NCPH2013 Thursday WordPress Thoughts

My time at NCPH 2013 actually started on Wednesday.  The majority of my Wednesday activities revolved around networking and talking with new and old colleagues from Western University. Interesting discussions but not really blog post fodder.  As such I’m skipping to Thursday in my run down of this year’s NCPH experience.

WordPress as a Public History Platform
The first session I attended at the conference was on using WordPress in a public history setting, with an emphasis on using WordPress in a classroom setting. A couple of the presenters were sick and unable to attend the session, but Clarissa Ceglio, Jeffrey McClurken, and Erin Bell did an excellent job of leading an interactive panel which invited audience participation.

All three presenters highlighted some of the public history projects they have worked on recently which used WordPress.  Some of my favourite examples included:
Connecticut History site,  using WordPress to re-envision the concept of a state encyclopedia.  I particularly liked Ceglio’s emphasis on this site having an ongoing publishing effort and the fining tuning of WordPress for usability.  Ceglio also spoke about using the WordPress plugin in EditFlow to integrate editorial functions into the WordPress Site. 
UMW Blogs, a great example of  a university buying into the WordPress platform and using it for ‘official’ outreach.  This is also a great example of the possibilities of using WordPress as a multi-user platform. The site also has significant customizations and  for anyone having the misgiving that a WordPress site can’t “look nice” check out the UMW blogs.
The James Farmer Lectures site, a well done student created site that places the recorded lectures of James Farmer online.  The cleanness and effectiveness of this student site is what really won me over.  It’s a great example of the possibilities of students using WordPress.

The Question Session
The presenters in the WordPress session left ample time for audience questions and discussions.  Granted, the session as a whole was cut short because of a fire alarm — but that was clearly beyond their control.

Some of the interesting questions that arose:
-How do you manage the lifespan of a student driven WordPress site? 
McClurken spoke about his experience working with a range of student driven projects.  He indicated that in some cases students freely go back and update content on the site following the conclusion of a class.  There was also the mention of creating a digital repository to archive student sites or the possibility of partnering with an organization to maintain the site.
How much training do your students get when working with WordPress?
The general consensus was fairly limited training.  Most professors indicated that they only provide about half an hour of instruction before letting the students loose.  In this instance McClurken emphasized the importance of students learning by discovering and helping each other — that they should be “uncomfortable but not paralyzed” when learning”
How do you handle site promotion and comments? 
The panelists acknowledged the potential of comment features being a hassle.  However, they also indicated that the experience can be valuable for students.  One compromise that was suggested involved turning on the comments feature for the duration of the class and turning it off afterwards.

Heritage in Hamilton

Kayla Jonas, a heritage professional in Southern Ontario recently started up a blog to record her ‘adventures in the heritage world.’ Her posts so far have included commentary on a lot of great local history, culture, and public heritage events and ideas. It’s great to see another Canadian heritage professional enthused about community heritage.

Infomation Junkie and RSS Readers

I will openly admit that I am a bit of an information junkie. Twitter sustains my information addition to a degree. But, I find if I am off-line for any amount of time it’s easy to miss complete conversations or ideas. As a result I have a bit of an addition to RSS feeds. They allow me to catch up with all the blogs and sites I follow at my convenience, instead of at the demanding pace of Twitter.

I have been using Bloglines as my RSS reader for ages. Some long built up frustration with bloglines has resulted in me switching over to Google Reader. Below is some of my thoughts on the pros/cons of each particular RSS reader.

Bloglines:
One of my main frustrations with Bloglines is that often it does not update promptly.
-Bloglines has a very uncluttered and easy to read user interface, which is simple to navigate.
-Bloglines displays the number of followers to each RSS feed in plain sight. To see this number in Google Reader you have to access the additional details.
-Bloglines has the option of viewing merely titles, summaries, or full entries.

Google Reader:
Unsurprisingly, the search and recommended feeds feature on Google Reader is far superior to the search function on Bloglines.
-Initially I found Google Reader a bit flashy. There are many more additional features on Google Reader which have the potential to be useful, but also clutter the interface a bit.
-The trends feature in Reader allows you to see what in the past month you have read, starred, noted etc. Which is kind of a neat feature.
-I think my current favorite feature of Google Reader is the homepage. Bloglines homepage was not overly interactive or useful. Reader’s homepage lists the newest ‘stories’, highlights anything recently starred, and show recently read items.

Similarities:
Both allow you to use keyboard shortcuts to mark feeds as read, and perform other basic tasks when reading and organizing your RSS feed.
-Both readers have share/like/star options. They vary slightly in their names and display qualities, but essentially serve the same purpose.

Both services do what they are expected to do, and collect feeds in spot neatly. I found the major difference between Bloglines and Google Reader to be Google’s inclusion of many supplemental features not available in Bloglines. The improved search feature in Google Reader is also a huge bonus. I’m going to attempt to avoid the temptation of using the familiar Bloglines, and stick with Google Reader for at least awhile longer.

Authorship in an Online World.

Overwhelmed by search results? Struggling to keep up with Tweets? Buried under your RSS feeds? The amount of digital content and digital authorship is constantly growing. Today anyone can digitally publish content. Blogs, personal websites, twitter, and other social media have made it easy for individuals to create an online presence and produce “published” material.

Academics are picking up on the importance of creating an online presence. Granted, many Universities currently do not place the same weight on digital content as traditionally published works. However, this hanging onto traditional journal publishing may fade in nears to come.

The mass amount of online content raises the question of tracking changes in authorship, and the eventual movement towards a universal authorship. Currently, “authorship, including books and new media, is growing nearly tenfold each year…Authors, once a select minority, will soon be a majority.” [1]

What does this increased sense of authorship mean? Diversified and increased content for one. Additionally, the much used adage of “quality over quantity” becomes increasingly important in a world in which everyone can publish. However, it also opens a lot of opportunities to intelligent individuals who may not be able to publish in more traditional mediums. I see the growth of authorship as a benefit, but something which requires efficient means of gathering, organizing, and storing information

[1] Denis G. Pelli and Charles Bigelow, “Nearly Universal Literacy is a Defining Characteristic of Today’s Modern Civilization; Nearly Universal Authorship Will Shape Tomorrows”, SeedMagazine.