please comment to test comments

The forum-like tracking comments plugin, that I talked about earlier, is now live on this blog (thanks for the great work Enej!): see recent comment link above the header.
It works, it is stable and it covers the basics that we have originally defined:

  • Ability to expand/collapse post and its comments (little plus in front of post);
  • Sort the posts by
    • time published (default, though I think we should make sorting by latest comments default),
    • name of the post,
    • author,
    • number of comments,
    • date/time of the latest comment.

Now that it is live, I see that few small things could be added:

  • Remove the posts with no comments – the point of this plugin is to show activity on posts;
  • Tighten up the user interface to look better, perhaps apply gray to the first row (one that carries the columns’ names);
  • Ability to expand/collapse ALL post with one click (big plus in the header of the table, left of the post);
  • Add the date/time for each comments;
  • Ability to sort comments by date/time;
  • Trim the post to first X words with more link to load the full post (since it is your post you do not really the whole thing here);
  • Limit posts to latest 10 or so with see more link that will load all other comments;
  • Have a little control panel (options) thing so that the user could setup the preferences for the most of the above (how many post/comments, default sorting, exclusion of certain columns – like author in personal blogs, etc…).

We have submitted the code to WordPress Codec, and once it is published I hope that others will join to  continue the development of this plugin.

So, please support this plugin and comment on the this post and previous posts to give this plugin a proper test!

the improper use of wp: creating a closed ____ students experience portal

You fill out the blank in the title. So far we had course and ePortfolio audit portal-like blogs, and we are looking into building one for Coop program in the near future. In this case I’ll just set on the Coop program requirements, both course and eportfolio specs are very similar.

Lately, OLT has been involved in a few projects (and more are coming) that require having locked down central blog that is fed by number of opened or closed blogs.

Some students in the Coop program (contributors to the site) are willing to share their experiences on the program with other current Coop students (visitors of the site). They get the blog for the sole purpose of feeding the main website which is just an aggregated blog (closed for Coop students only, for sensitivity of information reasons) plus other marketing and informational content (public). The access to the closed component of the website blog in managed through CWL (UBC’s Single Sign On) authentication; only students that are active in the program can login and see the content (list is administered by Coop program staff).

Students’ blog feeds are being automatically imported to the aggregated blog and also tagged and classified according to the original categories and tags. The main website displays latest students’ posts on the main page, lists all the Coop bloggers on the side bar along with aggregated categories and tag cloud. Overall, the result is very user-friendly and dynamic website. By using additional plugins it is simple to introduce additional functionalities that will enhance the homepage, things like: most viewed post, most commented, searches by skills, work place placement, etc.

If it wasn’t for being closed, this would be very straight forward. However, the fact that many students’ blogs are private, makes it difficult to push the feed to the main blog. Two things to make this work (thanks for finding these Scott!):

  • /blogname/wp-rss.php feed doesn’t care much about the fact that blog is closed, this feed is always available (hello WP and your privacy settings, attention please!) and
  • the excellent Feed key extension that adds a 32 bit (or 40 bit) key for each feed, and thus creating unique URL for each key.

Example of similar system (the main difference being wide open) is UBC’s Blog Squad, an aggregated blog of students that are studying abroad.

forum-like blog comments

One critique of using WordPress as a LMS that keeps coming back to me, is that discussions (or comments, depending on where you’re coming from ;) are not easy to track or find.

I heard that, while users enjoy the flexibility, openness and many other cool 2.0 qualities of WP, they often miss the simple forum interface found on WebCT or on many web bulletin boards.

So, here is the problem: Typically, “discussion” page within WP is a simple post with open comments. Now imagine that typical course may have many (sometime over 20) pages that are very active with lot of comments posted. How can one track all those comments? Here are few ways:

  • Get the recent comments feed into your favourite RSS reader and keep looking through.
    Problems: Lot of WP blogs are closed with no available feeds. For those that are open, it involves setup time and many students are not familiar with the concept of RSS and feed readers.
  • Publish the recent comments feed right on the course homepage so that students can find the new comments as soon as they get to the site.
    Problem: Typically, you can publish only certain number of comments on the homepage, let’s say 20. So if one page had a heavy discussion within the last few hours, other pages that had discussions earlier won’t even be featured on the homepage.

The idea (proposal for a WP plugin): Create a page that will list in the chronological order the pages that have were last commented.

This could be the dedicated recent comments page:

With a bit of AJAX, we could also have the little Plus sign on the left expanding the page’s comments, right there on the aggregated comments page view.

Combined with some sort of threaded discussion plugin, this extension should significantly increase the usability of WordPress as a teaching platform.