Feature Request!

It is time for a major update to the look and functionality of the Biofortified Blog. Prior to the Changemakers contest voting week and discussions, we added an integrated forum to the blog that I’m happy to say is getting well-used. It is helping us get an idea what issues readers want to discuss apart from what’s on the minds of the blog authors. This forum was one of our top priorities to put together, among several that Anastasia and I came up with during a telephone meeting a few months ago. What I would like to do is reiterate the things we would like to add to the blog, and see what other kinds of features readers and users would like to see.
In the coming weeks, I plan to give the blog a much-needed visual and functional update. Biofortified is run with WordPress, which allows for an enormous set of possibilities. I plan to replace the blog’s current theme with a more functional updated one that will look similar. The fading features gallery seen before on the blog will return, which was lost because of a conflict between the current theme and a recent wordpress update. Along the sidebar, we have added Frank’s Twitter widget, an awards section (hopeful for more!), and a Networked Blogs widget that shows who is following the blog in Facebook. With the updated theme, I will also add a much-needed “Latest Forum Posts” section so that you don’t have to sift through the forum categories to see if people are talking about things. Of course, the recent comments and calendar are good things to have, and the tabs full of information will stay, too.
What other kinds of sidebar features have you seen on the blogs that you read that you would like to see here? (Tag cloud, Similar Posts, Google news feed…)
Now on to the other special functions and doodads we are going to include in the blog. Another great thing about WordPress if that we can quickly upload and activate plugins that give the blog new functions. There are thousands of such plugins to choose from.
As has been mentioned before, we are going to include a plugin that will enable contributors who have their own blogs to have new posts automatically (or near-automatically) syndicated on Biofortified. So for those of us who blog in more than one place, this will make life easier. But for readers who have their own blogs and would like to contribute from time to time, we will be able to set you up in the plugin to be able to do so. This has the potential to greatly expand the number of bloggers who can be a part of this group blogging effort. ContributorIn fact, it might make us not only a group blog but also a blogging network! We are trying to see if the author of the Feedwordpress plugin will be able to modify the plugin to suit a few special needs we have that could make this process go more smoothly. Contributors could advertise their involvement with a special banner, and readers and fans could have one too. Here is one mockup.
rss-reader-conceptNext, it would be great if we could make it possible for other bloggers to be able to show the latest posts on Biofortified on their sidebars. For wordpress, this is easy, as there are many feed-reading sidebar plugins to choose from, and we could even customize our own if we wanted to. But this leaves out bloggers without a wordpress blog. It would be great if we could make (or modify) some javascript code that will allow the latest posts (and last comment?) from the posts and comments rss feeds to be displayed on the sidebars of other sites. Here’s a mockup of what I thought it might look like. Anyone know any javascript or know someone who does? A feature like this would greatly enhance our ability to show that there is an ongoing discussion to attract readers from other blogs. Sure, we could just encourage people to subscribe to the feeds… but this would be so much cooler! Note the optimistic blog post titles in the example image!
Next, if the page on Genetic Engineering Companies is any indication, there is great potential in getting help from readers in adding content to the pages of the site. The quintessential model of group participation on the web is a wiki, would that be a good addition to Biofortified? Perhaps it could be used to build a database of terms and concepts often discussed on the blog, or going whole-hog and building a comprehensive information resource from the ground-up. The wiki could be hosted internally or on the free Wikispot site, which I have been involved with. Here is an example of a wiki on genetics that I started a couple years ago, but only got so far as to build a few basic pages and 500 placeholders for terms and concepts. A external wiki could be very useful, but it means more time spent managing the wiki and less time spent writing  posts.
Then again, there is also a wikifying plugin for wordpress that will allow us to open up certain pages for registered users to edit on their own and build content. We could do a ‘project of the month’ or something to try to add batches of pages to the blog. As with all wikis, there are issues with vandalism, however, there are ways to deal with that. Do either of these wiki ideas sound like a good idea?
Speaking of adding pages, Anastasia is working on a list of books for the blog, and proceeds of sales will go to supporting the blog.
Anything else? Video in the sidebar? Related Posts plugin? Enhanced user profile pages? I’m open to suggestions! Feel free to get lost in the WordPress plugin directory – people have all kinds of interesting ideas expressed in widget form.

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Written by Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is a Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Riverside and works on Citrus genetics.

7 comments

  1. One of the plugins that I found useful is the “Old-Post-Promoter” for WordPress, and what I liked about it is that it would bring out posts that would otherwise have been buried to gain new life and activity. It helped casual readers who didn’t necessarily wish to search the archives by category or tag to get a broader taste of what I was putting up.

  2. I will think about suggestions.
    But now I want to ask you about this article:
    A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health. Int J Biol Sci 2009; 5:706-726. [Full Text]
    What you guys think about it?
    I know that it is only statistical re-analysis, but it’s published. And for me it seems like good article.

  3. I just found a blog post that says it is easy to merge two existing WordPress blogs into one by simply importing one into the other. I’m currently (when I have time) using the Plugin “Broken Link Checker” to make sure all of my links and photos at Genetic Maize are working (I’ve got lot of bad photos and missing links since I moved from WordPress to Squarespace and back). Once that’s done, I’ll import my past posts on Genetic Maize over to Biofortified so that people can find more info when they search for a term on Biofortified! We might consider this option for new regular writers as they join Biofortified.

  4. I know this has been put forward before, but it would be most helpful if users could preview and edit their posts within the forum itself.
    Thanks,
    Pdiff

  5. I’ll also add that the GE Snopes idea is one that should really be pursued, whether through a Wiki format or someother protocol.

  6. A couple of more recent grad students out here set up a wiki on gmo a couple of months ago ( http://gmo.wikidot.com/ ). As you can see, it’s still rather sparse. One piece advice I think we could take away from their site (and an early attempt of my own that ended with an embarrassingly short article count) is that if we wanted to undertake something similar would probably be having a plan to write up a list of fundamental entries (what is a gene, what does bt stand for, how are plants transformed etc etc) right off the bat.
    Putting in all that upfront work would put a wiki in a much better position to grow (for lack of a better word) organically from then on. With more of the fundamental concepts already defined, it’d be easier for anyone to write a new article without constantly backtracking to write up definitions for all the terms they used.

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