Do you dream in RSS?

Lately RSS has been on my mind a lot. I’m excited about the possibilites it opens up to us with regard to syndication and consumption of Web content–and I think there is still a lot of unchartered territory out there. In particular, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about how RSS could be a transformative power in teaching and learning.

It seems to me that about five years ago there were a lot of people talking about “push delivery” of content–or, content that can be deliverd to a user without him/her needing to go out and seek it. At the time, however, I think there were too many technology hurdles to be overcome to really make this concept a reality. Now, with the development of RSS and the growth of broadband (at least in corporate/campus environments), push delivery seems like much more of a possibility

And all of this makes me think about how RSS could be used to “get” content to students in more meaningful ways. I should admit, that I didn’t really start thinking along these lines until I came across this post by Will Richardson over at weblogg-ed (and he was actually summarizing/reflecting on a post by Tim Wilson on ETI–oh, those connections. . .) Both of them are talking about the potential of the encolsure tag in RSS 2.0 to deliver all kinds of content. Right now the emphasis is on podcasting, but really, the enclosure tag can point to any kind of file–as long as the client application knows what to do with it.

Yesterday, I had a chance to talk with our Web director here at UMW about RSS and the enclosure possibilities. We’re getting ready to launch a portal at the University, and our Web team has built us this spiffy tool that will allow users to create custome RSS feeds for getting content into that new environment. Among other things this “feed generator” will let you read multiple existing RSS feeds and then turn them around in a new, aggregate feed, containing items from multiple sources. You can also use the generator to create “custom” items (links to Web sites, resources, enclosures. . .)

Anyway, we got to talking about how there is no way to natively consume enclsoures in the portal environment–if for no other reason than there is no “place” to put the content that the enclosure is pointing to (much less a portal-enabled application that can handle enclosures). But what if. . .

  • an application channel existed for the portal that could consume rss feeds with enclosures and
  • that channel had access to some kind of server space that “belonged” to users and
  • that application couuld download enclosure content into that space and
  • maybe in doing so the application could “organize” that content in meaningful ways (based on custom XML tags that we determine?) so
  • students could have a virtual drive for learning content that would be automatically downloaded and organized according to course, discipline, project, etc. and
  • maybe we could even build other application channels that could display/deliver certain kinds of content within the portal (I’m thinking in particular about podcasting, here–I’ve seen modules for open-source CMS/portals that allow for playing of MP3’s within those environments. Why not in our own environment?).

Ok, I know this sort of a pipedream. But if you think about what RSS is–just an XML file with information about where content is that can be “customized” based on our needs and can then can be consumed in any number of ways depending on the application available, the possibilites seem endless. And, might I say, they start to blow the courseware world wide open. . .

Will Wright is a Genius

Thanks to Gardner Campbell for passing along this article about Will Wright’s not-yet-named next-generation “Sim experience.”

For those unfamiliar with Wright, he is the creator of the Sim franchise, including SimCity and The Sims. I’m a hopeless addict of these games, particularly The Sims. At my previous job I caught a log of flak from my colleagues about my Sims addiction–apparantly it is an obession most folks associate with teenage girls. I guess I didn’t fit the bill of your typical simaholic (particularly when I admitted my fondness for the Hot Date expansion pack).

The beauty of these games, of course, is in the open-endedness of the experience. It is not surprising that Wright encountered resistence when he first proposed them given the current gaming landscape that is dominated by first-person-shooter kill/win games. For those who are willing to accept that not everything in life needs to be a win/lose experience, and who can give themselves up to the openness of the experience, playing the Sims is a bit like having a dream over which you have control. Imagine creating a world and the people in it and then being able to alter that reality to your slightest whim–the ultimate daydream.

I’m excited to see what Wright’s next offering will be. It sounds like The Sims on a much grander scale.

The other really neat thing about getting this article forwarded from Gardner, was that I had just read this other piece in Wired yesterday about Wright’s foray into imagining a video game based on the life of Emily Dickinson. This was part of a challenge put on at the Game Developers Conference in which Wright participated–and “won.” In his concept, you would take on the role of Dickinson’s therapist. Dickinson herself would be stored on a USB flash drive and would “sit” on your computer, interacting with you as you went about your daily work–she’d interrupt IM sessions you were having, read your email, etc. And through these interactions, you would develop a relationship with her that reflected what we know about the relatinships she had during her own life. If things went sour she could actually delete herself from the memory stick. You can read more about Wright’s idea (and the other concepts) in the original Wired article.

It is always lovely to see lots of things you’re interested in come together in one place, so I was tickled by the idea of a game that wrapped The Sims, intelligent agents, and poetry and literature into one sweet package. Of course, the game will never get built, but it is fun to ponder. And then to get another good read today about a real game that Wright is developing, just brings things full circle again. Aren’t connections great?