BlogBridge Feed Library in an Academic Environment

Here's the current mockup of BBFL with some context from UCalgary added to help kick the tires.

BB FeedLibrary

And a close-up on what the directory looks like when expanded a few levels:

BBFL Faculties and Courses

I've set up folders for each Faculty, with mockup for a course in the Faculty of Communication and Culture. I'm guessing folders for each course, as well as semester and potentially groups within a session may make sense. Perhaps even a folder for each student within a group, containing all of that students' feeds that are relevant to that course or context.

Note the blue square/circle icon on the right side. That exposes an OPML collection of all feeds that are contained by a folder. If you want to keep up on everything in the Faculty of Communication and Culture, subscribe to that OPML collection. If you just care about "Test Group" within STAS 341 Fall 2007, subscribe there.

Next, a view of what it could look like for a group of students within a single session of a course. You can see a list of feeds for each student, and subscribe to individual feeds or OPML collections as desired.

BBFL Groups and Individuals

You can also easily preview feeds right in the directory (by clicking the title of the feed, not the icon - that takes you to the source of the feed itself). This makes it easy to find out more about a feed without a bunch of tab wrangling. Again, notice the RSS icon nicely presented at the top of the preview. Click to subscribe to the previewed feed in your aggregator of choice.

BBFL Feed Preview

And it groks tags. All users, all folders, and all feeds can be tagged. Here's the (minimal, almost empty) tag cloud for my test install of BBFL:

BBFL Tag Cloud

Clicking any tag takes you to the tag page in the directory, where you can preview feeds and/or subscribe directly. Very handy. Not sure how this will look once dozens/hundreds/more students have played with it, though.

BBFL Tag Display

BBFL looks extremely promising. It's a different approach to contextualizing distributed online content, and I think it's a more sane approach than the initial EduGlu concept. By acting as a directory, and only a directory, it's able to be much more effective and flexible.

There are some areas that could use attention to make it easier to use in a large-scale academic environment, though:

  • user management. LDAP integration would be sweet. having to get students to create accounts, then sharing those credentials with professors or TAs would be a nightmare. Ideally, usernames and passwords would be pulled from LDAP in a manner similar to the way Drupal handles it (if the username/password exists in the "native" database, use those. If not, check LDAP. If that's valid, do whatever you have to do to enable that user in the system)
  • cohort management. In an academic setting, there are groups of students (and faculty) moving through the system. It's not a static thing. Eventually, groups will gather to the point of making the interface unwieldy. Imagine, 5 years down the road, each course having a folder for each semester that the course has been offered). Also, what to do with student accounts and feeds after they graduate?
  • minor UI tweakage. for example, with a deeply hierarchical structure of organization, the breadcrumbs can get a bit hard to follow:

BBFL Long Breadcrumbs

All in all, BBFL is very impressive in its flexibility and appropriate design. I'll be inviting some faculty to play with it for the fall semester.

See Also

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