Commons In A Box

One of our original project aims was that the Bebop PuddyPress plugin would be part of the CUNY Commons In A Box project, a turnkey version of CUNY’s Academic Commons. Yesterday saw the launch of Commons In A Box and I’m pleased to say that Bebop is included as one of the ‘a la carte’ plugin options.

Commons In A Box (CBOX) is a free software project aimed at turning the infrastructure that successfully powers the CUNY Academic Commons into a free, distributable, easy-to-install package. Commons In A Box is a project of the City University of New York and the Graduate Center, CUNY and is made possible by a generous grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

CBOX takes the complexity out of creating a Commons site, helping organizations create a space where their members can discuss issues, collaborate on projects, and share their work. CBOX also provides:

  • Out-of-the-box functionality with an intuitive set-up that guides site administrators through each step of installation.
  • A powerful, responsive, highly customizable theme developed for community engagement, based on PressCrew’s Infinity Theming Engine.
  • Responsive design for easy viewing on many devices, including tablets and smartphones.
  • Collaborative document creation and file sharing.
  • Reply-By-Email functionality for quick, on-the-go communication.
  • Compatibility with many other WordPress and BuddyPress themes and plug-ins.
  • Expansive wiki options.

CBOX will be useful to any organization that is looking for a shared space in which to build an engaged community of users and developers.

Congratulations to Matt Gold, Boone Gorges and everyone else involved in the Commons In A Box project!

Bebop v1.1 is now available.

Today, a new version of Bebop has been released, and I wanted to write a short blog post to explain a couple of things that have changed, and why.

After feedback from several users in the WordPress/Github community who have been using v1.0 and v1.0.1, Bebop version 1.1 is here. This version improves functionality and performance, as well as providing some bug fixes.

Comments from feedback suggested that users might want to import content directly to the activity stream. So we built an option into Bebop which allows the OER verification process to change from user authentication to no authentication at the push of a button. This means the admin can decide whether content needs to be verified by users before it appears in the activity stream. If the admin does not want content to be verified, it is added to the activity stream as soon as it is imported into Bebop.

Other feedback highlighted some small bugs which have been fixed. As a result Bebop is now much more reliable, and people are starting to use and trust the plugin. Incredibly, Bebop has been downloaded almost 100 times.

For a full list of changes, please see the Changelog on WordPress.org

As hinted to above, user input, evaluation and reviews have had quite an impact on Bebop. Hopefully people will continue to make valuable contributions, and hopefully I will be able to comply!

There is still some work to do on Bebop. We are yet to import content from Bebop into our Staff Directory, but this will be coming soon, at least as a proof of concept. It requires some changes to how our staff directory works, and is also reliant on a BuddyPress ‘profile editor’, which we need to finish implementing.

Bebop v1.0 goes live!

Bebop Goes Live!
I am proud to announce that Bebop version 1 is now live on WordPress.org, and can be downloaded from WordPress.org (or directly through the “search installed plugins” section of a WordPress site). You can also checkout the code repository on Github. This is a fairly early release considering this is a rapid innovation project which still has 6 weeks to go; but we decided we wanted to gather some feedback for improvements before the project comes to an end.

The features released in version 1 are pretty much inline with what we wanted Bebop to achieve at the beginning of the project. This of course, focusses on the aggregation of user OER content into BuddyPress profiles. We have also managed to extend the original specification somewhat, by allowing multiple feeds to be linked for one user. This allows content to be aggregated from multiple accounts into a single BuddyPress profile, which could be incredibly useful for academics who want to share content from more than one group.

Bebop is now producing multiple RSS feeds for each user. Content is published individually for each OER provider (such as SlideShare or Vimeo) which allows users to export specific content into other systems. All of the users OER content can also be imported, and the RSS feed allows up to 250 items to be exported.

A new version (1.1) of Bebop is already being developed, which will feature a more ‘WordPressy’ feel to it, with additional functionality for the discovery of user RSS feeds, as well as some important bug fixes and performance updates. The twitter extension will also be updated, following the release of updated Twitter API’s.

OER Reuse
Another aspect of this project was to see how we could reuse the OER content collected by Bebop for other purposes. To accomplish this, we have decided we shall add a ‘Teaching Resources’ tab to our Directory which will automatically import and display contentfrom our BuddyPress platform. This will be made possible by through the use of the RSS feeds which Bebop creates, as described above. We will be working on this over the next couple of weeks.

Technical Issues
I would like to take this opportunity to explain some of the technical issues we have faced when developing Bebop. The initial problem we faced was using WordPress/ BuddyPress as a development platform. Having never developed using the rather unique code structure WordPress uses, it was slightly confusing and difficult at first. Fortunately, WordPress is documented rather well, so problems were solved relatively quickly. BuddyPress is not documented as well as WordPress, and it was often difficult to find answers and solutions to problems. Thankfully, Joss had recognised this potential issue before the project began, and enlisted the help of Boone Gorges, a BuddyPress lead developer. Boone’s help and technical guidance has been invaluable on many occasions.

The second technical issue which we found particularly challenging was importing data into Bebop. This may sound strange considering this was the main focus of the project, but let me explain. The main issue was every OER provider does things differently. RSS feeds, OAuth API, API’s returning XML, API’s returning serialised PHP, etc. This posed problems when trying to standardise how the extensions in Bebop work, while trying to keep things as simple as possible. In the end, we decided it was best to have a custom import script which would create a standard array of data for each OER. This data is then passed into another function which deals with all the nitty gritty validation, content checks, and database queries. This turned a rather complicated and messy process into a simple 2 stage process, which is essentially find and sort and then pass it into the processing function.

A problem which I foresee in the future is keeping Bebop up to date. The main concern here is when updated API’s are released. For example, the Twitter API’s have just been updated, and the Twitter API Bebop currently uses will be depreciated within the next 6 months. While we will be able to update API’s up until the project ends in the middle of October, it will be a little more difficult to keep Bebop up to date once the project ends.

More extensions, more content.

To summarise he past week, it has been a rather busy and productive one! I have been concentrating on producing more extensions for bebop, which will allow more high quality content to be pulled into WordPress and BuddyPress. Three extensions have been developed this week in total, enabling images from Flickr and video’s form Vimeo to be imported into BuddyPress. A third extension provides generic RSS support, pulling in content from RSS feeds from around the web. This means we now have a rich library of content providers, including the following:

  • Flickr
  • Vimeo
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • SlideShare
  • RSS feeds from the web

Unfortunately, we have still heard nothing from the people at JORUM, in regards to readiness of their API’s. However, if you think there is another source of OER content that we should have an extension for, please get in contact with us ASAP!.

The next phase of the project includes a little more development. We aim to produce RSS feeds for the content we have pulled in from the resources above, so we use the data elsewhere, for instance our staff academic profiles. Once this is sorted, we can shift our focus onto documentation, so people can learn what bebop is for, and how it can be used effectively.

Slideshare API, oembed support.

Having not posted a progress log for a couple of weeks, people are probably wondering what we have been doing. Well, we have done a lot of work on bringing our code ‘up to standard’ in terms of WordPress coding standards, fixing over 2000 ‘errors’ in the process. That took a while, but it had to be done, and will now be much easier to maintain.

We have also been working on our extensions platform, which should allow people to create extensions in a short period of time, regardless of whether they are using an RSS, OAuth API or standard API data source. We have began compartmentalising the import scripts, which should essentially allow anyone to copy an import structure from another extension to their own extension, for which the data source functions in a similar way. The last sentance will make much more sense when we get round to writing our documentation. It is then a simple matter of pointing some variables at data, and voila. More data in the database. More sharing. More caring.

We have also cracked oembed, allowing API’s which support the standard to display content directly in the activity feeds.

Oh, and we also made a SlideShare extension, which can be used to pull in content from SlideShare, and all the user has to do is enter their SlideShare username.

Over the coming weeks we have two tasks; Make some more extensions for the more popular OER providers (It’s a shame JORUM don’t seem to have their API up and running yet) and produce custom RSS feeds so the data collected from Bebop can be consumed into other services, such as our Staff Directory. This will also provide a way for people to follow content posted by people as it is added to Bebop.

Don’t forget to check out the photos and leave us some feedback.