Another way of fighting global warming is to use less energy. If you have a website, you can do this by requiring users to download less data.
It was time for me to update my blog theme, so I had a look through the WordPress theme directory (yawn) and then through GitHub. I tried a few for size, and settled on Susty, a theme which is less than 7KB in size. That’s tiny.
The theme’s creator explains that it was inspired by a session he attended at the Mozilla Festival:
As a brief recap, I attended MozFest in London last year. In between sessions I was scanning a noticeboard to see what was coming up, and I spotted a session entitled “Building a Planet-Friendly Web”. I felt a little dumbstruck. What on Earth was this going to be about?
I attended the session, and the scales fell from my eyes. In what now seems obvious but at the time was a revelation, I learnt of the colossal energy demand of the Internet. That this demand makes it the largest coal-fired machine on Earth, meaning that its CO₂ emissions are probably at least equivalent to global air travel. More and more people are coming online, but this coupled with the rise of ever more obese websites means that the Internet’s energy demands are growing exponentially. Every additional byte transferred means more energy, which in most countries means more CO₂.
It’s a small change, and I’ve plenty to do with my other sites (including Thought Shrapnel) but this is the site of mine that gets the most traffic, so I may as well start here!
I’m busy ideating, and talking to people around, Project MoodleNet. When you’re explaining something that doesn’t yet exist, you’ve got to use touchstones and metaphors, starting from where people are to help them understand where you want to go.
In these discussions I’ve been using three things to help me:
A great ‘landscape’ image from Bryan Mathers (see above)
It’s worth, I think, unpacking the third of these — if only so I’ve got a public URL to point people towards when I reference it elsewhere! It’s an imperfect metaphor, as it involves more technical understanding than we’ll require for Project MoodleNet.
Anyway, here goes…
WordPress and Moodle are similar
Free (as in freedom)
Host your own version
Have it hosted for you
How Jetpack works
Jetpack is a meta-plugin, a ‘plugin of plugins’ that adds lots of functionality to self-hosted instances of WordPress. In fact, it’s pretty much a no-brainer to activate Jetpack if you’re self-hosting. It connects your instance to your wordpress.com account, giving you:
Faster page loading (via CDN)
Detailed site stats
Where’s the value for the organisation behind WordPress?
So lots of value for users, but (you may think), what’s in it for Automattic, the organisation behind WordPress? Well…
Secure, fast WordPress sites maintain brand value
Better metrics around installation numbers
Ability to upsell to customers direct from dashboard
Why is this a good metaphor for what we’re doing?
Project MoodleNet will be a standalone social network for educators focused on professional development and open content. It can be supercharged, however, by using a similar model to what WordPress have done with Jetpack.
Imagine users logging into a institutionally-hosted Moodle instance using their Project MoodleNet credentials because the two are connected in a similar way to how Jetpack works for the WordPress ecosystem.
To be clear, I’m not proposing that Project MoodleNet offers the same services as Jetpack, I’m saying that it serves as an example where you can create value in two places and additional value by linking them together.
This would mean…
Teachers: professional social networking within their existing learning platform.
Instructional designers: faster access to curated open resources.
Sysadmins: better security and potentially reduced hosting costs.
(if you’re wondering about ‘reduced hosting costs’ it’s because we’re tentatively looking at how IPFS could be used in the wider Moodle ecosystem)
This isn’t a perfect metaphor by any means, and so I’m looking for other ways to explain what we’re trying to achieve. However, the combination of Bryan’s image, referencing Thingiverse, and explaining JetPack is helping those I’m talking with to understand the kind of thing we’re trying to build.
Yesterday was my first day as a Moodle employee. From this point onwards, I’m spending four days every week leading Project MoodleNet. This is described by Martin Dougiamas, founder and CEO as”a new open social media platform for educators, focused on professional development and open content.” As ever, I’ll be using this blog for my personal thoughts and musings, while there’s another blog for more official updates about the project.
Why I’m thinking about this
The following will be offered as core functionality through Project MoodleNet:
Identity and reputation
Access to openly-licensed resources
The above is listed in the order in which I’d like to tackle them. As you can see, I’ve put identity and reputation first. That’s because I believe projects should begin by attempting the most challenging things, and also because I don’t want us to have to retro-fit something so fundamental after developing everything else.
The growth of social sign-in on the web
These days, it’s become normal for users to be offered a ‘social’ way to sign into almost every service on the web. Some sites, such as Airbnb, go so far as to offer those who use social sign-in for their site additional privileges compared to those who use the traditional username / password combination.
As outlined on this Wikipedia page, for those running web services there are many benefits to allowing users to sign-in using a social network account. These include targeting content, reducing the use of fake email addresses, and increasing the speed of the sign-up process.
For users, the main benefits are:
Not having to remember multiple usernames and passwords
Increasing the speed of sign-up and login to their accounts
Quick and easy sharing of content to social networks
Although it is straightforward to find data on the percentage of users choosing to use various social network accounts to login to web services, it can be difficult to ascertain their wider practices around security. For example, how many people use browser-based password managers? Does that change by demographic? What about password managers not based on the browser, such as the ones built into the iOS and Android mobile operating systems, cloud-based services such as LastPass and Dashlane, and deterministic password generators (such as the one I use)?
Do people actually use social sign-in?
A few years ago, social sharing buttons appeared all over the web. Website visitors were encouraged to click on the relevant button to share the content they were accessing with their network. It turns out that, despite the proliferation of buttons, most people actually don’t use them, instead doing it their own way.
We know that social sign-in is different. People do use it. In fact, some reports put the number at over 90% of users preferring social sign-in to the traditional username / password combination. The most popular of these by far is Facebook, followed by Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The situation is similar to using contactless card payments in shops versus using cash. Using contactless every transaction you make can be tracked by your bank, just as every social login you make can be tracked by a social network. There are benefits and drawbacks to both options.
When I choose to use social sign-in
Personally, I don’t use Facebook and have written about the pernicious effect I believe it to have on society. As a consequence, I don’t (and can’t) use Facebook for social sign-in. There are some web services, though, where I do choose to sign in using a third-party account. While I wouldn’t base decisions about Project MoodleNet on my own habits, given the picture is quite complicated, it might be worth explaining the occasions when I sign-in via Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn:
When I have no other choice — I find Nuzzel an extremely useful tool for surfacing news from my networks. If I didn’t sign in using Twitter and LinkedIn, then I wouldn’t be able to access the service (and even if I did, it would have no value)
When my data is being shared anyway — unless you completely remove Google services from your Android device, it’s almost impossible not to share your contacts with them. As a result, I sign into Full Contact using my Google account.
When I want to buy something — I sign into The Guardian app on my Android device using my Google account as I bought a subscription through the Google Play store.
I also sign-in to my Moodle account using Google. Why? Because Moodle staff use Google Apps and it’s a professional, rather than personal, account.
The Moodle context
I asked David Mudrák if he’d be kind enough to generate a report on social sign-ins for moodle.org. He gave me data from 15th May 2017, which was the date that the ability to use OAuth2 to sign-in using a social account was added with Moodle 3.3. Since then, there have been five times more logins via Google than via Facebook. Those users creating new accounts since May show a preference towards the traditional username / password combination, with two-thirds of users choosing this option. Signing-in via social and traditional methods are not mutually exclusive, of course, and users can register using one option and subsequently switch to an alternative.
Project MoodleNet is separate from, but very closely connected to, moodle.org. As a result, it would complicate matters to have a separate login for Project MoodleNet, and provide little benefit to users. Instead, we should be aiming to bolster the value of having a Moodle account, which would no longer be used just for activity on moodle.org, but more widely across the Moodle ecosystem.
Learning from WordPress
Ideally, as someone who advocates for increased online privacy and security, I’d prefer it if most users signed into their Moodle account directly using a username and password combination. However, given that not using social sign-in could cause security issues for users who may otherwise re-use passwords across services, I suggest Project MoodleNet adopts the approach taken by WordPress.
Moodle and WordPress are similar projects in many ways. Both are open source and adhere to the GPL, allowing anyone to host their own version of the software without restriction or constraint. Just as anyone can use Moodle without having an account on moodle.org, so those using WordPress to power their blog or website don’t have to sign up for a wordpress.com account.
Where I think Moodle can learn from WordPress is in the powerful and intuitive way that individual sites can be linked to wordpress.com accounts to access the value-added services provided by JetPack. Enabling this allows users to sign-in to their blog or website using their wordpress.com account or with their username / password combination.
This is handy for users, who are given a choice. If they click on the ‘Log in with WordPress.com’ option, they then have further options in terms of authentication. They can enter their WordPress.com credentials (username / password), authenticate using their Google account, or be emailed a single-use login link.
This approach strikes a balance between choice and convenience, while highlighting the benefit of having a WordPress account and identity.
One way of thinking about Project MoodleNet is as JetPack for Moodle. It will provide different functionality, but the idea is the same.
So, to recap:
Most users on the web seem to prefer social sign-in options. Those with an account moodle.org tend to prefer username / password, but this might be skewed towards more technical users. More research and testing is necessary.
Social sign-in means user data is shared with third parties and potentially allows users to be tracked across the web. Therefore, social logins should not be the only option to sign-in to Project MoodleNet.
Project MoodleNet should bolster Moodle’s existing login system in a similar way to JetPack providing extra value for WordPress users.
This subject can be a fascinating rabbithole. While I didn’t link to the following articles in the above, they have informed my thinking:
TL;DR version: Register your own domain name, find some server space and install Open Source software. It’s harder than using someone else’s shiny service, but you’re in control. It’s worth it.
I found out today (via Drew Buddie) that Posterous is shutting down at the end of April. While this is a sad state of affairs – I used it with students in the classroom and found it a great email-based blogging platform – it was hardly unexpected. The co-founders moved to Twitter last year and the assumption was that they would close Posterous at some point.
John Johnston, who used Posterous extensively (not least for podcasting) has written about why it was such a great platform. In an update to that post he points towards Posthaven, effectively a subscription-based clone of Posterous started by a couple of other co-founders. It promises to be the ‘safe place for all your posts forever’. Yeah, right.
The only way you can ensure that the stuff you produce online stays online is by owning your own data. It’s as simple as that. So when you’re looking for a blogging platform, by all means have a look at the sexy options like Tumblr and the like, but the most important thing is how easy it is to get your data in and out of the platform. That’s why I like WordPress (both the hosted and self-hosted versions) so much.
Knowing how to own your own data and keep it available online fits right onto the Web Literacies framework I’ve been developing at Mozilla. But it’s not rocket science. It takes effectively three steps:
Install an Open Source platform (I use WordPress via a one-click CPanel installation process)
The reason the last of these is important is that it’s extremely difficult – if not impossible – to completely shut down an Open Source project. Once the code is out there, it’s out there and anyone can contribute or ‘fork’ the project.
Thankfully, like many people, I could see the writing on the wall with Posterous and moved the blogs I had there (a now-defunct ‘Ideas Garden’, my conference blog, and my FAQ) to WordPress blogs hosted on subfolders of dougbelshaw.com.
This stuff isn’t hard. Trust me. And you’re always better off in control of your own data.
So, be in control of your own domain. Find out how to control the blogging platform you use. And use Open Source software. You’ll thank me for it in the long term! 🙂
(Email and RSS subscribers will need to click through to see the change)
I’ve felt for a while that I should make this blog better suited to mobile interfaces and, in particular, touchscreen devices. This is known as responsive web design and I’ve been particularly impressed with Microsoft’s ‘Metro’ design language leading to a tiled approach on Windows smartphones. To my eyes it seems streets ahead of Apple’s skeuomorphism.
Yesterday, when I was browsing architecture blogs and came across the Contemporist site, it reminded me of that clean, touchscreen-friendly approach:
I did something I always do when I see blog themes I like: right-clicked to ‘View Source’ as you can tell which blog theme is being used. Judging by the CSS it’s a custom job, meaning I couldn’t simply download the same theme.
That was a shame, but it spurred me on to look for Metro-inspired blog themes. I was looking for something with a tiled, fairly squarish look but that didn’t scream Microsoft. Beautiful though it is, the Subway WordPress theme (from €39) was out of the question. I’d have looked like a Microsoft fanboi:
I also found the MetroStyle theme ($45), which I rejected for having too many boxes at the top:
I downloaded and installed the WP Metro theme (£FREE), but I had trouble making it look decent with my content:
In the end, after considering signing up to a course to get the Anaximander theme, I decided to pay $35 for a WordPress theme entitled Metro:
Like many premium themes it comes with an extremely easy-to-use configuration dashboard in addition to the usual WordPress options. Nevertheless, old habits die hard and I delved into the CSS to tinker about a bit!
I hope you like what you see, and if you want to see the ‘responsiveness’ in action, either resize your browser window or visit this site on a mobile device. It’s only my first attempt – I’ll be tinkering around making improvements here and there over the next few weeks.
3. Follow the instructions at the plugin’s Installation page, specifically:
Configure the plugin by navigating to Settings -> WPBadger Config in the WordPress admin. On this form, fill out some basic information including Agent Name, organization, and contact email address. The award email text is optional.
Note the following:
After you install the WPBadger plugin you get two new menu items – Badges and Awards
Badges is to do with the creation of badges and Awards is to do with the awarding of badges (either individually or en masse)
4. Follow the instructions on the Other Notes page to create your badge.
Things that may help:
Click on Badges in the left-hand menu then Add New
Fill in the Enter title here box (this is the name of the badge as it will show up in Badge Backpacks)
Enter some text in the main field about the badge itself and what it’s awarded for (this is what will show up at the badge’s Criteria URL)
Under Badge version on the right-hand side enter a number such as 1.0
Under Badge image on the right-hand side click on Set featured image
Once you’ve uploaded the badge image (a PNG file) you need to scroll down in the pop-up box to click the option to Use as featured image and then close the pop-up (you don’t need to insert it into the post)
5. Follow the instructions on the Other Notes page to award your badge.
Things that may help:
Click on Awards then Add New to award a badge to a single individual
Use the drop-down menu under Choose Badge on the right-hand side to select the badge to award
Enter the individual’s Email Address in the box on the right-hand side (try your own email address first if testing!)
In the main box fill out the reason why the individual has been awarded the badge (this is what will show up at the badge’s Evidence URL)
The individual you entered in Step 5 should now receive an email telling them they’ve received a badge. When they click on the URL they can accept or reject that badge. If they accept it then it will be pushed to their Badge Backpack.
*How to do this is outside of the scope of this tutorial, I’m afraid.
I’m ill at the moment: I can’t seem to shake ‘flu-like symptoms that struck last Wednesday. On the plus side, not being able to do ‘productive’ work means I’ve got done some stuff I haven’t been in a position to prioritise for a while.
Posterous, a blogging solution I’ve really enjoyed using and have advocated widely, was bought by Twitter recently. It was a talent acquisition, meaning that the future of the service is in doubt. Yesterday, I spent some time moving my Conference and FAQ blogs (previously hosted on Posterous) to subfolders of dougbelshaw.com.
The next step is to find a way to transfer Thought Shrapnel, my Tumblr-powered blog, in a satisfactory way. Truth is, Tumblr is an excellent (although painfully proprietary) platform with some really nice features. I like the defined post types and the way you can queue-up blog posts to go live.
Another thing I’d like to do is move both this blog and my e-books space from separate installations to my new WordPress ‘multisite’ installation running on the site root.
Finally, I’ve discontinued blogging at literaci.es (transferring the posts here) and moved my Ideas Garden to a public Evernote workbook.
You can find all of these spaces linked to from my profile at dougbelshaw.com.
I realised at the weekend that it’s been about 5 years since I started blogging properly, having got into my groove sometime in November 2005. Back then, as a classroom teacher, I wrote at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk about education and educational technology. What got me started was reading and commenting on the high-quality blogs of a small number of international educators, the dilution of which I lamented a few years later.
In the past 5 years I’ve gone from History teacher to E-Learning Staff Tutor to Director of E-Learning to working at JISC infoNet. I’ve also cultivated increasing amounts of stubble, as this video of me as a 24 year-old demonstrates! Hopefully, as I’ve read, learned and understood more about the world, my style of writing has improved. Well, one can hope.
The following are the things that I think anyone with a blog would do well to heed. I’d be interested in your take. 😀
1. Comment count != quality
The quality of a blog post has almost nothing to do with the number of comments you get – and everything to do with the zeitgeist, the way you phrase questions and how you structure your blog.
2. How to get more readers
To get more people visiting your blog, go and comment on other people’s and autotweet your blog posts via Twitter. This works up to a point, after which you can either keep it real or become a cynical marketing machine. I prefer content over style. Most of the time. 😉
3. WordPress and Bluehost rock
I’ve tried lots of different blogging platforms and webhosts, but have found WordPress to consistently do what I want of it and Bluehost [affiliate link] to be cheap, feature-filled and rock-solid.
4. Have an ‘ideas garden’
I’ve blatantly appropriated this term from someone who used it in conversation with me a while ago. Sorry if that was you – I try to credit the sources of ideas I share as well as images I use. An ideas garden is simply a collection of draft blog posts that you come back to, adding pictures, further ideas, etc. until they form whole posts. It can also stop you ranting when you’re in a bad mood. :-p
5. Digital footprint
I used to have a link to my curriculum vitae on my blog but, in fact, the whole thing is a digital portfolio, with my last three positions secured to a great extent because of my online presence. SEO is important, as is attempting to control the first page of Google search results (so that they’re all positive): my digital footprint is more important to me than my credit score. Fact.
It was time for the annual pilgrimage to the inlaws who live in Devon. We fly the rest of the time (Newcastle –> Exeter) but once a year we go down for a bit longer with the car. This time, instead of doing the 6 hours or so in one day, we stopped off in Doncaster and then again at a National Trust property. It made for an enjoyable journey!
Whilst there was nothing particularly wrong with my portfolio page at dougbelshaw.com when I came across this free ‘personal branding’ WordPress theme I couldn’t resist updating. I like the result. 🙂
I’ve decided that listening to music mainly by album on Spotify is slightly anachronistic. So I’ve been reorganizing my playlists into ‘Running’, ‘Train’, ‘Deadline’, ‘Working’, etc. I’ve kept the album-focused playlists for the moment, but situational playlists seem to be the way forward!
Considering the future
Whilst I’m only four months into my new job (and greatly enjoying it) I’ve got to think about the future. I’ve got a two-year contract with JISC infoNet. Specifically I’ve been considering:
What (if anything) do I want to do with my Ed.D. when I finish it?
Is Northumberland where should we bring up Ben and his sister (when she’s born)?
Do I want to stay in the FE/HE sector, move back into schools or do something entirely different?
I haven’t made any decisions and, if past experience is any guide, things tend to come out of the blue when you least expect them… :-p