where’s the soap?

I’ve been looking at the Google Custom Search feature, this allows you to setup a search page that will use Google to search only the sites/resources that you specify – pretty neat. What moves it into the “seriously useful” category is a gadget, available here, which allows you to tell it to automatically use the sites listed on your blog roll or links page as the resource list it will target. Since you’ve already selected those links for relevance – you get a focussed “deep” look into them for about 60 secs work (that’s how long it took to do) – or it would have done, but….

WordPress (where the soap dish lives) doesn’t allow you to use the kind of script needed to add this gadget to a blog. After about 45 mins of Googling for hacks or work-rounds I took the easy route and just created another blog on Blogspot which does allow you to embed the code (it’s owned by Google after all). It’s called SoapDish2.

You can see the usefulness of being able to search within a course or module’s “recommended resources” and this is available to anyone who is using a blog as the main focus of their learning or delivery – but it extends further than that as, with a little more effort, you can set up a Custom search page that allows you to invite up to 100 people to contribute their own site recommendations – so the resource can grow as study proceeds.

This illustrates a few points that I think are relevant to the prospect of teaching with Web2 tools:

  • None of this would work if the Blogs were inside the college’s network.
  • The search adds value to a feature (blog-roll/link collection) that would exist anyway.  That’s pretty much a defining feature of Web2, it makes the things you’re already doing – cleverer.
  • If it isn’t easy to do, you’re doing it wrong. Find an easy way.
  • Blogs aren’t just “online diaries” – they’re becoming a sophisticated software platform that allows you to bring rich media and data resources into one location and synchronise them with your interests – they time-stamp and organise your submissions – archive and index them to allow retrieval at a later date, and automatically communicate with your subscribers and the people you link to. I wish they’d had them when I was at school :)
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