A cool concept here and also an example of a course built on WordPress with a planet-like syndication model that allows people to post on their own websites and syndicate their content into the course via RSS. I suspect that Alan Levine built the site and that it’s based on FeedWordPress.
It’s not quite as open as or as “simple” as the IndieWeb News model which allows individual syndication by means of webmention, but it certainly gets the job done and is an excellent example of how this model works.
How to provide better credit on the web using the standard rel=“canonical” by looking at an example from the Open Learner Patchbook
A couple of weeks back, I noticed and began following Cassie Nooyen when I became aware of her at the Domains 2019 conference which I followed fairly closely online.
She was a presenter and wrote a couple of nice follow up pieces about her experiences on her website. I bookmarked one of them to read later, and then two days later I came across this tweet by Terry Green, who had also apparently noticed her post:
I really hope this new post of the Open Learner Patchbook comes across the feed of lots of learners who haven’t experienced a Domain of One’s Own program before.
Patch Twenty Five – My Domain, My Place To Grow
— Terry Greene (@greeneterry) June 21, 2019
This means that there are now at least two full copies of Cassie’s post online:
- Original: https://techbar.crnooyen.knight.domains/blog/what-having-a-domain-for-a-year-has-taught-me/
- Copy: http://openlearnerpatchbook.org/technology/patch-twenty-five-my-domain-my-place-to-grow/
While I didn’t see a Creative Commons notice on Cassie’s original or any mention of permissions or even a link to the source of the original on the copy on the Open Patchbook, I don’t doubt that Terry asked Cassie for permission to post a copy of her work on his site. I’ll also suspect that it may have been the case that Cassie might not have wanted any attention drawn to herself or her post on her site and may have eschewed a link to it. I will note that the Open Patchbook did have a link to her Twitter presence as a means of credit. (I’ll still maintain that people should be preferring links to their own domain over Twitter for credits like these–take back your power!)
Even with these crediting caveats aside, there’s a subtle technical piece hiding here relating to search engines and search engine optimization that many in the Domain of One’s Own space may not realize exists, or if they do they may not be sure how to fix. This technical subtlety is that search engines attempt to assign proper credit too. As a result there’s a very high chance that Open Patchbook could rank higher in search for Cassie’s own post than Cassie’s original. As researchers and educators we’d obviously vastly prefer the original to get the credit. So what’s going on here?
Search engines use a web standard known as rel=“canonical”, a microformat which is most often found in the HTML
<header> of a web page. If we view the current source of the copy on the Open Learner Patchbook, we’ll see the following:
<link rel="canonical" href="http://openlearnerpatchbook.org/technology/patch-twenty-five-my-domain-my-place-to-grow/" />
According to the Microformats wiki:
rel=“canonical”to a hyperlink, a page indicates that the destination of that hyperlink should be considered the preferred or definitive version of the current page. This helps search engines avoid duplicate content, and is useful for deciding how to link to a page when citing it.
In the case of our example of Cassie’s post, search engines will treat the two pages as completely separate, but will suspect that one is a duplicate of the other. This could have dramatic consequences for one or the other sites in which search engines will choose one to prefer over the other, and, in some cases, search engines may penalize one site for having duplicate content and not stating that fact (in their metadata). Typically this would have more drastic and averse consequences for Cassie’s original in comparison with an institutional site.
How do we fix the injustice of this metadata?
There are a variety of ways, but I’ll focus on several in the WordPress space.
WordPress core has built-in functionality that should set the permalink for a particular page as the canonical one. This is why the Open Patchbook page displays the incorrect canonical link. Since most people are likely to already have an SEO related plugin installed on their site and almost all of them have this capability, this is likely the quickest and easiest method for being able to change canonical links for pages and posts. Two popular choices for this are Yoast and All in One SEO which have simple settings for inputting and saving alternate canonical URLs. Yoast documents the steps pretty well, so I’ll provide an example using All in One SEO:
- If not done already, click the checkbox for canonical URLs in the “General Settings” section for the plugin generally found at
- For the post (or page) in question, within the All in One SEO metabox in the admin interface (pictured) put the full URL of the original posts’ location.
- (Re-)publish the post.
If you’re using another SEO plugin, it likely handles canonical URLs similarly, so check their documentation.
For aggregation websites, like the Open Learner Patchbook, there’s also another solid option for not only setting the canonical URL, but for more quickly copying the original post as well. In these cases I love PressForward, a WordPress plugin from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media which was designed with the education space in mind. The plugin allows one to quickly gather, organize, and republish content from other places on the web. It does so in a smart and ethical way and provides ample opportunity for providing appropriate citations as well as, for our purposes, setting the original URL as the canonical one. Because PressForward is such a powerful and diverse tool (as well as a built-in feed reader for your WordPress website), I’ll refer users to their excellent documentations.
Another useful reason I’ll mention for using rel-canonical mark up is that I’ve seen cases in which using it will allow other web standards-based tools like Hypothes.is to match pages for highlights and annotations. I suspect that if the Open Patchwork page did have the canonical link specified that any annotations made on it with Hypothes.is should mirror properly on the original as well (and vice-versa).
I also suspect that there are some valuable uses of this sort of small metadata-based mark up within the Open Educational Resources (OER) space.
In short, when copying and reposting content from an original source online, it’s both courteous and useful to mark the copy as such by putting a tag onto the URL of the original to provide it with the full credit as the canonical source.
Below is a draft proposal which I’m submitting for a possible upcoming talk at WPCampus from July 25-27, 2019 in Portland, OR. If you don’t have the patience and can’t wait for the details, feel free to reach out and touch base. I’m happy to walk people through it all before then. If you’re looking for other upcoming events or need help, check out any of the upcoming Homebrew Website Clubs, IndieWebCamps, the IndieWeb Summit 2019, or even Domains2019.
Dramatically extending a Domain of One’s Own with IndieWeb technology: How to improve your online research notebooks, commonplace books, and digital pedagogy
(This description will be edited and used on the website. Please include 1-2 paragraphs and a list of key takeaways for the audience.)
Having a Domain of One’s Own and using it as a “thought space” to own your online identity and work is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you imagine how useful it would be if you could use your Twitter account to reply to someone on Facebook (without needing a Facebook account) or vice versa? Open web technology from the IndieWeb movement that utilizes simple plugins, modules, or even built-in functionality now exists so that people can now use WordPress, Drupal, WithKnown, Grav and many other content management systems on any domain name to have rich site-to-site communications in a simple and intuitive way. Third party (and often unethical) corporate platforms are no longer needed to have rich interactions between scholars on the web.
It is now easily possible to have a teacher write a post on their own website and their students to easily reply/react to that post on their own websites (along with a useful reply context) and send that reply to the teacher’s website for possible display. Each participant can now own a copy of both sides of the conversation.
- Teachers and students will learn how to (individually or together) collect, analyze, write, collaborate, and interact easily online while doing so in a space they own and control without giving away their data to third party platforms.
- Researchers can now easily bookmark, highlight, or annotate portions of the web and keep this data (public/private) on their own website (aka digital commonplace book or notebook) for future reference or use.
- We’ll show how courseware can be decentralized so that the instructor and the students each own their own pieces of the learning processes and can keep them for as long as they wish.
- We will demonstrate how one can use their WordPress-based website with a few simple plugins to own all of the traditional social media types (bookmarks, items read, highlights, annotations, comments/replies, photos, status updates, audio, checkins, etc.) on their own site while still allowing interacting (if desired) with other websites as well as in social spaces like Twitter, Instagram, Swarm, etc.
- We will demonstrate a new generation of free feed readers that allow composing in-line responses and reactions that post them directly to one’s own website as well as send notification to the site being read and interacted with.
You can now have the joy of a Domain of Your Own and still easily interact just as if your site were a (better-than) first class social media platform.
More Information About Your Session
(Please describe your session in greater detail for the organizers. You may be more casual in this description as it will not be posted on the website.)
In some sense, this session will be a crash course on using IndieWeb technologies and building-blocks with WordPress in the Education space. I’ll aim to remove a lot of technical jargon and keep coding examples to a bare minimum (if using any at all) so that those with the technical ceiling of downloading and installing a plugin can immediately benefit from the talk. I will also provide enough pointers and describe the broad outlines that developers will have a broad overview of the IndieWeb space to find and extend these plugins and functionality if they wish.
I’ll be covering the basics of new W3C recommendations like Webmention, Micropub, and WebSub along with forthcoming specs like Microsub in combination with IndieAuth (a version of OAuth2 for login). I’ll show how they can be applied to personal websites in research, teaching, collaboration, and other educational domains like creating Open Educational Resources. Many of these can be easily implemented in WordPress with just a handful of simple plugins that allow the web to become the social media platform we all wish it would be.
I’ll use examples from my own personal website and several others (which use Drupal, WithKnown, Grav, etc.) to show how these plugins can be used in educational settings and will walk through a case study of a course built using DoOO and IndieWeb philosophies and technologies (EDU 522: Digital Teaching and Learning at Southern Connecticut State University) on which I collaborated with Dr. Gregory McVerry.
The best I could hope for back in 2008, and part of why I created the @JohnsHopkins Twitter handle, was that researchers would discover Twitter and be doing the types of things that some of the Johns Hopkins professors outlined in this recent article are now finally doing. It seems sad that it has taken over a decade and this article is really only highlighting the bleeding edge of the broader academic scene now. While what they’re doing is a great start, I think they really aren’t going far enough. They aren’t doing their audiences as much service as they could because there’s only so much that Twitter allows in terms of depth of ideas and expressiveness. It would be far better if they were doing this sort of work from their own websites and more directly interacting with their colleagues on the open web. The only value that Twitter is giving them is a veneer of reach to a broader audience, but they’re also opening themselves up to bigger attacks as is described in the article.
In addition to Kimberly’s example, another related area of potential innovation would be moving the journal clubs run by many research groups and labs online and opening them up. Want to open up science? Then let’s really do it! By bookmarking a variety of articles on their own websites, various members could be aggregated to contribute to a larger group, which could then use their own websites with protocols like Webmention or even simple tools like Hypothes.is to guide and participate in larger online conversations to move science communication along at an even faster pace. Greg McVerry and I have experimented in taking some of these tools into the classroom in the past.
If you think about it, arXiv and other preprint servers are really just journal clubs writ large. The problem is that they’re only communicating in one direction by aggregating the initial content, but they’re dramatically failing their audiences in that they aren’t facilitating or aggregating any open discussion around that content. As a result, the largest portion of their true value is still locked away in the individual brains of their readers rather than as commentary or even sentence level highlights and annotations on particular pieces out in the open. Often is the time that I’ll tweet about an interesting article only to receive a (lucky) reply that the results have been debunked, yet that information is almost never disclosed in or around the journal article (especially online) where it certainly belongs. Academic publishers are not only gouging us financially by siloing their content, they’re failing us far worse than most realize.
Another idea: Can’t get a journal of negative results to publish your latest research failure? Why not post a note or article on your own website to help out future researchers? (or even demonstrate to your students that not everything always works out?)
Naturally having aggregation services like indieweb.xyz, building planets, using OPML subscriptions, or the coming wave of feed readers could make a lot of these things easier, but we’re already right on the cusp for people who are willing to take a shot for doing this type of research online on their own websites and out in the open.
Want to try out some of the above? I’m happy to help (gratis) researchers who’d like to experiment in the area to get themselves set up. Just send me a note or give me a call.