December 2008

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Elgg‘s development continues and appears to be progressing toward its next release—version 1.5. The svn revisions “odometer” has begun moving again this week after a brief break following the release of version 1.2.

Elgg’s roadmap states that Curverrider plans to make major relases every six months with Version 1.5 due in February. Several target enhancements due with this release have already been completed:

  • An Administrative interface for customizing profile fields
  • Metastring garbage collection
  • Log Rotation
  • Additional themes

Scalability enhancements are partially completed. Slated further improvements include:

  • Views and plugin location caching
  • A mobile device view
  • An OpenDD client for syndication, imports, and exports (will this mean 0.9–>1.x migration?)
  • Improved front page layout and submenu system
  • The often requested group deletion
  • Drillable site-wide activity stream

Elgg progress is not limited to the work of core developers. We are starting to see institutional support for Elgg development and customization. Kevin Jardine developed are critical event calendar plugin funded by the Royal Institute of British Architects. A large K12 school district in the US is considering an Elgg roll out with monetary support for the necesssary customization by core developers. Other institutions are beginning to pour manpower into Elgg modifications.

These developments bode well for  Elgg’s future. I plan on continuing to support Elgg through a number of means in the future. I look forward to its implementation in K12 education.

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Matt Leifer commented on my post about the advent of BuddyPress wondering if there was some sort of integration with a wiki and WordPress. His question aroused my curiousity as I use WordPress and MediaWiki. Indeed there is a very interesting WordPress plugin that works MediaWiki.

Append Wiki Page by Enej Bajgoric at the University of British Columbia is a WordPress extension that allows users to actually embed a MediaWiki page within an individual blog post. Install this plugin and a new option appears at the bottom of the edit post page.

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Simply type in the url of the desired wikipage and it appears in the post when you publish it. Here is a screencast illustrating its use. It includes edit links to the wiki, so that a reader could actually move from the blog post to the actual MediaWiki page and edit it if they have those priviledges. I first saw this on Jim Groom’s post/wiki on installing BuddyPress and wondered how he did it.  In a round about way, I found out how.

I like this plugin and it generally works well. I think that it has a great deal of potential in education and documentation. My only problem is that it, for some reason, will not work correctly when I use it with wikis on my server. If I link to any other wiki page, it works fine. I can only assume it is because of some setting on my server. I certainly would like to resolve this (any offers for help gracefully accepted) as the Append Wiki Page plugin is a great tool.

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BuddyPress has a trial site in which you can sign up for an account and give it a test run, much like the folks at Curverider did many months ago. It gives everyone an opportunity to experience the user interface. I signed up for an account and gave it a quick test drive. I will look deeper into the details over time. This is an overview of the registration, progile, and the blogs.

Going to testbp.org presents the following screen:

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Click on of the registration links to set up an account. You are then prompted to give a username, email address, reply to a captcha and to provide some profile details including an avatar. You are also given the option of just creating an account, or an account with a blog.

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If you selected the option to create a blog, you are prompted to give a subdomain and title for the blog, and have the option of allowing search engines to index the site or not.

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Next you are prompted to look for an email to activate your new account. Once you activvate your account, you are assigned a password and asked to crop your avatar. Once you log in, your are brought to your profile page.

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Notice the navigation on the left side displaying menu options, the submenus in the next column. Clicking on the “Blogs” option brings up a new submenu. Note the ability to create additional blogs.

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When you click on your blog, up comes something that should look very familiar to WordPress users:

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If you click on the site admin link, you are brought to the familiar WordPress 2.7 blog interface.

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As in WordPress you can customize the look using themes.

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Overall, with BuddyPress, the blogs have an individual identity outside of the BuddyPress installation in that they have an independent subdomain, and that they can be customized like any other blog.

Clearly, Elgg and BuddyPress are very different. While this is more of an overview than a comparison, it is easy for one familiar with Elgg to see that these two packages take very different approaches to what might appear the same when one simply looks at a list of features.

I plan to overview more BuddyPress user features in the future and look forward to a discussion of the merits of each.

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BuddyPress, a social networking platform based upon WordPressMu, originally scheduled for release by the end of this year is in beta release. Developers have frozen new features are are now trying to iron out bugs before the version 1.0 release.

BuddyPress is not an application on its own, rather it is a collection of WordPressMu plugins that extend core functionality. They can all be installed as a collection or individually. Here’s a list of components:

  • Extended Profiles that allow administrators to customize fields for user information and allows users to configure what is visible to the public.
  • Private Messaging between users
  • Friends
  • Groups that may be created by any individual including forum, photos, blog, and wire
  • The wire similar to a comment wall available to profiles, groups, etc
  • Activity Streams for yourself or your friends
  • Blogs (of course)
  • Status Updates
  • Photo Albums
  • Forums enabled through bbPress

Implementation involves a few steps. First WPMU must be installed, then the Buddy Press Plugins  are uploaded and activated. Finally, bbPress must be installed and integrated. Jim Groom is writing an evolving guide to the process. It includes links to many great WPMU resources.

Having administered a WPMU installation at my school for about a year, I’m very eager to work with BuddyPress. I’ll be looking at the way in which the access/user privileges integrate into the various components. Adding one or two components at a time might ease the transition.

Elgg and BuddyPress have common features, but based on my experiences with WPMU and Elgg, I know they will be substantially different. Once versions are more stable, I look forward to comparing the two. Meanwhile, I’d gladly try it out as a user if anybody has a test installation.

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Zotero is a Firefox plugin and a powerful open source research tool. This great utility makes it much easier to do online research by helping you gather, organize, and cite your information. Rather than reiterating the features, here is a video tour of Zotero.

A higher resolution version can be seen here.

As mentioned in the video, Zotero automatically collects from a number of sites and database, but those represented are institutional. What about independent sites such as self hosted blogs? Fortunately, for WordPress bloggers, there is an extension that allows visitors using Zotero to glean the post title, author, date, blog title, categories, and URL for each entry. Apparently, there are MediaWiki templates that can also interact Zotero. It would be great to see a broader set of open source tools with such functionality. While Blogger is not an open source tool, it also appears to work with Zotero.

Zotero also has plugins for integrating Microsoft Office and Open Office.These plugins allow you to easily insert citations and bibliographic information into word processing documents. You can select from a number of different citation formats. Those not using either office suite can use their clipboards to paste formatted bibliographic information into their docs.

Currently tethered to an individual computer, a server based Zotero appears to be in the works. Zotero 1.5 with Sync is currently in final beta. Sync allows you to synchronized your Zotero collections across computers.  With Version 2.0, you will be able to share your collections with others for collaboration. Eventually, the Zotero server application will be released.

While Zotero, is a great tool in and of itself, the server based ability to synchronize data between computers is extremely important. If you do most of your work on one machine, then Zotero is fine out-of-the-box; however, in an environment such as my K12 school, students log on to different computers and will want to transmit their collections to home computers. It looks like the sync functionality is nearing prime time.

This still relies upon Zotero’s servers. I am not sure about their privacy policies and CIPA compliance as there is no statement on the website. Setting up an account requires an email address, so it appears that use by students under 13 would be out of compliance. For younger students we may have to wait until individual schools can set up their own server side Zotero. While this is on the drawing board it does not appear to be occurring in the near future.

Zotero has great utility as it is. The release of Version 1.5 with synchronization will greatly improve the product. Once the server side application is released with full collaborative and sharing capabilities, Zotero has incredible potential.

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