Blogs Wikis and Other Animals University of Oregon Libraries

Blogs, Wikis, and Other Animals

You may already know what a blog (short for web log) is, but have you heard about Wikis, Swikis, and Zwikis? This guides serves to introduce you to various tools and technologies involved, as well as ideas for both individual and collaborative uses of these technologies. Also included is an introduction to RSS (RDF Site Summary or Rich Site Summary), which allows you to include content from other people's blogs in your own web pages.

Glossary

Blog
a.k.a. blogger -or- blogrolling -or- weblog -or- Web log -or- blogosphere
A Web site (or section of a Web site) where users can post a chronological, up-to-date e-journal entry of their thoughts. Each post usually contains a Web link. Basically, it is an open forum communication tool that, depending on the Web site, is either very individualistic or performs a crucial function for a company. [Source: netlingo]
RSS
Short for RDF Site Summary or Rich Site Summary (depending on whom you ask), RSS is an XML file (the RSS "feed") that reformats Web content for distribution. RSS feeds allow users to automatically receive updates when content changes or to rebroadcast content on another Web site.  The first version of RSS was developed by Ramanathan V. Guha of Netscape in 1999. [Source: Wikipedia]
Wiki
(n.) A collaborative Web site comprised of the perpetual collective work of many authors. Similar to a blog in structure and logic, a wiki allows anyone to edit, delete or modify content that has been placed on the Web site using a browser interface, including the work of previous authors. In contrast, a blog, typically authored by an individual, does not allow visitors to change the original posted material, only add comments to the original content. The term wiki refers to either the Web site or the software used to create the site. Wiki wiki means "quick" in Hawaiian. The first wiki was created by Ward Cunnigham in 1995. [Source: Webopedia]
Podcasting
Podcasting is similar in nature to RSS, which allows subscribers to subscribe to a set of feeds to view syndicated Web site content. With podcasting however, you have a set of subscriptions that are checked regularly for updates and instead of reading the feeds on your computer screen, you listen to the new content on on your iPod or other [not necessarily portable] digital audio device. [Source: Webopedia]

Blogs

Blogs are often authored by individuals, reflecting their personal view of the world around them, and often focus on a specific topic. However, a growing number of organizations are using blogs to create collaborative, chronological logs, and there is also a growing interest in using blogs in the classroom.

Examples

  • Bloug - weblog on (mostly) information architecture by Louis Rosenfeld
  • LISNews - a cooperative blog focusing on news from the library and information science world

Search Engines, Directories, and More

This is a list of just a few of the services available. For more, see Google's list of weblog directories.

  • Google Blogsearch - a Google tool that looks only in blogs
  • Technorati - Is the most popular blog search engine.
  • blo.gs - "lets you keep an eye on your favorite weblogs via the web, email, and instant messenger"
  • Blogdex - a project of the MIT Media Laboratory; tracks "the diffusion of information through the weblog community"
  • Blogwise - directory of blogs by country and by keyword
  • Photoblogs.org - a directory of blogs where images are the main feature
  • Popdex - "the website popularity index"
  • Weblogs Compendium - "everything you need to know about weblogs/blogs: hosting services, tools, directories, definitions, RSS readers and resources..."

Software

There are generally two ways to run a blog: use software installed on someone else's server (the "host it for you" model), or install and run the software on your own server (the "host your own" model).

"Host It For You" Software

These sites run the blog software for you; you log in to their site to manage your blog. With some, you publish it to your own web site. With others, the blog itself is hosted on the site. You can often choose from a set of templates to create a customized look, or create your own template. Many offer basic services for free, but offer you premium services for a subscription fee.

"Host Your Own" Software

If you have your own domain and have geek-like tendencies, you might choose to install blog software on your own server. This offers you the greatest flexibility, but can also be time-consuming, depending on how much customization you do.The following are some of the more popular blog packages. Many are free for non-commercial users.

  • Movable Type - probably the most popular software for do-it-yourself types; has a large, well-organized user community, and tons of plugins; written in Perl
  • Blosxom - another popular blog package, with a growing user community and plenty of features; written in "simple, straightforward, minimalist Perl"
  • Slash - the open source software that runs the popular Slashdot community blog; written in Perl, uses MySQL back end
  • PHP Nuke - a popular package for community blogging; requires PHP and MySQL
  • Many more...

Wikis

Unlike blogs, which cater to the individual journal writer, wikis are designed to be collaborative. The software creates an environment in which authors are encouraged to edit their own and others' work. They have great potentional in educational settings, and in group projects. It's easy to imagine using a Wiki to build a community, reflecting both the commonalities and diversity among its members.

Examples

  • IAwiki - "a collaborative knowledge base for the topic of Information Architecture"
  • MeatballWiki - "discusses and focuses on all aspects of online communication and online communities."
  • Wikipedia - an ambitious project to build an "open-content encyclopedia in many languages"
  • WikiTravel - "a project to create a free, complete, up-to-date and reliable world-wide travel guide"

Directories, Search Engines, and More

Because Wikis are relatively new, there aren't as many resources for finding them, but there are a few, as well as a growing body of research on the evolution and uses of wikis.

  • History Flow - "visualizing dynamic, evolving documents and the interactions of multiple collaborating authors" (based on the Wikipedia project)
  • Public Swiki List - from Swikis.net, a wiki hosting service
  • TourBus - a guided tour of wiki sites from Meatball Wiki
  • Weblog Kitchen - "explores current research in weblogs, wikis, and other hypertext systems" and includes lists of wikis

Software

In the past couple of years there has been a growing interest in Wikis, and a growing number of software packages have been developed in response. Here are a couple of places to find them.

  • Wiki Engines - billed as the "canonical list of WikiEngines"; sorts software by the programming language in which it's written
  • Wikipedia's List - click on the number in square brackets to visit the software site

RSS

RSS is a flexible tool that allows you to grab content from other web sites, and insert it into your own. There are also special RSS readers that will gather, organize, and display RSS-enabled content. Many blogs are RSS-enabled, and will allow you to include a list of the most recent entries from a particular blog.

How To Add an RSS Feed To Your Web Page in Two Simple Steps

  1. Visit a service like AnyRSS and follow the instructions.
  2. Paste the link at the spot on the web page where you'd like your RSS feed to appear. I used a table to create a place on my web page, and used the Javascript option provided by AnyRSS.

Voila! you have an RSS feed.

Tools

  • AnyRSS - generate HTML or javascript; provides suggested style sheet for javascript version
  • Feedster - click on Tools, then select the "Add Feedster to my own blog or web site with a Feedpaper" or "Createt a special RSS feed using Feedster." Requires registration.

RSS Software

Software that pulls together news items from hundreds of different sources. Can usually be customized to focus on specific interests.

  • Dogpile Toolbar - Dogpile is a popular metasearch engine; its toolbar includes the ability to pull together customized news and RSS feeds, with several display options
  • RSS Readers - top picks for each operating system, plus a list of runners-up

Further Reading

Podcasts

Podcasting is a method of publishing audio and video programs via the Internet that lets users subscribe to a feed of new files (usually MP3s). To listen to a podcast, you need a digital media player like iTunes, RealPlayer or Windows Media. You can also put podcasts on to your iPod or other portable digital audio player. Podcast topics include music, stories, news reports, essays, museum tours, religious sermons, homework assignments and many others. Websites like Podcast.net and Podcast Alley allow you to search for podcasts by title, theme and host.

You can read more about Podcasts and their history at Wikipedia.

How to Find a Podcast

Websites like Podcast.net, Digital Podcast and Podcast Alley allow you to search for podcasts by title, theme and host. A list of podcast directories is found at CastWiki On Air . You can also find podcasts using a standard search engine.

How to Subscribe and Listen to a Podcast

You can either listen directly to a podcast or subscribe to it so that you're alerted anytime there's a new show. Blogs and websites with blogs or directories like those listed above have an option to "play" a podcast directly from the site. You can also save a podcast (they're generally mp3s) onto your portlable digital audio player.

To subscribe to a podcast, you can use an RSS aggregator like Bloglines or to a podcast-specific aggregator such as Doppler.

How to Make a Podcast

Podcasts require recording equipment of varying costs, depending on what kind of sound quality you want. You'll need a recording system to hook up to you computer. To make your podcasts into a feed, see the directions at Audiofeeds.org or at Engadget's Podcast Tutoria.l

Further Reading