be forced to clarify my thinking and hopefully benefit the work I’m already doing.

Anyway, more on all of this next week.