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I recently created another BuddyPress test site and I am pleased with how much the procedure has been simplified. I blogged about the difficulty in the past, so it is only fair that I note vast improvements.

I never fully succeeded installing BP the first time I tried. It involved a long process of manually uploading a variety of files and opening them to edit the code in numerous places, then testing and adjusting. I was able to install BP itself, but I never quite got the forum component bbPress (then in Alpha) to work as it should. Trying again several months later (about a year ago), I succeeded and noted that it had been simplified to to a 13 step process still involving moving files and editing code.

Now BP can be installed entirely from WordPressMu and even plain WordPress entirely through the backend. There is no longer a need to use ftp at all or edit a single line of code. Simply install WP or WPMu then install BP through the plugin installer. One no longer must use ftp to manually move themes to the appropriate folder. Next activate one of the BP themes installed with the package through the Appearance menu. All that is left is activating bbPress by going to BuddyPress–>Forum Set up and basically turn it on.

BuddyPress is now installable to even those with few tech skills. Most shared hosting services with control panels have point and click WordPress installers. Now that WP and WPMu have merged, one could convert a standard installation to WPMu, but that still requires some mucking with code. If one needed the multi-blog functionality, it is probably easier to manually install WPMu than make the conversion. I’m sure that will change with time.

BuddyPress has joined Elgg as a viable replacement for proprietary solutions such as NING. I look forward to revisiting both and reporting my experiences.

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There are two major open source social networking platforms that are garnering much attention of late: BuddyPress and Elgg. Elgg 1.0 was released in August 2008. BuddyPress is currently in beta. Regular visitors to this blog have probably read many of my posts on Elgg. Recently, I posted some first impressions of BuddyPress as a user having created an account on BuddyPress’s test site.

I just finished a BuddyPress installation on my server, so I am now able to make more comparisons between the two platforms. The intent of this is not so much to decide which platform is superior, but to discuss the features, interfaces, and administration of each; thus, helping individuals decide which may be best suited for their purposes. Having looked both over, I believe that each may be best suited for different purposes.

Installation

Both Elgg and BuddyPress require the administrator to set up a mySQL database. The packages must be uploaded to a web server, and browser based installers are used to attach the database to the software and create the appropriate config files to make the programs work. They also require Mod Rewrite to be enabled on the server.  Beyond that, there are several differences.

BuddyPress installation is fairly complex. First WordPressMu must be installed which is simply a matter of creating a database, uploading the software, and running the installer. (One caveat: WPMU is much easier to install in the root public_html directory.) The only thing out of the ordinary is the option to use subdomains (blog.mysite.com) 0r subdirectories (mysite.com/blog). The former is generally recommended and requires activating wildcard dns on your server. Next you need to ftp and install the BuddyPress plugins and themes to the appropriate directories.

Finally, one needs to install and integrate bbPress if one wants the forums to function. bbPress must be uploaded and it should share a database with WPMU. It took a lot of back and forth with the admin interfaces and tweaking the bbPress and WPMU config files to make the cookies work.

Elgg installation is very straight forward. The Elgg developers responded to early complaints about difficulties with installation and made it even less particular about server configuration. Create a database, upload the software, run the installer. It doesn’t matter whether it is installed in the root or a subdirectory.

Now this might sound like a slam dunk for Elgg, but the results of installation are not equal. Let’s start by looking at the front page. The resultant buddyPress looks like this:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

BuddyPress presents the admin with a prompt to add widgets to the threee columns on the front page. Click on the add widget link and you arrive at a familiar WordPress Widget interface.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The front page is easily customized by adding widgets to the three columns and arraying them as desired. Elgg, on the other hand, has a front page that is initially simple and much more difficult to customize.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Customization of the front page is done using plugins (or hacking the core) which must be hand coded to render the desired results.

Default Features

Another area worth comparing is the default features with a standard installation of each package.

Component Elgg 1.x BuddyPress
Blogs X X
Groups X X
Private Messages X X
Bookmarks X *
Friends X X
Profile X X
Files X
Pages X *
Wire/Messageboard X X
Forums X X

* Features present in Blogs

The chart is really a rather superficial treatment, but serves to demonstrate that the two packages have similar feature sets. In spite of the similar set of tools, these tools are substantially different in many cases. Comparing these individual features will the subject of future blog posts.

Both Elgg and BuddyPress both require hand coding to create a good social networking plaform. BuddyPress currently requires a certain amount of coding in the installation process; whereas, Elgg requires coding to create something other than the spartan default main page. They have similar features, but the implementation is substantially different. Further comparision of components will yield more insight into the differences between the two platforms. In addition, the user and administrative interfaces represent other points of departure. Look for more posts comparing these two platforms in the near future. Feel free to visit my installation and create an account.

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I have been on the Internet for many years now and I have noticed many changes. As a teacher I have watched resources that were once free become for pay. Now when I search for resources that are specifically geared to education, as often as not, I click on a link to find that the item is available by subscription only.

Having read Karen Kasimpaur’s blog post responding to my admittedly provocative post Is open source too difficult? I focused on the second part of her post referring to open content. Karen asserts that focusing on open content may be more important and more successful than a focus on open tools.

She envisions the open sharing of educational resources through digital technology. Open knowledge is a topic I am passionate about myself and one that I have explored in an entirely different domain—tie-dye.

Several years ago, my children enjoyed a tie-dye project at our town’s summer recreation program. I decided that it would be great fun to try to do this on our own. Naturally, I turned to the Internet to find virtually nothing. I also turned to a tie-dyer at a craft fair. I soon found out that tie-dyers are a tight-lipped group. Finally, I found a tie-dye discussion forum run by an individual who broke ranks with other tie-dyers producing a how-to video.

While this forum no longer exists, this release of knowledge and the collaborative forum opened the gates to knowledge that was not in the public domain. A desire to keep this knowledge in the public domain led to my first ventures in Web 2.0 (using open source software) when I created a new tie-dye forum and wiki. These venues now get considerable traffic and offer a great body of knowledge that was once unavailable or available only for pay. Everybody who visits these venues has become a better dyer because we bypassed the owners of the knowledge.

We educators need to do the same thing. Just as the tie-dyers became better by sharing, so too should teachers. Educators need collaborate and share high quality content as a means of bypassing the owners of knowledge—the textbook companies and other for pay content providers. This is a bottoms up model that can revolutionize education by working outside the educational bureaucracy.

Our new technologies and collaborative tools gives us the ability to draw from a global tool of talent  and build an informal community without an overarching power structure and investment of capital. We have the promise of improving education for everyone by making quality content universally available. We have the collaborative tools. This is our chance to make real change bypassing the painstakingly inert institutions that many of us find so frustrating.

Just as everyone can become a better tie-dyer because of the aforementioned resources, we can all become better educators by actively sharing any quality resources that we have created. This is definitely a tide that when unleashed can raise all boats.

More to come on this topic. What are your thoughts?

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I recently joined Steve Hargadon’s K-12 Open Source Community Ning site. After clicking through resources, related pages, and links, I made the following post on the site:

Okay. We have an open source community on Ning. I go to to the wiki and it is Wikispaces. I click on resources and I am delivered to Google sites.

It seems to me that Open Source fails to meet the needs of its own proponents. Or do we have different definitions?

This is an honest question. Discussion?

Needless to say, this provoked a number of responses—20 in less than twenty four hours—most very thoughtful and well reasoned. It has led to a discussion ranging from school cultures to the definition of open source.

My latest (probably not my last point) was this:

My concern is that people may not even be considering open source for their web based solutions–even ones that are easy to use. I am also concerned that too many of us (myself included) blithely check off the Terms of Service without considering the ramifications.

I also believe we need to think long and hard before sending our students off to the free hosted solutions. I think we need to be concerned with data ownership and privacy. I question whether we, as teachers and schools, have the right to tell students to use these tools as part of school assignments. In essence, we are ordering them to surrender personal information.

If any are interested in server-side open source tools, I’ll be glad to help. I also encourage everyone to give them a shot by renting some inexpensive shared server space and give these great tools a try. Once you have your account, some of the options can even be easier to deploy than you have ever imagined.

No, I am not a purist like Richard Stallman, or even close, but I ask that people take a look (as you clearly have) at the open source alternatives.

I invite you to weigh in on this conversation here or on the Ning site.

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The popular “free” educational blogging site Edublogs has begun inserting inline content link ads in the posts of their free blogs. Once users are logged in, they no longer appear, but anyone view the blog sees the ads.

To disable the ads, one must become an Edublogs supporter costing $25 per year. There are other benefits such as more server space and Twitter integration. Alternatively, schools can set up Campus subscriptions starting at $900 per year for 100 blogs.

On the popular Classroom 2.0 site, teachers are registering shock and dismay at this unannounced development, saying that they feel “bamboozled.” Concern has been expressed about control over the content of these ads. Teachers and students have invested much into this blog platform and suddenly find the landscape has changed.

In fairness to Edublogs, the potential for advertising has been in their terms of service for some time–I looked into it many months ago. (You DO read the TOS before clicking I accept, don’t you?). In this tightening economy, the flow of easy captial has been shut off. The free hosted social applications need to pay their bills to keep their servers up and running and to pay staff.

I have always expressed concern about hosted Web 2.0 solutions for these very reasons. There is also the issue of data ownership. If one of these companies goes belly up overnight as has been the case with so many major corporations of late, what happens to your data?

The solution is free and open source software on either rented web server space, or on in-house servers. No, these are not “free” solutions, but they are inexpensive. Webhosting accounts can be had for as little as $5 a month and most offer ample resources for hosting your own Web 2.0 solutions. Furthermore, you will not find yourself blindsided by changes in policies and terms.

There are many options for software. Multiple blogs can be hosted on WordPressMU, Social Networks on Elgg, and the list goes on.

Stay tuned for more such developments and start studying up on free and open source Web 2.0 applications. As has been said so many times before: there is no such thing as a free lunch!

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