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New tools…a new series. Alltop

Over in academia-land (also known as Learn, Do, Teach…) I’m writing a series of blogposts for my current subject about my experiences trying out some new tools for connecting and sharing. I figured they are worth sharing here too, so here is number one – Alltop.


When I first read that I had to “identify six (6) digital tools that are: (a) new to you, i.e., they were not already part of your PLN before you began this subject; and (b) of particular interest to you in developing your PLN, or introducing knowledge networking into the curriculum” in order to “record the process of selecting, testing/trialling and evaluating of each tool as entries on your blog throughout the session” I was a little worried. I’m a serial signer-upper – pretty much everything that had been mentioned I’d already signed up for, tried out and either continued with or rejected and moved on. This was going to require a bit more digging. I’ve come up with three that I already knew a bit about (and had accounts for) but really had done nothing with – Quora, Pearltrees and Tumblr – posts on these will appear soon. Then, on my daily Medium email, I saw an article about Meerkat, a new live-streaming app for Twitter – yay! a new tool to try. I’m still looking for number 6 – all suggestions gratefully received – but luckily I chanced upon Alltop from Guy Kawasaki’s LinkedIn Behind the Scenes post on how he posts on social media. So here we go, new tool no. 1:

Alltop

Alltop is not new, apparently it’s been around since 2008 but one way and another I hadn’t come across it until recently.

Alltop describes itself as providing “aggregation without aggravation”. The creators of Alltop have set about providing an answer to “What’s happening” in a topic by providing links to the five most recent articles from selected websites, blogs and other RSS feeds (such as searches). You can search for topics, browse from categories on the header or browse alphabetically. On a topic if you see a headline that interests you, hovering over it displays the first paragraph. If you want to read more simply click the link to be taken to the site.

Alltop Digital Media News
Aggregated sites are selected by people, not algorithms, and they are open to suggestions.

You can create your own page of links from selected sites and interests. For this you need to create an account and log in. Now, next to each feeds header you will see a plus sign which is clicked to add that feed to your own page.

Once you’ve curated your own collection you can share it with others – it will have a URL similar to http://my.alltop.com/hbailie. Alltop has gathered together My Alltop pages of “famous/cool friends“. I didn’t recognise many but was interested to see Rohit Bhargava who I referenced in my digital essay on curation last year.

Alltop has a free iPad app as well as the website. The app includes images for the five Hot Topics from any topic page and an annoying banner advertisement at the bottom (Adblock Plus Chrome extension takes care of the ads for me on my computer). Entering your username allows you to see your My Alltop on the app but you can’t add new content to it there.

Signing up

There is no option to sign in with Google, Facebook or other open ID. Simply select a username (lucky for me my favourite, hbailie, was available), enter a password and your email for verification purposes.

Evaluation

Alltop is a very clean looking way to view recent content on a broad range of topics. The capacity to select what you want to see on you own page is useful. I particularly like the way that hovering on a link gives the first paragraph, it makes it very easy to decide whether to view the full story or not and allows me to look over a lot of content in a short time.

Alltop would be very useful for people who have never used an RSS reader before as it makes the process of finding and adding content very simple.

Not being able to edit your content on the iPad app makes it less useful to me as I’m most likely to use it on my iPad on my daily commute.

Not all topics I’m interested in have their own page and some of the search results seem a bit random. A search for “teachers” found “Christian Church” (!); Education; English Language Teaching”; Gambling” (!?!); “Homeschooling”; “India” (?), and “Inspiration”. Hmmm.

Will I keep using it?

Probably, a bit. I have My Alltop paged linked on my Chrome bookmark bar and the app on my iPad. When I have an idle moment I might well open them up. But it won’t be every day.

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#4 RSS Feeds and Feedreaders

I had a vague idea about RSS and feedreaders before this week’s activity so it was good to finally get round to finding out for sure.  I went with Googlereader because for some reason I couldn’t access Bloglines even though someone else at my school could do so.

It was all pretty straight forward.  I was surprised, and somewhat relieved, not to have to create a gmail account to set it up – how many email accounts can one girl have! 

I’ve subscribed to 6 school and library related blogs including: Lucacept; The Hub; Learning Gems; Hey Jude; Bluyonder by Greg Whitby, the keynote speaker at last Friday’s innovation showcase, and weblogg-ed by the guru himself, Will Richardson.

I can already see the value of the feedreader for myself.  Previously I had subscribed the The Hub by email and 9 times out of 10 I didn’t bother following the link to read the new post because at the time I was just trying to get through the emails.  Now I can go to Google reader at when I know I’ve got time to do some reading and it makes it very quick and easy to see what I’ve got to choose from.

I’m not sure yet about further applications…?