Tag: Social network

Creating the world’s smallest social network (for testing purposes)

Note: Iā€™m writing this post on my personal blog as this isn’t an official Moodle pronouncement, just some experimentation.


I’m leading Project MoodleNet, which will be “a new open social media platform for educators, focused on professional development and open content”. There are decisions I have to make, and these need to be based on criteria, prioritisation, etc.

One of the things I’m keen to do with the professional social networking component of Project MoodleNet is to ensure that it’s decentralised. By this I mean that, unlike Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, it won’t be a ‘silo’ of information.

Instead, Project MoodleNet will be federated in a way which allows information to flow between instances. It’s well explained in this article, which includes the following diagram which outlines the technical protocols on which a number of options are based:

Venn diagram of the Fediverse

As you can see, the ActivityPub protocol is definitely a candidate for the professional social network aspect of Project MoodleNet. Last week it became a W3C recommended standard.

For less technical readers, the upshot of this is that users can send messages, files, and (most importantly) emojis to anyone on any server that uses the ActivityPub protocol. Products and services built upon this protocol may look and feel very different, but all of the data is interoperable.

ActivityPub diagram

The W3C specification, which includes these diagrams, is surprisingly readable!

Mastodon is a social network which was originally built on the OStatus protocol, but which is now also compatible with ActivityPub. I’m a member of the social.coop instance, although there’s no limit on the number of different accounts you can hold on different instances.

Although they have a common basis, you find differences between Mastodon instances. For example, some have a particular focus, meaning that the stream of updates you get from your own instance might be focused on gaming, or education, or LGBT rights. There’s also differences between the kind of languages and content allowed by instances.

No matter which instance you’re on, however, you can follow anyone from any instance. You can see this in the screenshot below.

Mastodon screenshot

From left to right:

  • My ‘Home’ stream is populated with updates from the people and accounts I follow.
  • The ‘Notifications’ stream works the same as Twitter (replies, favourites, boosts)
  • ‘Local timeline’ is everyone on the same instance as me.
  • ‘Federated timeline’ is everyone’s updates in the Fediverse.

In practice, it’s a lot like TweetDeck (I think on purpose).

I wanted to have access to a testing version of Mastodon to look at the administration and moderation functionality. Paul Greidanus was kind enough to spin up an instance which, for obvious reasons, isn’t federated to the rest of the network.

Mastodon - Moodle

I closed self-registration and invited some Moodle staff to create an account via a special link. As you can see, it was pretty quiet. That’s OK, however, as I’m really just interested in the moderation and admin functionality.

To access the additional options available as a moderator and/or admin exist in the same place as user settings. It’s a nice touch, and the way that it’s presented makes it easy to focus on what you want to achieve, rather than getting sidetracked with technical stuff.

Mastodon moderation audit

The audit log shown in the screenshot above is useful, particularly for GDPR compliance, and reporting reasons.

Mastodon moderation - invitations

This is also the place where you can generate invitations, which can have a maximum number of uses and/or expire after a certain time. There’s also functionality around blocking email addresses from certain domains from registering.

On the admin side of things, this is where you can configure the public description of the instance, add contact details, and specify the rules and other guidelines.

Mastodon admin

The thing that interested me most, however, was CUSTOM EMOJIS:

Mastodon - custom emojis

Finally, there’s various technical reports, and queries you can run from a technical point of view.

I have to say that I wasn’t expecting the moderation and admin side of Mastodon to be so… user-friendly. It’s incredibly easy and intuitive to use, although it does mean delving into the code if, say, you want to change the default background colour to orange!

The next thing to do is to experiment with Hubzilla, which is also mentioned on the Venn diagram earlier in this post. It’s important to experiment both technically and with users, and weigh all of these things against the principles that underpin Project MoodleNet.

Exciting times!


Main image by Slava Bowman used under a CC0 license

Productivity, Organization & #tweetmeet

I’ve spent this afternoon and early evening at a ‘tweetmeet’. These are also known as ‘tweetups’ and are when people who have previously only met, or usually communicate, through the microblogging service Twitter meet up face-to-face. I’d actually met all of the people from the small tweetmeet we had today in Nottingham.* :-p

Such ‘unorganized’ meetings of people – TeachMeet is a similar, slightly more structured example – are the subject of this blog post. What prompted my thinking about organization was part of the discussion we had, foolowed up by listening to a Radio 4 podcast on the way home called Thinking Allowed. I suggest that you listen to it right now!

The whole point of organizations is to achieve something. These may be set in stone and known by all participants in the organizations, or there may be many (and possibly conflicting) objectives framed by participants. All organizations, therefore, have different degrees of productivity, both globally (as an organization) and, depending on their size, on a more micro-scale.

I say this because we discussed at the tweetmeet – which was itself a kind of exemplar – the concept of an ‘unconference’. This is defined by Wikipedia (as I write, anyway…) as ‘a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered around a theme or purpose.’ Our purpose, I suppose, was to discuss things face-to-face that we’d previously discussed online, and to get to know each other a little better. Then, on the way home, listening the Thinking Allowed podcast (above) it got me thinking more generally about organizational structures.

Michael Thompson, author of Organising and Disorganising, talked about going on a expedition to climb the South face of Mount Everest. He explained how there were two separate groups – ‘Team A’ and ‘Team B’ – with the leader and middle managers (as it were) in the former group and the rest in the latter. He explained how this rigid hierarchical structure led to those in Team B, despite being experienced and highly-motivated mountaineers, adopting a chaotic, somewhat anti-organizational structure.

The important thing, however, was that order in fact came out of this structure; order that depended on those involved. This is the thing that is missing in organizational planning these days: the role of individuality. Because, actually, someone who fulfils a role in an organization cannot simply be swapped-out for another person. The whole organizational structure depends on the talents, personality and individual attributes of that person. Change one part of the organization and the whole thing shifts. It may be a small amount in some cases – imperceptible to some – but a rearrangement and alteration does take place.

This helps to explain why organizations seemingly consisting of brilliant minds that should be amazingly productive and innovative fail to be so. An effective organizational structure is one that removes barriers and enables individuals within an organization to reach his or her potential. This, of course, cannot be at the expense of another, otherwise it is a futile exercise. One such way of going about organization, therefore, is to unorganize things, to mix things up a little.

So I’d encourage you, as Tom did me today, to once you’ve attended an unconference, to think about organizing (or un-organizing…) one of your own. You can’t really state in advance the specific things you’re likely to learn, but that’s part of the fun! I’ll leave you with a couple of things. The first is a Twitter message from @hrheingold which sums up in a far more eloquent way than I could ever manage the benefits of letting a little (controlled) chaos into organization:

The second is a link I came across, shared by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), whilst writing this post. It’s called 8 Tips on How to Run Your Own UnConference. I hope that and this post change your thinking a bit and encourage you to think a little differently about organization, or the lack of it, and how it could impact the productivity of any organization of which you are part! šŸ˜€

* I knew Lisa Stevens originally from last year’s TeachMeet at BETT, Jose Picardo from an Open Source Schools event, and Tom Barrett from some work we did for a Becta-funded project into Web 2.0 in the classroom at Nottingham University a few months back. The reason it says #tweetmeet in the title is because on Twitter you can add tags by prefacing words with hash symbols. These then can be tracked by websites such as Twemes.com. You can see this in action on the front page of the tweetmeet.eu website!

Image credits: iPhone Matrix App -MoPhaic & Podcamp West, both from Flickr

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
css.php