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Have your Blogs.mu cake – and eat it too!

People are now asking me about Blogs.mu in terms of school blogging programs so I’ve decided it’s better to clarify because most people won’t appreciate how very different Blogs.mu is from other hosted blogging solutions.

But before I do it is important to point out, to ensure full disclosure, that I work for both Edublogs and Incsub (who own Blogs.mu).

WordPress blog vs WordPress MU blogs

When you sign up for a blog on Edublogs or WordPress.com what happens is these companies host your blog and you can get on with the job of writing your posts and blog design. The highest level of access you have is as an administrator and because it is a hosted solution features like adding extra plugins or uploading themes aren’t possible.

The other option for single blog users, who want to use WordPress but have more control over their blog features such as extra plugins or custom themes, is they will install WordPress from WordPress.org and host their own blog on either their own servers or pay a hosting company.

Once you want to hosts lots of blogs on the same domain then you need to use WordPress MU (WordPress Multiuser and also known as WPMU). Both Edublogs or WordPress.com use WordPress MU but Edublogs has been highly customised by our specialist team WPMU coders to include features that specifically assist educators with using the blogs with students.

WordPress MU blogs vs Edublogs Campus Site

Often schools and universities want higher level of control and access than achievable with Edublogs so they will look at solutions like hosting their own WordPress MU site or Edublogs Campus.

While installing and managing your own WordPress blog is relatively easy, but can cause problems, WordPress MU is considerably more specialized and requires a certain level of expertise.

This is why educational organisations choose Edublogs Campus because it provides all the powerful features of a WordPress MU site without having to worry about the stress of hosting, maintenance and upgrading the software.

The main feature which provides the higher level of control that educational organisations want is access to site admin. On a WordPress MU the next level of access of access above an Administrator is the site admin user.

As site admin user you can:

  1. Manage the access and level of responsibility of all users
  2. Manage blog features including access to plugins, themes and blog privacy settings
  3. Create new users and new blogs
  4. Edit posts, pages, comments on any blog
  5. Reset passwords
  6. Edit and delete any blog

In really simple terms, if you have problems with a student, as site admin user, you can immediately log into the dashboard of their blog, without being attached as a user to that blog, then edit/delete a post/comment plus change whether that student can access their blog.

WordPress MU blogs vs Blogs.mu Community

Blogs.mu is quite a bit different from the hosted Edublogs and WordPress.com. When you sign up with either of these services you are provided with a blog.

On Blogs.mu you can sign up for WordPress MU site of your own and then set up your own blogs, or blog community under it. For example you might like to set up a community on writing called writerspot.blogs.mu and then if the writer John Smith signs up in your community his blog is writerspot.blogs.mu/johnsmith.

Similar to Edublogs with Blogs.mu you can choose to be a free user or a supporter.

With Blogs.mu just like Edublogs Campus you are getting your own WordPress MU site with the high level of control minus the stress of hosting the site and specialist expertise required to maintain or upgrade WordPress MU.

The features of these two sites are quite different because Blogs.mu is designed for anyone who wants to set up a community using their WordPress MU while Edublogs Campus has been customised specifically to meets the needs of the educational community.

For a comparison check out:

  1. Blogs.mu Site Admin Guide
  2. Edublogs Campus Site Admin Guide and log into the University of Blogs Sandpit site

If you’re interested in the technical aspects of how blogs.mu was created check out Barry’s On Muing MU – A technical introduction post.

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Comments Count!

Much of the learning from blogging happens as a result of commenting and interaction between commenters.   Comments that challenge views, ideas and thoughts or provide alternative solutions all expand your (and your readers) thinking.

Trouble is most readers are relucant commenters, not because of lack of time, but because they feel uncomfortable leaving comments. 

So here is your chance to help me demonstrate the power of comments to participants at Digital Fair.  Can you please leave a comment to share your thoughts on:

  1. Reasons why readers mightn’t leave comments on blog posts
  2. What makes a good comment?
  3. What are some of your tips for encouraging readers to comment?

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Explanation of How My Twitter Account Was Hacked

Below is an account of the worm attacks on twitter on the Easter weekend, 2009 — it’s been regularly updated as new events occurred.

CURRENT STATUS: A new twitter worm attack occurred on April 17.

Early Easter Sunday 12 April (Western Australia 9 AM GMT + 8hrs) I noticed that several of my twitter followers sent out tweets that appeared like their account had been hacked. To be honest, I thought I was safe because I had seen similar before.

Boy how wrong was I….

This guy learnt a new method of hacking into our accounts. All it takes is checking on the profile when you receive notification of a new follower. Assume they have probably set up quite a few accounts to do this….

It immediately accesses your account and starts sending out a range of different tweets about the company.

Here is what you need to do if it happens to you:

  1. Immediately change your twitter password – that appears to stop it
  2. Check your bio and make sure it hasn’t added a link into it for their web site – remove any links that have been added

This was caused by a worm named the Stalkdaily worm created by Mikeyy Mooney, the 17-year-old creator of StalkDaily.com from Brooklyn (read more about it here).

When StalkDaily hit I recommended that twitter users don’t:

  1. Check out the profiles of any new followers until it is addressed (unless you first engage in a meaningful conversation with them)
  2. Don’t visit web profiles of infected users or click on the link to StalkDaily

Within about an hour Twitter deployed a security patch that they thought fixed the problem. It was also necessary for Twitter to suspend some users accounts for awhile. Some of twitterers found when their account was reactivated that it had removed them from their followers lists as a result. This meant they had to contact people and ask them to refollow.

I recommended people remain cautious for the rest of the day — just in case. Fortunately this was good advice.

Approximately 8 hours later the next worm hit twitter. This time Mikeyy Mooney created the Mikeyy worm that took over accounts including changing their user and sending out continuous tweets like:

Twitter please fix this, regards Mikeyy
Man, Twitter can’t fix sh*t. Mikeyy owns. :)
Twitter should really fix this…

During the Easter weekend Twitter fought off four waves of worm attacks created by Mikeyy Mooney.  Damon Cortesi wrote an excellent postmortem post that explains exactly how the worm worked and what code was used.

Unfortunately security continues to be an issue for twitter.  After Mikeyy Mooney was hired by ExqSoft to do security analysis work Mikeyy launched a fifth worm attack on Friday April 17.  You can read more about this latest version here.

Options for protecting your twitter account:

  1. Don’t visit web profiles of any twitter users if you are logged into your twitter account unless you have ensured your web browser is fully secured and have scripting turned off using plugins like NoScript for Firefox.
  2. If you haven’t secured your web browser only visit web profiles of twitters users once you have logged out of your twitter account.
  3. Stick with using a twitter application like Twhirl or Tweetdeck.  You can use either of these applications to check out new followers using their search facility and add by clicking on the + alongside their profile.

IF you want me to add you to my twitter account — please send me @suewaters and engage in conversation. If you are new to using twitter you might like to check out my twitter advice for new people.

Please note: I don’t normally update posts but because of the nature of these worm attacks this has been necessary.

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What The? Did You Just Tweet?

Even twictionary was unable to translate this tweet according to Penny Coutas!

I’ve tweeted many weird funny insane incredible tweets but this is definitely my most ‘blog worthy’ tweet!  It’s made more funnier by the fact that:

  1. I can’t translate it
  2. I sent it from twizza, a meet up for educators to learn about twitter (looks like I’m the one that needs some lessons!)

Image of Twitter

Bad headache today has impacted slightly :(

Please feel free to leave a comment to translate what you think I was saying……and to tell me about your ‘most blog worthy tweet’ (by you or someone else!)

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The Enjoyable Aspects Of Decluttering Sidebars!

Image of cluttered videosFirst impressions count!

Combine poor theme choice with a cluttered sidebar and you have a recipe for convincing first time visitors NOT to subscribe to your blog.  They’re too busy being turned off to notice your great posts!

Unfortunately sidebar clutter creeps up on most bloggers.  So I thought it would be helpful to share the process I regularly use to declutter my sidebar.

Prioritizing SideBar Decluttering

What I do is take a critical look at my design in the following order of priority (which also reflects their location in my sidebars):

  1. How obvious is it for readers on how to subscribe to my blog?
  2. How easy is it to find information on my blog?
    • Search widget – Is it prominent & near top of blog sidebar? (I prefer a search that only search my blog)
    • Categories and tags – Are they helping readers easily find relevant information?
  3. What other widgets do I have in my sidebar?  Which ones can I live without? — if you compare this blog with The Edublogger you will notice a difference in number of widgets in the sidebars.

Image of drop down menuTip: If you want to display Archives on your blog sidebar it is better to use a drop down menu as it takes up less room.

Editing Categories

Unfortunately my categories failed this latest audit in terms of “Are they helping readers easily find relevant information?” – so I changed too many messy categories (21 categories on this blog) to fewer, more relevant categories (10 categories).

Off course editing each post on this blog (300 posts) and The Edublogger (100 posts) to fix categories was thoroughly excruciating enjoyable.

NOTE: Refer to this post to learn about the difference between categories and tags.

My tip for speeding up the process is to hold the Ctrl key when you left mouse click on the title on the post in your blog dashboard — this opens up the post so you can edit it in a new tab (for FireFox, Flock and Internet Explorer 7).  This open up 15 posts in 15 separate tabs and work through the task faster!

Image of opening up posts

FINAL THOUGHTS

Would love to hear your priorities in using widgets on your sidebar especially in terms of what are your ‘must have’ widgets and why?

This was part of the Day 8 Task for Building a Better Blog.

Image adapted from John Pannell licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike.

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Can You Help Me Demonstrate Global Collaboration in the Web 2.0 World?

In April I will be giving a keynote address to the TCC Worldwide Online Conference titled ‘Global Collaboration in the Web 2.0 World’.  It’s focus will be on the types of collaborative projects educators are using with their students, the reasons why they become involved in these projects and the tools used for the collaboration.

Like with all my other presentations, I like to model the process so I’m hoping you will help demonstrate the power of collaboration by providing your input and as always I will share my research!

Please note: My use of the term global projects ranges from smaller sized projects such as student blogging to a global audience or skype conversations with other classrooms through to the larger scale projects that involve lots of students working together and collobarating on tasks with students in different timezones.

So can you please leave a comment or write your own blog post to let me know:

  1. What are some of the global collaboration projects you have been involved with? Can you include the approximate grade/year level of your students?
  2. Why did you become involved in these projects and what were some of the benefits to your students?
  3. What were the main web tools used to manage the projects?
  4. What tips/advice would you give others to ensure that these projects run smoothly?
  5. Also can you recommend projects that you haven’t been involved with but are good examples of collaboration done well?  I would really love some examples from higher education.
  6. Can you also ask your network to answer these questions?

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What Are Your 5 Top Web tools For Managing Your Workload?

Image of top toolsAs part of my presentations on Personal Learning Networks (PLN) I created a PLN Yourself site to help new people work through setting up their own Personal Learning network.

The site focuses on the top 5 tools for building your own PLN based on 196 responses in my Personal Learning Network (PLN) Survey.

This site has been popular but is it catering adequately for people new to using web technologies?  For those already engage in social networking we appreciate the value of building our PLN.  But it must seem very foreign concept for new people?  Perhaps tools that help them manage their workload or do it more effectively would increase their desire to learn how to use web technologies?

So I’ve decided to build onto my PLN Yourself site by adding the 5 top tools for for managing your workload.  Once again I would like to model how PLNs work.

I’m hoping you can help me in the following ways:

  1. Please complete my survey on Tools for Managing Your Workload – will take less than 1 minute
  2. Can you ask your network to complete my survey on Tools for Managing Your Workload – if you blog about it can you send a pingback to this post

FINAL THOUGHTS

Results from this survey will be shared on this blog and used to determine which 5 tools to include on my PLN Yourself site.

Another aspect I would like to add to my PLN information is when and/or who were the reasons why you started building your own personal learning network?

  1. Can you remember when you first started to use online tools and build your network?
  2. Was it a conference presentation, workshop, person or information you read online?
  3. Which people do you feel have influenced you the most to want to build your network?

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Are You Being A More Effective Blogger By Tracking Comments?

When I leave comments on other blogger’s posts I like to be notified on any new comments that are posted.  Maybe it is just me?  But comments by other readers and response(s) by the blogger help my learning.

Being notified of follow up comments means I can choose to continue the conversation by returning to the post to add further comments — this makes me a more effective blogger.  Needless to say, after 18 months of tracking comments, I’m ‘quite’ good at it.

Subscribing by RSS

There are several comment tracking services that allow you to subscribe to new commenting by RSS using your feed reader.   RSS is always my preferred choice when available because it makes my life easier.

Image of comment shutdown

I was using co.mments and cocomment but co.mments was discontinuing their services and shut down as of today!

Here is my detailed post on how to keep track on of new comments on other bloggers’ posts using cocomment.  One definite benefit of cocomment is if your comment is accidentally lost and you can normally find a copy of what you’ve written in your cocomment account e.g. your comment failed to post due to problems with the anti-spam word.

I’m now also using Commentful which is okay, as a backup, but doesn’t give me the type of RSS feed I like.

Subscribing by Email

There are several options if  you prefer email to RSS.

Some bloggers use the Subscribe to Comments plugin which allows readers to select ‘‘ when they write comments.  This means each time a new comment is posted you will recieve an email.

For posts that don’t have the option to ‘‘ you can always use:

  1. Commentful
  2. Bloppy
  3. Cocomment - select email notification in your account settings

Both comment tracking services provide the ability to track comments by email.

Image of Bloppy

FINAL THOUGHTS

People often ask me how I’m able to respond quickly to comments on other bloggers posts.  Hopefully this has answered those questions.

Would love to hear your thoughts! Do you like to track comments on other bloggers posts? If so, what is your method(s)?  What tips do you have for being more effective at tracking comments?

This was part of the Day 8 Task for Building a Better Blog.

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Are You Getting The Most Out Of Pages On Your Blog?

Image of What was I thinkingHow you write your posts and its content is really important! But so are the pages on your blog!  Did you realise that visits to your pages can be higher than your posts?

But when was the last time you audited your pages and made improvements?  Especially your ‘About Page’ since this is where new readers find out more about you, your blog and decide whether to subscribe to your blog.

Conducting Page Audits

The key with any page on your blog is to focus on:

  1. Is the page relevant/useful for readers? – if not remove or improve!
  2. Is the page title meaningful to readers?
  3. Is it engaging and provide sufficient information to be of value to your reader?
  4. The best location for the page link – Should it be at the top of the blog or a link in the sidebar?

One option for auditing pages is to use Google Analytics data to help guide improvements.Here is how I’ve done this on my blogs, The Edublogger and this blog.

Below is comparison of the rank of each page in terms of top content viewed on each blog, by pageviews, for the last 6 months:

Image of page rank table

My conclusions are:

  1. Readers priorities are helpful tips and resources on The Edublogger – not surprising
  2. My ‘Blogs I read’ page receives the most pageviews on my personal blog – surprising given the link to the page is in the sidebar only
  3. Checking out my ‘About page’ and ‘Other Sites’ are a high priority for readers of my personal blog
  4. My page ‘Want automatic notification?‘ which explains to readers how to subscribe to my blog has poor pageviews on both blogs

Improvements made are:

  1. Updated both ‘About pages’
  2. Updated ‘My Other Sites
  3. ‘Want automatic notification’ page obviously not working probably because new readers don’t understand its relevance.  This has been renamed ‘Info for First Time Visitors’ and includes more helpful tips
  4. Have added a Contact page to my personal blog

Another option for auditing pages (better option) is to get readers to review your pages and provide feedback.

Image of page audit pleadIf you have time would love feedback on my different pages, especially My Other Sites and Edublogs Help Info!, in terms of is the information relevant, meaningful, engaging – what improvements would you recommend?

FINAL THOUGHTS

Here are resources to help you work with pages and Google Analytics:

  1. Differences Between Blog Pages and Posts
  2. Have You Set Up Your About Page?
  3. Changing Your Display Name and Setting up your Comment Avatar – makes it easier for readers to write more personal comments
  4. Setting Up Google Analytics on Your Blog
  5. The Basics of Using Google Analytics

This was part of the Day 5 Task for Building a Better Blog.  If you would like to join us in Building a Better Blog – there is plenty of time.  Start whenever and do it at your own pace!

Image by Twenty Questions licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike!

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Interlinking! Is it YOUR idea of fun?

Natasa describes interlinking archived posts as “a blogger’s day in hell!”  Strong words but I can’t think of ANY blogging task that horrifies me more than working through old posts to add links to new posts.

It’s incredibly time consuming!  And if your main reason for linking posts is to get readers viewing more pages of your blog I’m not convinced of its benefit unless you have a high traffic blog where readers often visit older posts.

Image of links

BUT…if you want to be a better blogger… make the time to complete this task.  Since it forces you to reflect — what you liked or didn’t like about posts you’ve written; your changing writing style; how easy your blog to navigate.

What the task involves

How it works is you look your posts and, where appropriate, link to posts you have written on the same or similar topics.  As Ken Allan highlights use links cautiously as you can turn off readers by overlinking.

For example, Adding a RSS Feed From Feedburner To Your Blog post has been linked to the different ways you can set up a subscribe by email feed to your blog and how to redirect all your blog feed to Feedburner!.  These feedburner posts could have also been linked to Google Analytics posts.

Where possible it is always better to insert links inside the body of a post rather than use ‘read more on this topic at…’ link at the bottom of your post.

Image of snapshots

Other Handy Tips

If you really want your readers to follow your links DON”T USE Snap shots on your blog! IMHO they don’t enhance a readers experience and are more likely to encourage readers NOT to check out your links!  Read other people’s view here on John Connell’s blog.

I would also recommend switching off Possibly related posts: (automatically generated) on the bottom of your posts.  For the same reason I DON”T recommend the use of technorati tags on blog posts — your main aim with links is to encourage readers to view your content!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Interlinking Posts is the Day 4 task as part of the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.  While some tasks are more fun than others; they all do help you become a better blogger.  Plenty of time to join us in the challenge — as you can see I’m working through it at my own pace!

What are your tips for interlinking posts?  What is your advice for speeding up this process?

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