Choosing an Online Presence



This guide is based on a post in the 2006 Networks Project Planning Forum.

Introduction



The best way to explore the use of Web 2.0 tools in education is to use them. This network is to be built on the open web using Web 2.0 tools.

In the Networked or Connected Learning Model, members are encouraged to set up their own online presence and become part of the network by linking with other member's online presences.

This guide focuses on the process of choosing an online presence to form the basis of you Personal Learning Network. Typically, this means a blog, but this is not necessarily so. Some may choose some of the other available options.

This guide was put to together when we were trying to decide on the official online presence for the network. This was to be the focus of ongoing news, discussions, tutorials etc. Some of the options may be suitable for a personal online presence, but not for the official project site.

Please add your thoughts and suggestions.

Required features of the official online presence



The official online presence for the project has to have at least the following features:

  1. Free and easy to use
  2. Allows multiple authors/facilitators
  3. RSS feed
  4. Ability to add content directly to the page or into the HTML template
  5. Not hidden behind a 'walled garden'


Options



Blogs & Journals



Services: Blogger, Edublogs.org, LiveJournal

The blog is the most common tool for creating an online presence. In fact it's pretty much standard (but that doesn't mean it's not possible to use other tools).

More about choosing a blog....

Social Networking Tools



Services: Yahoo! 360, MySpace, MSN Spaces

Social networking tools come with a blog as well as a range of other tools, many of which are designed to find like-minded people and create communities.

The downside is that these community-building tolls tend to lock people into that one community, rather than making connections with other services on the web.

And a warning - many educational institutions are blocking access to MySpace.

E-portfolios



Services: Elgg

E-portfolios have blogs but include other features as well as basic blogging funcionality including file repositories, social networking tools etc.

Moblogs



Services: Moblog.co.uk

No reason why you can't use a moblog instead of a blog, although personally, I think that dedicated moblogs are starting to lose their edge as other services (Blogger, flickr) integrate the ability to upload content from mobile devices.

Podcasts



Services: Odeo, PodOmatic

We don't want to restrict people to one medium. We want to find different ways to accomodate different people's learning styles, so there's no reason why you can't use a podcast (although it will present some challenges - how will people link to microcontent with a podcast?).

You can create your own podcast using the Blogger/Feedburner method or one of the integrated services like Odeo or PodOmatic (but as far as I know you can't tweak the template on these services).

Bloglines Clip Blog



Did you know that if you have a Bloglines account it comes with a Clip Blog that allows you to easily clip content from items in your subscribed feeds and comment on them.

Example: The Open Learner

There are two downsides - the first is that it doesn't accept comments and the second is that you can't change the template, which means you can't add any content from other services.

However you could combine the Bloglines blog with a personal start page as a way of linking all of your tools and services together.

del.icio.us links blog



It's actually possible to turn your del.icio.us social bookmarking account into a type of blog.

del.icio.us lets you past a brief description of the links as you post them. Most people just copy some text from the bookmarked site to the description, but you can also provide commentary in that section.

Of course this means you are restricted to commenting on, or at least referring to in some way, a link.

This may work for some, and the links you bookmark and comment on could be a blog post, so you can still become part of the conversation that way. Of course others can't really link back to your specific comments.

Flickr blog



Okay, so this suggestions is a bit strange, but in flickr you can add comments to each photograph you post, so you could actually make a type of blog out of the RSS feed from your flickr account.

Wikis



Services: WikiSpaces, PB Wiki

Wikis are good for organising content in a logical fashion, with menus etc, as opposed to the chronological style of blogs.

They do have RSS feeds, but as far as I know they only alert to changes made somewhere on a page and aren't suitable for a blog(this needs more investigating).

Some of them allow you to embed HTML and javascript (necessary for aggregating content from other services), some of them don't (like Wikispaces).

The project needs a wiki as well as an online presence.

Personal Start Pages



Services: Microsoft's Start.com, Windows Live, Netvibes, Pageflakes, Google Homepage & Protopage

Example: Stephan Ridgway's Protopage

Personal start pages are great for viewing/reading/following content, and they make it easy to "plug-in" and aggregate content from your other services, and they can certainly give you an online presence and identity, but they aren't really a place where you can create and publish content via an RSS feed.

You could blog somewhere else and display the RSS from your blog on your personal start page.

You could also choose to have a personal start page as your online presence and identity and just contribute to the networked conversations by leaving comments on everybody else's blogs.

SuprGlu



SuperGlu is a great tool that lets you combine multiple feeds from all of your tools and services - blogs, flickr, del.icio.us - to display on a single blog page.

Example: Joanna Kay's stuff:Glued

Superglu generates an RSS feed of all your blended feeds, so you users can subscribe to all of your feeds by just subscribing to your one Suprglu feed.

People can only leave comments on your SuprGlu if they have an account, so it doesn't really replace then need for a blog.

So which one do I choose for the official online presence?
Predictably, my vote is for a good ol' fashioned blog - this is the PLE owners' tool of choice.

Personally, I'd recommend Edublogs.org - it has an educational focus and blogs come with ad-free wikis from Wikispaces, thereby killing two birds with one stone, since the project needs a wiki.

It uses Wordpress which is a highly customisable, open source blogging platform (it's good to support the open source community and open source wherever possible). Among its many features is a built-in links manager and you can easily add static pages.

Next steps



If you don't already have one, use what you learn from this guide to select your own online presence and start publishing/broadcasting!