Development work

I don’t think of myself as a web developer nor as a server administrator (though I used to do rather a lot of that in a former career) but I do dabble a little. I ran my first web server in early 1993 and have been doing so ever since.  Among the courses I teach are web server management and web programming. I also occasionally develop web server software, most recently using the very wonderful Elgg social framework. My PhD revolved around the creation of a series of web applications, CoFIND (Collaborative Filter in N Dimensions), originally built using ASP (1997-2002) and, with funding received after the PhD was over,  later re-imagined in PHP (2002-2005). This adaptive social bookmarking system was one of the earliest (if not the earliest) uses of tag clouds in an educational application (though such things did not even have a name back then), one of the earliest  (if not the earliest) examples of open-corpus adaptive hypermedia, and employed social recommendation for learning in what I still think are pretty neat ways, albeit that the interface made it almost entirely unusable outside an experimental context. In the late 1990s I helped build a learning management system, combining home-brewed PHP, ASP and Lotus Notes, at the University of Brighton, which included CoFIND as one of its components. In the early 2000s I built a Plone-based community networking site. Throughout the early to mid 2000s I built a series of experimental web applications designed to allow learners to help one another to learn, using self-organizing principles drawn from natural evolution, the dynamics of cities, and marketplaces. Since the mid to late 2000s I have mostly focused on building tools that, though less novel in design, are usable enough to enter a production environment.

These are a few currently running servers that I am fully or partially responsible for building and maintaining:

  • Athabasca Landing
    I am the architect and technical lead of the Landing,  a social learning commons used in Athabasca University to provide a soft, controllable, social space designed to fill the gaps left between the hard, function-driven systems of the university and support the spread of knowledge within and beyond the university. The site supports over 7000 users and over 400 groups, and features in several papers and our book, Teaching Crowds. It is build using Elgg. I have specified and managed the development  of  over 50 plugins for the site, around 10 of which I have written myself, most of which are available as open source to the Elgg community. Nearly all the posts on this site were originally posted on the Landing, imported to this site via RSS. The Landing has been the basis of a lot of my research over the past five years, as well as a platform for my teaching, and it takes up a fair bit of my time.
  • Teaching Crowds
    A WordPress site for the book of the same name by me and Terry Anderson
  • Curtin Commons
    An Elgg-based site that I built to support a MOOC run by Curtin University in 2014 (due to run again later this year). It uses a superset of the tools and plugins of the Landing, made to support a very different kind of community.
  • Ahead Academy (under development)
    An Elgg-based site to support Australian school children in beyond-the-school activities
  • Oasis for learning
    An Elgg-based site to support graduate students and their teachers. Not much developed, it has been ticking over for a few years now.
  • Sugar Cube
    A WordPress site for the Bowen Island cabin and gallery/event space run by my wife. She does the hard work – I just handle some of the tech side.

See also a couple of my old servers built for research many years ago now that are still running. Sadly, the more radical versions of CoFIND are no longer running (they used an old, now insecure and unsupportable version of ASP) but there is a later and less exciting version of it there. There’s also a version of Dwellings, a system designed to replicate the dynamics of cities, based on the ideas of Jane Jacobs. At some point I hope to add in a couple of other old systems.

I run an assortment of other small sites for friends and relatives.

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