2016: latest course syndication best practices & plugins?

is everyone still happy with ‘feed wordpress’ for course syndication? any new plugins for this lighting you fire?

I have to say that FeedWordPress, while imperfect, remains the best option for doing the O.G. syndication. That said, I have been really excited about the possibilities of Known making the syndication to an aggregation space seamless for not only for Known posts, but a wide range of RSS feeds. But that has been in the works for a while now and FeedWordPress does the job for just about every RSS feed. What’s more, Martha Burtis, Alan Levine, and Tom Woodward continue to push on this idea. Just yesterday Antonio Vantaggiato from Sagrado was asking about a FWP setup for a class of 100 students that feeds in 4 different sections on Twitter just yesterday. That is possible using tags, and the way Martha and Alan have worked the Gravity Forms integration it makes the whole process very seamless. I am gonna tag Martha, Alan, and Antonio on this response to see if they might not bring that conversation here so you can get a sense :slight_smile:

I think it depends on whether you want to archive the content.

I still use FWP if we want to archive things centrally and I still have lots of people who use it because that’s what we did in the past.

If not, I’m playing more with the JSON feeds via the API. I haven’t turned that into a plugin yet but it could be done pretty easily. You could do the whole archiving thing this way as well . . . but it’d be a few extra steps that I haven’t done yet.

I would love to see the JSON feeding start to provide a real alternative to FWP. I like that RSS is OG, I do love the idea of building an alternative using JSON.

The other potential downside to Known is that it can be very difficult to theme and customize. The reality of WordPress is that it’s dominant in part because of its flexibility and in that sense any other software is going to struggle there. But to even add a header image requires editing PHP code in Known so in my experience it takes a high level of technical expertise unless you’re happy with the default themes and appearance. That being said I too would be interested in their approach to this using RSS if it’s still on their radar.

Don’t paint me completely a defender of the “Old Guard”, and there is a lot to unpack here. . Still working like a champ on ds106 with >1400 feeds, >60k syndicated posts. I’ve done > 10 other course/community/project sites.

I’ve been interested in a chance to learn the known approach, but it’s a slightly different approach- it means people pick a course hub to push content to. While I know Tim as done some set up, I have never come across what it takes to build a destination to push content to. Justin Reich, who I am collaborating with on a DML 2016 workshop on “Crafting Connected Courses” did a recent class with a known hub. I’ve not gotten the details, he said the setup was easier, but he alluded that the outcome was maybe not what he hoped.

And while I am not as down the road as Tom with JSON tinkering, isn’t that limited to Wordpress, or maybe fewer platforms? There is more to this than being able to fetch content. Can you slice and dice with tags, categories as FWP? More importantly, can you cache and balance the requests so you are not hitting the source every time for content? That is something that FWP does well/magically, it balances the remote requests. Can you do a JSON thing for 1600 sources? Can it indicate problems from the source (e.g. what happens when the lights go out?). How does it assign authors for the feeds (one of the gnarly things with FWP)

In a Slack channel where Kristen asked also this questions she said they had “lots of glitches” with FWP. From my experience, the things you have to deal with are not directly related to FWP-- it’s getting the right feed if you have open submission, there are challenges to the featured image (which you have to realize is always a hack because there is no field for featured image in RSS, it’s a Wordpress construct), many times people submit feeds for password protected sites, and then you just get weird things because of all the HTML you are pulling in-- if you ever look at RSS feeds, it’s a whole lot more than just the basic Title, Link, description of RSS 0.9, publishers pack all kinds of other stuff in there.

I will say setting up FWP is a lot more than turning on a plugin. I have some long term dreams to roll the extras I do for the sites I make (short codes for listing feeds, widgets, a signup form that would not require Gravity Forms).

But if I had to do a public site where you have to deal with content from more than one publishing platform, especially an open course of unknown size, I still cannot see using anything but FWP.

Age does not make something problematic. My first open project done in 2002 http://feed2js.org is STILL functional using an ancient RSS parser.

I think this is the piece that has me interested in API approaches to this problem, but think perhaps it ultimately won’t be as flexible a solution as RSS for reasons you outline here. Although RSS has fallen out of favor a bit and it’s not always a guarantee that new software will provide RSS feeds, what it did have going for it was a standard way of grabbing content. API calls will always be specific to the API spec of the software you’re making the call to and it would be a huge development job to account for the many software platforms out there in a way where you could reliably drop a URL in and have it start pulling content in that method.

Old Gold not Old Guard, though you are the latter.

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I wrote in December three different ways that we’ve seen networked blogging on OU Create via Wordpress:

  1. FeedWordPress
  2. Multi-Site, with the FWP + Inpsyde Multisite Feed plugin
  3. Good ol’ fashion group bloggin’ with BuddyPress

I don’t know exactly what “best practices” are but we’ve found use cases for all sorts of models and we happily support all of them (with preferences towards certain models).

We use FWP in most situations but I feel like it’s overkill when the faculty member really just wants a viewer for the content. In reality, I think many of them could use Feedly (RIP Google Reader) and get everything they want but that’s a hard argument to make.

Not that I’m a real expert but I don’t think there’s anything you can do in RSS that you can’t do with JSON (likely someone will found a religion which declares one of them the devil). I really don’t think there’s that much difference in the core structure/concept. Either is just standardized data. JSON feels easier when I build something in javascript (which would make sense). I found CSV data to be amazingly easy in PHP. Programming is weird.

The FWP issues I tend to see have been around either duplicate posts showing up or changes to posts not being updated on the mother blog. I don’t know that JSON would fix that (assuming you cached it as well) because of all the stuff Alan’s talking about regarding caching etc. I do think it’d be easier to build something external to WP with a light footprint that might handle it pretty efficiently and do a few other tricks.

Hey-- I am Kristen’s fellow, and am trying to pull feature images from individual students’ Wordpress sites to a separate class Wordpress site. Any suggestions on the hack(s) that we could try?

I have some info for you here Feed WordPress 101: A Few More Tricks For Your Site – CogDogBlog under “Filtering for Images Localized / Featured Image Wrangling”

The thing to keep in mind is there is no data sent in RSS to identify a featured image since it is a Wordpress feature, and even within Wordpress, different themes use it differently (some insert in the post, some don’t).

So the first thing is to find some ways to make sure the first image in a post is one that could be used as a representative image:

  • Ask your students to make sure a first image in their post can act as a featured image (even if it is different from one they set themselves). Chances of success across the board ??
  • Ask them to install (if they use featured images) the Featured Images in RSS w/ Size and Position plugin I use this one on my blogs- it inserts the featured image from the post above the content in the RSS feed.

Okay, so you have the first image in a syndicated post. My previous approach was to use the Image filter of Feed Wordpresss Advanced Filters plugin this can do some handy thing- it can add all remote images from a post to be local on the syndicating site (useful if you ever set the feeds to point to the internal local copy). I think it had a setting to define a featured image.

But I found over the last year or so this plugin was acting up, it kept making copies of the same image. When I was poking around the VCU Rampages site, I found the FWP Sic-Em plugin created by the author of FWP for doing this task. It seems to work well (although it does generate weird PHP warnings and the default image setting never worked.

A few themes also have a setting to define a featured image of none is set, I have tried a few plugins for this as well.

How that helps. It is messy, but with a bit of diligence you can handle the majority of posts ok.


I’m in the uneviable position of being at a Uni that isn’t using FWP anymore. Or rather, they had it somehow customized for our use and then they stopped doing that so I’m stuck with an old version that is buggy. Weird stuff happens. I think the issue was that using FWP and syndication was causing a heavy load on the servers or something? (here I am exposing myself as not really having a clue what that means, or whether it was really the issue.)

We have no replacement at the moment. There was some other plugin called Nsync (wasn’t there a band called that?) that we had for awhile, but recently I was told it’s not updated and isn’t working well either.

So at the moment my sites already using FWP are buggy, and for new courses I’m going to have to have students just all be authors on one site. It’s making me sad.

So I’d be excited to hear about other options that I could suggest to the IT team here!

This is a much more basic example than something like FWP but I think it starts to get at @bionicteaching’s point about how some folks just want a viewer. We’re using this community here more and thinking of it as a source for documentation and I wanted to see what that might look like compared to the “Help Center” that Zendesk (our support system provides). You can see this at http://support.reclaimhosting.com/hc (note this is an early first stab). Each of those blocks are pulling feeds dynamically from this forum via RSS using Jquery and this script:
GitHub - enginkizil/FeedEk: FeedEk jQuery RSS/ATOM Feed Plugin
Again not a replacement to FWP by any means in that there’s no caching here and no storage for older posts but it made for a quick and dirty way to accomplish what I needed to do and hopefully not too far off-topic.

I am playing with something as well at the moment. I started to write it up here and then just wrote a full on blog post.

Essentially, I built a few custom post types that would let you build little individual user hubs for content based on common custom fields (without any WP user login) and a team page to aggregate multiple users but controlled through an external Google spreadsheet. It’s all built around front-end editors and being on the same system but it’s a different (and possibly useful/disastrous).

Anyway, I thought it was fun and different.

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The younger generation I work with thought you were calling yourselves ‘original gangsters’. :slight_smile: Thanks all, for this great conversation and information.


I’m not young and I thought the very same thing. O.G. Original Gangster - Wikipedia

Why does everything have to be about violence with you people? Can’t we just appreciate some aged gold? :slight_smile:


This was so helpful. Thank you very much!!!

Yeah, I have a couple sites where Advanced Filters added … oh I don’t know . . . 7 trillion images. Interestingly it seems to ignore any storage limits set on WP multisite.

So forewarned and what not.