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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My FAVORITE Tool: RotateContent.com

In yesterday's blog post about Kindle books, I included the Kindle eBook widget that I use in my class announcements blog sidebar, and I thought I would say something about the amazing tool that I used to create that widget along with the many other widgets and other randomized content generators that I use in my classes. It is hands-down my favorite content creation tool: RotateContent.com. Even better: it is freely available for anyone to use, thanks to its genius creator, Randy Hoyt.


Randy was a student in my classes many (MANY) years ago, and we've been friends ever since. I hired him to build RotateContent.com back in what must be around 2003 or 2004, and it's been going strong ever since. I must have built a hundred or more widgets in that time, and even some of my oldest widgets are still going strong.

Just today, in fact, I came across a blog where I was delighted to see my Greek Beasts widget in the sidebar! What a thrill! That widget must be at least seven or eight years old, but there it was, chugging along, thanks to the magic of javascript. I've included that widget at the bottom of this blog post.

The basic idea behind RotateContent is that it takes a simple HTML table that you create (using whatever HTML editor you prefer), and it then transforms that HTML table into a javascript (or PHP script if you prefer) which either displays the content in the table by date (based on dates you include in the left-hand column of the table, corresponding to content in the right-hand column) or at random. You can include any kind of valid HTML in the table - text, link, images, video embedding codes, or even other javascripts. To get a sense of the process I follow in creating a widget, you might enjoy this blog post describing the step-by-step creation of the Latin LOLCat widget.

In future posts here, I'll explain some the special ins-and-outs of working with distributed content like this, but one thing I want to emphasize here is how powerful it is to keep the content in one place, while displaying it remotely via the javascript. That means I can expand on and add to the content, while also editing and making corrections, and everyone who is using the javascript will get the latest version! To be honest, I haven't understood why we don't see more content distributed in this way. Of course, I'm not a web programmer so I don't really understand the big picture of content distribution online - I just know that for me, as a teacher, this tool has been of enormous value. And as someone who loves to work with text and images, creating a new widget is one of my very favorite things to do. If I have a chunk of free time available over any given weekend, it's very likely that I might create a new widget, just for fun!

Meanwhile, as promised above, here is Greek Beasts widget, a very old widget, one of the first that I created... and still going strong! You can learn more about the Greek Beasts widget at my Schoolhouse Widgets blog (yes, I really do put EVERYTHING in blogs, as you can see).





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