social bookmarking

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I have been experimenting with the open source social bookmarking application Social Web CMS for a little over a week. SWCMS is a Pligg fork. Last year, I had worked with Pligg trying to modify it for K12 use.

In order to make a social bookmarking application suitable for many in the k12 environment, content and comments need to be moderated. With Pligg, I controlled the content by hacking all “Upcoming News” links out of the template; hence, newly submitted stories could not be viewed unless published by an admin. Unfortunately, I never found a way to moderate comments, so I again hacked the template to eliminate the ability to comment altogether. In addition, it is desirable to control users by eliminating public registration. Again, all registration links had to be deleted along with the register.php file.

When I started exploring SWCMS, I wanted to find similar controls. Any of the solutions mentioned for Pligg would work here; however SWCMS has a few more options.

Developer Nick Ramsay created the Submission Approval mod that holds a new user’s first submission in moderation until reviewed and approved by an admin. I made a small change to one of the files—submission_approval_main.php around line 133:

if($num_submitted > 1 ) {

Changed to:

if($num_submitted > 1000000 ) {

Effectively changing all posts to moderated. I made similar changes to his comment approval plugin. As with Pligg, registration can be hacked out of the template and register.php can be removed.

The ability to enable and moderate comments is a big plus. Moderating submissions work equally well whether I hack out upcoming news. One drawback to the Submission Approval Mod method is that once a submission is approved, it also needs to be moved from queue to publish. I tried setting admin–>config–>voting to 1 vote to publish, and admin–>config–> submit to automatically vote for a submitted story, but that did not eliminate the additional step. I will continue to look for a way to streamline the process.

SWCMS joins the ranks of useful software that can be used in the K12 setting. I plan to experiment with social bookmarking with my students in the near future. If anyone is interested, I will be glad to provide my modifications.

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It has been about a year since I began considering Pligg, an open source social bookmarking server application, for K12 education. In that time several events have taken place in the world of open source social bookmarking applications. Social Web CMS forked from Pligg, and Reddit released its code as open source.

Having discovered this, naturally I wanted to give them a whirl. I went to the Reddit site to find the code. Unfortunately, Reddit does not have a tarball package, nor could I find a subversion repository. Installation instructions were only given for Mac OSX, Ubuntu, and FreeBSD. Perhaps I will learn how to install it on my CentOS server, but for now it is a no go. It’s a shame that there are no clear instructions on how  to install it on common LAMP servers such as mine.

Social Web CMS, on the other hand, was easy to install with both zipped code packages and Subversion available. Having installed SWCMS, I didn’t seem many differences between it and Pligg. This makes sense since it is fairly recent fork, plus there appears to be use of SWCMS code in the newer version of Pligg. I am not really interested in the understandable difficulties between the fork and the original developers. I’ve seen enough open source drama of late.

Communicating with SWCMS developer, Nick Ramsey, I discovered that they started by patching security holes in Pligg and are developing a module system that reduces the need to hack core files, following the lead of WordPress. To that end, they have already developed a free module store in the administrative backend allowing the installation of modules without the typical process of downloading  and unpacking zip files, the transferring them to the server via ftp. In addition, all SWCMS mods are free. They also plan to simplify the templating system making them easier to modify. Pligg and SWCMS templates are no longer interchangeable.

Nick has created a submission approval plugin for SWCMS that I have changed for use in the K12 educational setting. His only moderates the first submission; whereas, I modified it to moderate all submissions. He also has a plugin that disables comments. While I need to have moderated comments, I could run a school bookmarking site without comments. Hearing this, Nick tweeted that he is moving comment moderation up to the top of his list of plugins.

With moderation of submissions and comments, Social Web CMS moves to the front of my choices for a k12 school social bookmarking application. As it is, with my hack, it is already viable if one disables comments. The developers and support community appear robust, responsive, and enthusiatic.

I see great potential for social bookmarking in the K12 setting. It can allow teachers to bookmark Internet resources in a format familiar to students, and allow students to add materials they find on their own. This resource could become even more powerful if schools or  groups of people working in common subject areas could collaborate.

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Social bookmarking tools allow users to store and share bookmarks on the Internet so that they are accessible from any computer connected to the net. There are a number of popular free commercial social bookmarking sites including del.icio.us, Furl, Digg, Stumbleupon, and others. Of course, my emphasis has been upon open source alternatives to these sites so that students are not exposed to inappropriate content, advertising, and analysis of browsing habits. Of the tools that I have covered extensively on this site, Pligg, Elgg, and Posh have social bookmarking capabilities.

Potential Uses for Social Bookmarking in Education

Students and educators can benefit from the use of social bookmarking. Teachers could create a bookmark category for an individual class. Rather than passing out paper with links, students would be referred to the bookmarks residing on the bookmarking site for easy access by clicking links. Taking this concept yet further, a teacher could allow students to submit bookmarks for sites that they find useful and pertinent to the class.

Collaborative groups could share an account, or create a unique tag so that all members could have access to what the others have bookmarked.

Individuals conducting research could simply use social bookmarking to keep track of useful sites. This will allow the individual to access his bookmarks regardless of location or what computer he is using.

Bookmarking with Pligg

Pligg is a free and open source application designed to function similarly to the commercial social bookmarking service DIgg. Unlike many other options, social bookmarking is central to Pligg’s functionality. It is fully functional social bookmarking software with means of submitting bookmarks with descriptions and tags. It also provides ratings in which, depending on the template, users can rate a bookmark Digg-style with a thumbs up or thumbs down, or with a star rating system.

Here’s a step by step look at how bookmarks are submitted in Pligg. Navigating to the site, once users log in they are given the option of submitting a new “story.”

Once  the user clicks the tab, they will see a page similar to the one below.

From this point, the user needs to pste the url into the field. Note the guidelines to submitting quality bookmarks.You may alter these messages and indeed add more by going into the the admin interface, selecting Modigy Language and change these fields:

An educator who is grading students’ bookmarks might alter this to provide clear criteria by which they will be evaluated. The next step prompts the user to describe, tag, and categorize the bookmark.

Once this is completed, it enters the administrator’s queue to be approved. Once it appears and depending upon how Pligg is configured, the bookmark can be rated. It also can be commented upon, however admins may want to remove that option as the comments cannot be moderated.

Bookmarking with Elgg

Unlike Pligg, Elgg is not specifically a bookmarking application. Rather it is a social networking platform that can include bookmarking if the extension is installed and enabled. In Elgg, there is a different set of options. You can view your own bookmark collection, those of friends and site bookmarks.

Unlike Pligg, bookmark urls cannot be copied and pasted into a field, rather they are handled via a “bookmarklet.” The bookmarklet icon is dragged to the browser’s link bar.

Once you click the bookmarklet, it grabs the Page title and url and sends you to the Elgg site to complete the bookmarking process.

The bookmark can be described, tagged, and sent to any friends’ bookmark inbox. You can also set the access to public, private, or to logged in users.

Once the bookmark is submitted, other users can comment upon the bookmark.

Bookmarking in Posh

While Posh has bookmarks, their functionality is quite limited.

Click on add a bookmark, and you are give a field for the title, the url, and tags.

Evaluating Student Bookmarks

Teachers may require bookmarks as part of a student’s participation in class. One simple way of doing this would require students to submit a certain number of sites. While this is a reasonable requirement, a good evaluation would consider the quality of the bookmark and the resource it references.The bookmark could be rated in part by the quality of the description according to clear criteria (which can be explicitely stated in the software with Pligg). These might include:

  • Evaluation of site’s authority
  • Good summary of the site’s content
  • Valid and rich use of tags
  • Appropriate categorization
  • Ratings and comments from peers

Conclusion

Social Bookmarking has clear value in education. While self hosted solutions lack the potential for world-wide collaboration that the big commercial sites have, they certainly allow for collaboration with a group, class, or school. The open source options will protect privacy and avoid inappropriate content, and they are more likely to pass muster with afdministration and community.

Of these tools, Pligg stands out as the best because of it’s rich feature set devoted to social bookmarking. Elgg, on the other hand has privacy settings and sharing functions that Pligg lacks and comes as part of a broader social networking platform. Both are suitable for use in the K12 setting. Posh, while useful, is rather limited; thus, a convenience, yet a less valuable social bookmarking tool.

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Having installed Pligg, I’ve had an opportunity to give it a trial run as a user. Pligg is an open source social bookmarking application that imitates Digg. Users are able to submit stories or links to share with others with tags and descriptions. Submissions are approved by an admin, then users can vote or comment on the link.

The interface is well designed and doesn’t have a clunky feel that some software can have. There are a number of free and for-pay templates which are installed via ftp. Further customization usually involves editing files with a text editor–adding deleting or commenting out text.

There is some interesting user interactivity built in. As mentioned before, users can vote on a submission. The admin can choose either a “Digg” rating or a 5 star ranking system. It supports tagging.  Ratings impact the order stories are displayed. In addition, an individual item can be commented upon and even discussed. Users can list other users as friends and friends can message each other

I believe this has a number of uses for education. If nothing else, it is an attractive way to manage and display links. The interactivity is easy to grasp and would encourage participation. Users share, discuss, and evaluate links. I could see it used by an individual class, school, or by a larger audience.

To make this work for my district, I would have to make a number of changes. First, registration would need to be disabled. As configured, anyone can create an account. While there is moderation of content, pending stories are displayed in “Upcoming Stories” found in many locations in the interface. We would need to disable the display of content before approved. Since comments couldn’t be moderated, we would need to disable that as well.

Finding help with Pligg is reasonable. There is a good forum, but documentation was uneven and confusing. I wanted to find if I could make the changes outlined above. Using the forum search generally good leads. I have been able to make most of the modifications with educated trial-and-error.

I look forward to experimenting with Pligg at school next year. While the full interactivity would be limited, I believe it will help my students learn to navigate Web 2.0 applications. I will share the modifications when I have double checked them.

Here’s a link to an unmodified installation:

pligg2

And my modified Pligg:

pligg

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