David RD Gratton

Not Direct Integration But A Suite Of Open Source Products and Services

May 6, 2007

David Tosh wrote an insightful reply to my post on having opensource projects collaborate on development.

He states:
While I do agree with David that better communication between the various open source projects would be a really good thing; I just don’t see it working in practise. Well, not as direct collaborations.

  1. The end users: open source projects often gain partisan followers; for good reason - if the software has served them well they want to stick by it. Many of them will not want to think about the possibility of using another application and would rather wait for their platform of choice to gain the functionality.
  2. The business model: the large open source projects are usually trying to make money in some capacity from all the hard work put in, so why encourage their avid followers to use another piece of software? Competition still exists within open source.
  3. The developers: there can be a fair bit of work involved in proper integration; in fact, in most cases it would be easier to just build a plugin for your own application that replicates the required functionality.
  4. The future: direct integrations between similar apps will be a waste of effort if one or other of the applications changes their policy; license; or their very exsitance ceases.

I for the most part agree with Dave, except for point number one and part of two. I consider that zealotry and quite literally foolish. Are Drupal followers going to wait until the Drupal community develops a fully functional course management component that duplicates everything in Moodle?

I think where Dave and I may see things differently is that I think certain software packages like Drupal and Moodle or Moodle and ELGG, or all three for that matter as a potential software or service suite. I think Moodle, ELGG, Drupal and others can be combined into a powerful suite for customers. Simply having them exist and creating open APIs (which I agree are needed and critical) is simply not enough in my opinion. In 1990/1991 when Microsoft Office came out - at least as I recall - it was just a software bundle; there was no integration among the apps. You could cut and paste and open files among them to some extent via the OS API ;). In the mid 90s MS Office stopped being a loosely coupled bundle of productivity software and became a robust integrated software suite. Like it or hate it, people needed it. It worked and we bought it.

In education there is a need for:

  • Course management tools
  • Content management / website creator tools
  • Social networking tools
  • Portfolio tools

I think it is reasonable to assume that one framework or software package would have difficulty providing all of the above. It would also become a nightmare for ongoing development - it would be a beast. In fact a company deciding to build such a beast, would probably decide to split up the product into a pseudo standalone suite of tools - for ease of development if nothing else. Word, PowerPoint, Excel are all independent pieces of software with their own independent development teams. But the teams work together to ensure the suite works together and that certain code is shared among the apps.

This is what I am advocating.

Update: David Tosh has tried to work with some of the communities I have mentioned but apparently got responses 1 and 2 for his efforts. I'm not privy to the details or reasons for the rebuff. Maybe there were good reasons, maybe not. I really hope it is not endemic to these communities to refuse to work together in a more formal manner .

Moodle and Drupal Communities Working Together Needs a Strategy

May 4, 2007

My company Donat Group is at the Moodle conference moodlemoot in Edmonton Alberta. An excellent conference for both experts and newbies to Moodle. We are here to present with our partner Lambda on our shared Moodle hosting service for BC post secondaries through BCcampus. I learned a ton at the conference and I am totally turned on to Moodle more than ever now, especially the networkming function in 1.8 and the new gradebook coming in 1.9.

On the business side, we have been talking to a many attendees about our Moodle - Drupal - ELGG architecture (we got a glimpse of Mahara and may look at that in place of ELGG). Everyone we talked to was familiar with the three technologies, but I was surprised when most did not know that Drupal could act as the Social Networking Hub for a learning community as well as a standard CMS "publishing" platform. This was a bit worrisome to me, as considerable work is being done for Moodle 2.0 (release: mid 2008) to create a social networking hub. This may make sense and be in fact the best solution, but it seems that no one has taken the time to see what Drupal can do in this area. One university I talked with had been using Drupal for over a year and had no idea there were social networking tools for Drupal. I pointed out just a few of the sites we have worked on (projectopus.com, gimme20.com, opportunityalert.ca), let alone the hundreds of other sites from dozens of other developers. He was literally shocked at what Drupal could do and he wasn't the only one. Conversely, I would suspect that Drupalers would be shocked at what Moodle could do. I know I was, and we have been using it for a few years!

And here lies the problem - there is very little "official" communication and collaboration between these open source software communities, especially around development. If Drupal or any other solution could provide the social networking layer for Moodle wouldn't it be advantageous to work on that integration layer rather than writing what is substantial new code from scratch? And vice versa, people have talked to me about adding mods to Drupal for course management. Maybe that is the best way to go for somethings who knows, but shouldn't they first look to Moodle for answers to course management? I really think these open source projects need to be coordinating their activities, or at the very least having a high level open dialog on where each project is going and what strategies they cold use to leverage one another.

To help facilitate that, I think these communities should "officially" (whatever that really means) get representatives to sit-in with the other communities coordinating and communicating development. There should be a Drupal rep at Moodlemoots and Moodlers at Drupalcon. The reps should be well known within their communities and have influence (or have extensive knowledge) in the overall strategy of development. I would even suggest that the leads of these projects personally meet once a year and become involved in on another's software to a certain extent. I am using Drupal and Moodle as only two examples, naturally others exist. But these two platforms are good examples as they have a great deal of synergy with one another and are better together than alone and poorly replicating features of the other. Maybe this is happening already, I don't know, but if it is the word is not getting down to the general development community and users.

Rouxbe: a new Internet business actualling MAKING original content!

April 16, 2007

With so many companies focused on user generated content or aggregating content it is really refreshing to see a company like Rouxbe ( pronounced ROO - BE). Joe Girard the founder of Rouxbe has decided to take a different path and create original content for the Internet. As the company name indicates, Rouxbe, delivers personal culinary instruction. If you watch the Food Network like I do you, you will have noticed the decreasing focus on food preparation. The content on Rouxbe is outstanding: this is not about personality. It's about food! The production quality of the video and presentation is amazing. To Joe and his team, clearly food is about "experience". They have even gone so far as to create their own musical pairings! Rouxbe team member, Elliott Fienberg is a composer. His focus is on creating original musical pairings for each dish. You can listen to a sample of Rouxbe music here.

The video player uses a layered "drill down" approach that my company originally developed for Electronic Arts and User Friendly in 2000 and dusted off for Rouxbe in 2006. However, in the last year, the Rouxbe team has really improved the user experience from our original player and created a near perfect viewing experience for video instruction. The drill down approach enables viewers of varying skill and knowledge level to advance at their own pace without removing them from the context of what they are learning. There are distinct advantages to the Rouxbe approach versus a standard recipe site. Technique is critical to food preparation, but it is very difficult to demonstrate in text alone, even with images. Joe and his partner Dawn Thomas are accomplished and reputable chefs, who show you how with all the tricks of the trade to actually make food like the pros.

There are also plans for a social network, which I am really excited to see when it is launched.

Check out the site.

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Currencies or communities of interest

April 8, 2007

Lee LeFever has an interesting post defining community currencies. He states 'a currency in this context is a quantifiable form of participation that adds value to the community'. I find the post excellent as it deals with the content that is generated and shared within emerging on-line communities and attempts to articulate their inherent value. However, I think Mr. LeFever may get tripped up by using the term currency in this context even though he took steps to define it for his purposes.

Currency is a term that is well understood in our societies. It's a medium of exchange for goods and services, and importantly in the context put forth by Mr. LeFever, the vast majority of us have only experienced fiat currency in our lives. We have no understanding of currency actually being backed by an agreed value standard, like gold. Although I understand and appreciate the point of his comment that "[s]ites like MySpace and Facebook often have a number of currencies, but the central units of exchange are personal profiles, "friends" and membership in groups. Participants create value by making explicit links between their profile and specific people and groups', I think it may be better stated:

"Sites like MySpace and Facebook generate intrinsic personal value through personal profiles, "friends" and membership in groups, by making explicit links between their profile and specific people and groups."

What I like about the post is that it is clearly implying that social networks for social networks sake are meaningless and without value. It's the communities interest or topic, and the mode(s) of interaction that creates value for the members, and these may be drastically different from community to community. This certainly calls into question the feasibility of generic white labeling of social network systems.

We Are Looking to Contribute More Source Code

April 1, 2007

I am writing this post to ensure that we take the appropriate steps to do what we say we will do.

Donat Group has gotten some flack in the past for not contributing source back to the Drupal community. Since a number of our projects rely on Drupal, it only makes sense (and it's the right thing to do) for us to contribute back to the code base we use. Although we have posted code, and responded to requests for code in the past, we have not known really "how to effectively participate" in the world of open source development. Fortunately, we are now getting some valued help in this regard from ace Drupal developers Lyal Avery and Trevor Freeman who among other things will help us get more of our code back into the Drupal community. Note, there is some interesting code that is owned by the people who hired us to develop it (not us). So, releasing some desired code may not be possible.

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