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Dynamic Websites Section: Social Technology

Social and collaborative technologies are popular web-based enhancements. They allow your end-user to participate in your website. While traditional websites are static and content is created by the web developer, the technology of Web 2.0 allows end-users to add their own information and ideas.

Allowing end-users to add content makes them feel a part of the website community. For example, many libraries are getting patrons involved with posting book reviews, serving as web-based virtual reference volunteers, or adding their own poetry to a community wiki.

Although you may wish to set up your own form for them to submit reviews, you can also use outside resources such asLibraryThing. Then, link to this outside service from your website. Examine all the options carefully before jumping into social technology software.

Server Software vs Outside Services

As a web developer, you can manage these social technologies by installing software on your own web server or using an outside service.

Server Software

You can download and install commercial or open source software on your own web server. This is a great option if you have control of your server and feel comfortable setting up server software. If not, you might be more comfortable using an outside service. The advantage of using your own server is that you have total control. When you use open source solutions on your own server you can even adapt the software to include your school colors or library logo. You also have control over the content. You can make your own backups and have a secure place to store content. In addition, if you wish to keep the content private, you can set up preferences, restrictions, and passwords. It's possible to even place the software on an intranet, so users could only access the area from inside the school or library. Or, you could restrict access to a secure line or require the use of a library card number.

The major downside of using your own server involves the technical aspects of setting up, maintaining, and upgrading the software. In addition, there are potential security issues that must be considered whenever installing software on a server.

Overall, the pros generally outweigh the cons. If you can get the software installed and running properly, you'll be much happier with the control you'll have over blogs, forums, surveys, wikis, or whatever technology you're using.

Outside Services

The main advantage of outside services is ease of use. You don't need to worry about the technical aspects of the software or allocating space on your server. Someone else gets to handle the headaches of upgrading software. However there are many disadvantages. If you're paying for a service, you have some recourse if the website goes down or data is lost. However if you're using a free service, it's difficult to complain when it's gone. Be sure to check out the provider if the service is important to your program. It may be worth paying the basic subscription rate to get quality technical support.

Before jumping into a service be sure to think about your end users. Will they be annoyed by advertising? Will they be able to navigate the service? In some cases, outside providers maintain copyright on anything published on their server. Is this a problem? Also, some schools filter social technologies. Will your users be able to get to the website?

readRead!
Breeding, Marshall (September 2010). Taking the social web to the next level. Computers in Libraries, 6-10.

Blogs

Blog stands for web log. A blog contains a series of entries listed chronologically with the most recent entries at the top of the page. The content of blogs varies from news and information to book reviews and event announcements. Some blogs are created by individuals while others are intended to be collaborative. For example, some book clubs use blogs to post their favorite books or post discussion questions.

Go to the Castilleja School Library Blog. What makes this blog effective?

Many blogs are open to the public, while others are password protected. Blogs often allow some or all users to post comments, add to discussions, or share ideas. Keep in mind that blogging is time-consuming. Most blogs are quickly abandoned. Before you jump into the creation of a blog consider it's maintenance!

Let's look at a few library blogs:

Software and Online Tools

If you can add blogging software to your website server, then try the open source Word Press software. It's easy to install and use. In addition, you can add your institution's logo and colors.

If you don't control your website server, consider one of the many free services. An easy tool for creating blogs is blogger.comwhich is affiliated with Google.

Also, consider adding audio to your blog to create podcasts.

It's easy to connect a blog to your website, simply add a link to your blog on your website navigation area.

Blogs to Explore

Before creating your own blog, it's a good idea to explore existing blogs and think about the mission of your blog.

try it Try It!
Explore award winning blogs at the Bloggies and Edublog Awards.

Skim Blogging from escrapbooking and Learning Spaces: Blogging, Podcasting, and Vlogging from High Tech Learning.

Syndication

How can you share your website with others? Through syndication, people can subscribe to your content. Most regular website readers and listeners can use a news aggregator and RSS feeds to help manage information. RSS stands for Really Simply Syndication (RSS). The process of making your web content available to subscribers is called syndication. Read RSS from wikipedia to learn more about RSS.

The Cincinnati Public Library has a nice overview of using RSS feeds for it's patrons.

Examining a Feed

Let's look at some RSS feeds. They are written as XML files.

In addition to providing a link to the feed file, it's a good idea to provide directions for end users. Examine the directions and examples for using RSS feeds provided by BBCLibrary of CongressHennepin County LibraryKansas City Public Library, or Minneapolis Public Library or explore links to other library RSS feeds.

Skim Learning Spaces: Blogs: RSS Feeds from High Tech Learning.

Creating a Feed

The trend is toward using RSS 2.0. The feed is created XML files in two parts: introduction and items. The introduction contains the name, URL, webmaster, date updated, and description of the website. It may also contain other information

The list of items describe the content to be shared such as article, postings, video, or audio content. You'll save this file with the .xml file extension such as feed.xml. In most cases you'll use a cute icon such as xmlor live bookmarkto serve as a link to this file.

Example

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<rss version="2.0">
<channel>
<title>Library News</title>
<link>http://wordpress.mylibrarywebsite.com/</link>
<description>Our Library Blog </description>
<language>en-us</language>
<pubDate>Mon, 10 Jan 2007 08:00:00 GMT</pubDate>
<lastBuildDate>Mon, 10 Jan 2007 10:00:00 GMT</lastBuildDate>
<docs>http://wordpress.mylibrarywebsite.com/rss</docs>
<webMaster>webmaster@mylibrarywebsite.com</webMaster>

<item>
<title>American Born Chinese</title>
<link>http://wordpress.mylibrarywebsite.com/news/2007/news-abc.asp</link>
<description>For the first time a graphic novel has won a major literature award for young people. American Born Chinese uses a graphic novel format to tell three intersecting stories.</description>
<pubDate>Mon, 10 Jan 2007 09:00:00 GMT</pubDate>
<guid>http://wordpress.mylibrarywebsite.com/2007/01/01.html#item123</guid>
</item>

<item>
<title>Uno's Garden</title>
<link>http://wordpress.mylibrarywebsite.com/news/2007/news-uno.asp</link>
<description>Uno's Garden is the latest picture book by award winning children's author and illustrator Graeme Base.</description>
<pubDate>Mon, 10 Jan 2007 10:00:00 GMT</pubDate>
<guid>http://wordpress.mylibrarywebsite.com/2007/01/02.html#item124</guid>
</item>

</channel>
</rss>

radRead RSS Advisory Board for RSS 2.0 to find out about how to create a feed.

RSS Feed Creators

FeedBurner - create audio and video content RSS feeds

FeedForAll - create, edit, manage, publish RSS feeds and podcasts

Learn More

Introduction to RSS from WebReference.com

Polls and Surveys

Polls and surveys can be an interesting addition to your website. Although you can create your own forms, it's also possible to use existing resources.

try it Try It!
Try using the Response-O-Matic Form Processor with your form.

Polls & Surveys

If you don't want to do all the work yourself, try some of these services.

Social Networks

Social networks are virtual spaces where people of all ages can make contacts, share information and ideas, and build a sense of community. Like all technologies, they are built with tools that can serve many purposes.

Facebook is the most popular social network for the general public.

A popular example for libraries is LibraryThing and GoodReads.

Skim Learning Spaces: Social Networks from High Tech Learning.

Wikis

A wiki (pronounced "weekee") is a set of dynamic, linked web documents. In most cases these documents are created collaboratively. Once established, many wiki have no designated editor. Instead anyone can contribute. Wiki Wiki means "fast" in Hawaiian and refers to the quick way pages can be developed. Wikipedia is the best known wiki. Learn more at Wiki from Wikipedia.

Go to an example of a wiki created by sixth graders based on the book The Wright 3.

Check out a few other library oriented wikis: Library and Information Science WikiEvery Child Ready to Read wiki, Instruction wiki, and Subject Guides.

Server Software for Wikis

If you have control over your web server, you can install your own wiki-based system for constructing collaborative websites. Go to Wiki Engines or Top Ten Wiki Engines for a master list of software organized by programming language. Some options are listed below (GPL standards for software offered under the General Public License):

Websites for Wikis

There are many websites that provide space for wikis. However many contain ads. Go to the Wikispaces Teacher Page to set up a wiki without ads. This will ensure you get a wiki without ads. Or, use one of the following spaces:

Learn More

Learning Spaces: Collaborative Web and Wikis from High Tech Learning


Course Management Systems

From book clubs and administration meetings to workshops and courses, there are many tools that can be used to facilitate communication, collaboration, and learning.

Courses and Forums

Some of the well-known web-based tools such as Blackboard can be expensive. However an increasing number of people are using open source software such as Moodle for course management or Drupal for content management. These tools provide everything you need to set up and manage your own online courses including threaded discussions, assignment management, quiz creators, etc.

In many cases, you don't need an entire course management system. For example, you might want to simply set up book clubs for teens, science fiction fans, and mystery lovers. For these activities, a discussion forum is the best tool. A discussion forum is a web-based application used for holding virtual discussions. Often called threaded discussions, web boards, or discussion groups, they're commonly used for interacting with others who share an interest in a particular topic. Many discussion boards are used for troubleshooting problems or sharing ideas. The PHPbb software is often used for this type of forum.

Software for Courses and Forums

If you can install sofware on your own web server, consider one of the following open source software packages.

Drupal - Choose this option for content management.

Moodle - Choose this option if you're looking for a course management system.

PHPbb - This is a great tool for threaded discussions.

Websites for Courses and Forums

If you can't install and use your own software, consider using one of the many online services. Here are a few to consider:

Google Groups - threaded discussions (with advertising)

NiceNet - non-profit website with tools for course management.

Yahoo Groups - threaded discussions (with advertising)

Learn More

Learning Spaces: Course Management Systems from High Tech Learning

Learning Spaces: Discussion Forums from High Tech Learning

Threaded Discussions from Teacher Tap


 


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