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:
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.)
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?
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.