Sharing hacks

Open Ed 09 just ended, and I’ve got lots of things to blog about. Here’s a quick one that came out of a conversation that I had this morning with some of the guys from UBC’s Office of Learning Technologies (Enej, Michael, and Alex, if I’m remembering correctly).

The conversation started off as a show-off session of the different things we were doing with the combinations of WPMu, BuddyPress, MediaWiki, and so on. After some oohing and aahing (that’s what I was doing, at least), we turned to the question of why we – groups of people doing such complementary stuff – aren’t in better contact with each other. Finished, polished stuff is pretty easy to share, through outlets like the WordPress plugin pages. Only sharing the big stuff, though, means only helping each other a fraction of what we could. After all, things that have been formally released are bound not to need as much input from the community as unfinished, rough code. Moreover, arguably, our days are consumed as much by the small hacks and workarounds as they are by the big plugin projects.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Stevie Rocco | Drinking this coffee got me giddy about sharing code

Communication about code is a hard thing. On one end of the spectrum is internal communication. The gang at OLT keeps internal notes of the small hacks they do on their system, as do we at the CUNY Academic Commons. On the other end is end-user documentation, meant for a broad and largely non-technical audience. The kind of communication that’s missing here is the stuff in the middle, between groups doing similar sorts of work.

What are some good ways to get this kind of sharing moving? What we’re trying to do at the Academic Commons is to keep a development blog. The success of this strategy is limited by a couple factors, though. First, other people have to know where the blog is, and add its feed to their readers, to glean any benefits. Second, a dev blog is only as good as what you post to it, and I for one have a real tendency to think that lots of things are simply too small to bother with. As a result, only the big things tend to get posted – but then we run up against the problem I mention above.

So here’s a rule that I’m setting for myself: If an issue/hack/workaround/patch/spitshine takes more than two hours for me to figure out, I’m going to blog about it. The more I put out there – even if I think that it’s not all that significant – the more likely someone else is to find it and make use of it.

13 thoughts on “Sharing hacks

  1. Matt

    Great post, Boone. As you know, I’m all for sharing this kind of work with the public in general, and colleagues in the field in particular. Sharing our innovations as we gratefully make use of the innovations of others is what the CUNY Academic Commons Dev Team is all about! (we need t-shirts).

    We should definitely think about ways that people working on similar projects (and here I’d include Joss Winn) can communicate in timely and productive ways.

    I’m looking forward to your upcoming OpenEd posts. Wish I could have been there!

  2. Alex Lougheed

    Good call. I’ll let our dev guys comment more, but we should be sharing as much as can, given our beliefs in openness and our mutual end-of-the-day goals!

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  4. Jim


    This is right on, blogging one’s process with these hacks and development is perhaps the most important way to open up the possibilities, but also to push one’s self into the community on a broader scale. I found it invaluable over the last three years, and Andre Malan has been scheming up a plan to perhaps make this a wider community effort beyond UBC OLT and CUNY—it’s really promising.

    Glad you enjoyed OpenEd, there was a ton of good energy, and you can;t really ask for a better group of folks.

  5. Boone Post author

    @Matt – We might have to pare down that slogan a little bit to get it to fit on a t-shirt. And yes, you missed a great experience at OpenEd. Next year’s event is in Barcelona – sounds like a good family trip for you to plan for 😀

    @Alex – You hit the nail on the head. We edtechers are the ones who are largely charged with enabling openness on behalf of students and faculty. It would be a real crime if we weren’t just as open ourselves.

    @Enej – Yes!! I’ve added oltdev to my feedreader. Your little post from this morning – on hacking images into the header of the Thesis theme – is a perfect example of the little bits of sharing that can add up to a lot. I can’t wait to read more of what you guys put up.

    @Jim – The stuff you do at the Bava is an inspiration for this kind of openness – the kind of advice and wisdom you’ve collected for people who are setting up WPMu and related software parallels the kind of community I’d like to see arise around the development and extension of these softwares. I can’t wait to hear about Andre’s scheme. The fact that you call it a “scheme” makes me think it will be dope.

  6. Cole

    Boone … first of all it was great getting to meet you and hang out. I think part of problem is that we are all sprinting so fast towards our goals that we sometimes don’t stop and see what is happening around us. I know that if it weren’t for last week’s event you and I would still only be Internet friends. We need more time together to explore what we are all doing … we are all doing such interesting things, but without finding a time to share it we are missing the collaborative opportunities! Can’t wait to keep the conversation flowing forward!

  7. Boone Post author

    @Cole – Hear, hear. I’m hoping that the excitement that gets started when we’re face to face can inform and drive our online interactions.

    @Andre – Out with it already! I’m dying over here!

  8. Dave Lester

    I didn’t know about the CUNY dev blog — awesome.

    A while back we set up a wiki for WordCampEd and encouraged attendees to share their hacks there ( — but didn’t do a great job getting the word out. There aren’t a ton of links on it as of today, but maybe a wiki (either this one, or something different) could serve as the glue between all of the separate blog posts and ideas that are scattered about.

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