Embed, feed and tag: the bare minimum

We’ve been having trouble with the task for this week at Pedagogy First!, the aggregated blog of the POT Certificate Class. I posted a task that asked participants to create a Slidecast (PPT -> Slideshare -> plus audio) or a Jing (usually uploaded to Screencast.com), then embed it into this week’s blog post.

But oh! Trouble ensued because the current free versions of Edublogs and WordPress.com make embedding these items difficult or impossible. While those of us running our own blogs on our own or rented servers can control our WordPress blogs, these vendors have the control. The free Edublog (built on WordPress) won’t actually accept the Jing embed code, and blog posts saying it will lead us astray. It won’t accept the Slideshare embed code either. They tell you that you can embed media in an Edublog, but the fine print says maybe not if it’s a free account. The free WordPress.com blog will accept the Slideshare shortcode, but not the Jing embed code, even when one is very careful. This post says that you can use Vodpod, but one of our participants tried it and it failed. Some participants got around this by downloading the mp4 of their Jing and uploading it to YouTube so they could embed it. I tried downloading the swf version of a Jing to try this tip, but I could only seem to download mp4. So Jing isn’t even trying to help (they want you dependent on Screencast.com, where if your Jings have too many viewers they insist you have a paid account).

We need a new standard for the basic functions of blogs and other social webware. And once I read Martin Weller’s post from 2008, I realized that these are the basics:

1. Embed

A blog or social webware of any kind is useless without embed. . If you cannot share right from your space, if people must click away using a link, the implication is that the media is not yours. It “belongs” to Slideshare or Screencast. YouTube and Vimeo balance this issue, by allowing embed but branding the player. That makes more sense. (BTW, those mysterious embed codes they “give” you are just basic object and embed HTML, which have been around for over a decade — everywhere should accept them.)

2. Feed

Any site that gets updated, but does not have the RSS feed obviously available is similarly useless. Readers need to be able to aggregate all the things they read, create their own newspaper, if you will. Some of the themes in WordPress (including many available through Edublogs and WordPress.com) don’t have an obvious RSS button available, so unless you know how their feed is structured, you can’t put it in an aggregator. And how is it possible that the RSS for Comments is still separate from the Posts? How can there be no progress with this?

3. Tag

We’re still confused by tags, since Twitter needs a hashtag, while blogs use either Tags or Categories, which are difficult to distinguish. Still, most of the save-and-share technologies get the tag idea. Nevertheless, if everyone is using an agreed upon tag on their blogs, there is no way to find these across the entire web. The closest we’ve found is to search for the tag in Google Blog Search, but it’s very delayed and misses many of them, tending to favor those who put the tag in their post title.  For my purposes, if people use our potcert11 tag outside the class, I have trouble aggregating these into a blog or widget, or reading them myself.

It’s incredibly stupid that we can’t do these things for free. They are basic. If you want to pull us in to have us pay for premium features, you need to understand which features are basic rather than optional.

This is serious enough to have me rethinking our recommendations for newbies to use Edublogs or WordPress.com. Posterous and Tumblr are now being seen as being better for this kind of thing. Maybe they are, and we should focus less on full blogging platforms and more on embed, feed and tag.


7 comments to Embed, feed and tag: the bare minimum

  • You can also add tags and page breaks using P’s very handy blog by email…. and autopost to other social media, including existing blogs. I can post to by email to Blogger but not add tags/labels or page breaks when I do. Lately, I’ve been using Posterous to post by email to my Blogger string. Posterous also accepts attached docs and pdfs, displaying them via Scribd embed window.

    Posterous autoposts to WordPress among many others ~ not sure about EduBlog, but it might.

    FYC (for your consideration) ~

    Easy classroom blogging with Posterous

    The Teacher’s Guide To Using Posterous Spaces

    Speaking of embedding ~ easy to embed Wallwisher and other message boards into posts and sticky spaces with simple embed src codes.

    Calendars too, if you wanted to add a Google calendar (with email invitation and reminder options for the nagging inclined) to that interactive syllabus

  • Carol Forseth

    Thank you for this post. After class I’ll try to sort it out step by step and see if I can make my Jing video show up. If nothing else, I’m learning the spirit of experimentation.

  • Carol Forseth

    Well, after rereading your post, I see that embed, feed and tag, is not the process to follow. It’s the basics of what edublogs won’t let us do.

  • Jean Proppe

    Thanks Lisa. This explains why it took me 2 hours to upload my Jing with sound to my blog. I finally gave into Screencast. But, I currently upload Slideshare files without sound with no problems to a blog I use for my current classes. I have not tried Slideshare with sound before though.

  • Several issues here that I might be able to help with.

    First, screencast/video. If you think of the screencast as a video file, it often makes the process easier. Yes, I’m with you on bitching and moaning about how this “open source” world should have better standards, but it doesn’t…yet. It’s waiting for the yet that is a pain.

    This video shows how to convert a Jing file to a YouTube friendly file which makes it simple to embed into WordPress.com and edublogs. I’ve used vodpod with WordPress.com very successfully, but it is the conversion of a SWF file to make it work with vodpod that can be troublesome, and this article helps with converting from Jing to VodPod and it works. I’ve used it with WordPress.com and others.

    Jing uses SWF files which are Adobe Shockwave better known as Flash. A blight on the web without a doubt, but was an favorite for early adopters because it was easy – not convenient. It’s being replaced by HTML5 which is much better at the dream you have of being open for easy embedding.

    WordPress and WordPress.com tried to make the process of embedding files easier with shortcodes. Many do find it easier to use. The issue with all videos is that the embed code includes the codes for the player as well. WordPress.com uses a built-in player which makes it easier. They permit a dozen or more different types of embeds for video, audio, etc., which is more than most hosted sites.

    Tags are made more complicated than they need to be. It’s also an abused term. I explain it better in this article on WordPress and tags but tags have nothing to do with Twitter hashtags. Tags in blogs, photo services, and other publishing platforms are micro-navigational links to group content together in their smallest “keyword” specific groupings. It’s categorization or taxonomy to be specific. Hashtags aren’t so much categories as they are relational organization. They server to inform someone reading a tweet of the event or topic under discussion, and a search for hashtags is really just a glorified search by keyword, not a navigational link. It’s a filter not a grouping. You could search for any word and call it a “hashtag.” It’s a tracking identifier.

    Feeds. All WordPress blogs have feeds of many kinds built in. I list some in this article on WordPress and feeds. They do not need to be visible to be recognized. If you copy any WordPress URL and put it into a feed reader (or use a browser tool) the feed will be found automatically. Visually presenting the feed icon is more like a note to pick up milk on your way home. It reminds people that a feed is available, educates them on feeds, and provides a one click option for those not using other methods. You can easily add feed icons and reminders to any WordPress blog through the feed or text widgets. These are not always enabled by default on WordPress.com but can be added and moved around in the sidebar as the user wishes, but they are available.

    I hope this helps. I know it’s frustrating, and I’ve worked for many years with WordPress to make this process easier, and the new media library arriving in an upcoming version is helping to really improve things even more.

    Thanks for helping so many people understand these issues better. It’s so important to share our knowledge and expertise and rant to help things improve all the time. 😀

    • Thank you, Lorelle! I go to your blog quite a bit and find great advice. I’m going to make these links available to class members.

      I am aware of the various widgets and plugins for making feeds available, but even that workflow is hardly intuitive for newbies. The default should be to at least have a Posts feed available in all of the themes made available in Edublogs and WordPress.com. This seems to me really basic to blogging.

  • Jean

    Just another comment on Edublogs. I hate their anti-spam requirement…yes, hate. Invariably I type it incorrectly since I have tri-focals and am frankly lucky I can read the screen at all. Then it erases my entire entry. I guess I should know better by now and pre-compose my comments in Word but I constantly forget and *poof* there goes my entry. Ugh!