Use the free Windows tool Don’t Sleep to keep your digital signage awake

We’ve added a small tool to each of our Xibo digital signage clients called ‘Don’t Sleep‘, to keep them from entering a low power state.

Don’t Sleep overrides all power management settings when active. This means we can keep the displays running without local or group policy power management interfering.

Installation of Don’t Sleep is easy – unpack the ZIP file, place in a suitable folder, add to your Startup group and make sure the ‘straight to tray’ option is selected.

Just remember that if you do want to power down, don’t sleep will interrupt your shutdown command! Make sure you disable the application before issuing the shutdown instruction.

Targeting Digital Signage Content with Drupal, Xibo and RSS

a Xibo signage screen

A Xibo signage screen

One of the most popular articles on my blog is about Xibo – an open source digital signage system. I first setup our Xibo installation a couple of years ago; it hasn’t been developed heavily, but serves a useful function for informing our students and staff. In response to a request from Ben in response to my ‘Getting the message out with Xibo‘ post, here’s an overview of how I paired Xibo with the RSS aggregation and publishing functions of Drupal.

RSS in Drupal

Drupal offers as standard two very useful RSS functions; one for aggregating content, the other for publishing. Let’s focus on the publishing first.

Working with the default content type (that of a story), Drupal by default offers you an RSS feed of published content; just go to the root page of your Drupal installation to see the list of current stories and look for the RSS feed button at the foot of the page. The RSS feed can be customised (number of articles, feed content) by opening the Drupal content management settings and adjusting parameters in the RSS Publishing section. There’s no more configuration necessary.

Filtering RSS feeds with Drupal Taxonomy

We have a number of display screens around campus, each with a slightly different audience. For example, visitors to reception will be interested in different content than our students in the coffee shop. I have configured taxonomy in Drupal, which enables me to deliver targeted RSS feeds to specific displays. A single taxonomy vocabulary is defined, and populated this with multiple terms, each of which describes the location of our displays. For example, these include ‘refectory’, ‘reception’ and ‘staff room’. Users may not enter their own taxonomy terms, and in applying taxonomy, it’s therefore easy to train our users in one simple concept: choose from a defined list of displays which they would like content displayed on. So, for a content item intended to display in the reception area, ‘Reception’ is the taxonomy term selected from the list of available terms in the vocaubulary.

Having configured this, it’s worth heading back to your stream of stories from Drupal; by this point you need to have entered a few stories, then attached some different Taxonomy terms to each. At the root of the Drupal site, you will see all stories – and an RSS feed for the same content. Follow the link to one of your taxonomy terms (click the term itself); your list of stories immediately changes. What you now see is only the articles matching the taxonomy term you just selected. Most usefully for us, this view will be accompanied by an RSS feed – the feed will match the content you are viewing, and we can take this URL for use in Xibo. Your feed URL will look something like this:

<site name>/?q=taxonomy/term/<term ID>/0/feed

Obviously <site name> will be your Drupal root path, and <term ID> is the identity number of the taxonomy term you have selected.

Targeted Content Publishing in Xibo

This part is pretty easy now; we’ve got our filtered RSS feed URL and can paste this into the content for a given display. Just open the content editor, select the area in which you want to publish, and add (or edit) the RSS feed component, pasting the filtered URL we generated in Drupal. Save everything and go check out your Xibo display; after a refresh (which depends upon the rate you have set at both the server and client).

I haven’t mentioned RSS Aggregation here; this is an additional feature of Xibo that should work equally well. Aggretation will simply draw content from external feeds into Drupal on a scheduled basis for re-publishing. I have ambition to do this with content from our virtual learning environment (Moodle). Once you have aggregated the feeds, content can be re-published using the same principle.

If you are using Xibo, I hope you find this useful; it would be great to hear your experiences of using the application alongside Drupal in the comments.

(PS. Don’t forget to check out Ben’s computer repair service!)

Getting the message out with Xibo

There are so many opportunities for PowerPoint. Some entirely correct – communicating a concise message, stimulating conversation or thought. Some entirely inappropriate – either by incorrect choice of application, or by content. One thing PowerPoint has done in some organisations is creep into use as a digital signage tool. We’ve made the jump to Xibo – and it’s doing a fine job.

Xibo is an open source signage solution that has evolved from a degree project to a stable and functional information tool. For well over a year now, I have sporadically been experimenting with this promising tool. I think i am finally reaching the tipping point – enough staff are aware of it, and have been enthused by the promise of more information being communicated to students that some more headway can be made.

Xibo follows a client server model. The server requires nothing more than a web server, php and a database (typically mysql). The client currently requires a windows device in order to run, but other versions are in development. I think system could really come into its own when a Linux client is available that could be packaged into a bootable operating system. Picture being able to boot a low end device – an old laptop, perhaps – from a memory stick, and launching directly into the client.

Xibo display screen

I’ve coupled our Xibo installation with a Drupal installation. Why? So I can aggregate RSS feeds into my notices. And for the moment, that’s about all we do; broadcast content from RSS feeds. The Drupal system doesn’t need much preparation work, just install the default package, then start adding content. If you add some taxonomy, Drupal will provide you with custom feeds. For example, we tag articles for display in reception with the word ‘reception’; an RSS feed of all these articles is shown on the display in our foyer area. All other content is excluded, so visitors joining us for a 20 minute meeting don’t see the menu of the day.

Four screens is our total right now, with another on the way. An what a great improvement this is over a PowerPoint model we have used in the past. I have great expectations of being able to stream other content to our noticeboards, since Xibo supports other media like images, video, flash and embedded html in addition to RSS.

If you are haven’t already tried Xibo as a signage tool, why not give it a go – I think you might like it. If you use Xibo already, I would like to hear about your experiences!