css.php

Happy Sys Admin Day to André Pitanga

We’d like to wish André Pitanga, the Systems Administrator of the CUNY Academic Commons, a very happy Sys Admin Day! As the Sys Admin Day site makes clear, sys admins do a host of jobs to keep a site like this running. But what that page does not necessarily make clear is that Sys Admins are our first, second, and third lines of defense when our servers are hit with malicious attacks. Holding the line in the face of such attacks can be hard and unforgiving work; to maintain a strong commitment to openness in the face of such attacks takes a very special person. We are extremely lucky to have André in that position with the support of the CUNY Graduate Center Information Technology Office behind him.

So, thank you, André. Happy Sys Admin Day and congrats again on your well-deserved employee recognition award!!

BuddyPress plugins running on the CUNY Academic Commons

A few people have asked recently for a list of the plugins installed on the CUNY Academic Commons. In the spirit of Joe’s post, here I thought I’d make it public. I’m going to limit myself to the BuddyPress plugins here, for the sake of simplicity. (I’d like to write a series of posts on the anatomy of the CUNY Academic Commons; maybe this will be the first in that series.) Here they are, in no particular order other than the order in which they appear on my plugin list.

  • BP TinyMCE. This plugin is messed up, and I have part of it switched off, but I still use the filters that allow additional tags through, in case people want to write some raw HTML in their forum posts, etc.
  • BP Groupblog. Allows blogs to be associated with groups, displaying posts on that group’s activity feed and automatically credentialing group members on the blog. I did some custom modifications to the way the plugin works so that clicking on the Blog tab in a group leads you to subdomain address rather than the Groupblog custom address (thereby also ensuring that visitors see the intended blog theme rather than the BP-ish theme).
  • BP MPO Activity Filter. This plugin works along with More Privacy Options to ensure that the new privacy settings are understood by Buddypress and that blog-related activity items are displayed to the appropriate people.
  • BuddyPress Group Documents. This one is crucial to our members, who often use the plugin to share collaborative docs.
  • BP Include Non-Member Comments makes sure that blog comments from non-members are included on the sitewide activity feed.
  • BP External Activity – an as-yet unreleased plugin I wrote that brings in items from an external RSS feed and adds them to the sitewide activity feed. We’re using it for MediaWiki edits.
  • BP Group Management lets admins add people to groups. Very handy for putting together a group quickly, without having to wait for invites.
  • BP System Report. We’re using this one to keep track of some data in our system and report it back to members and administrators.
  • BuddyPress Group Email Subscription allows users to subscribe to immediate or digest email notification of group activity. Right now we’re running it on a trial basis with a handful of members, in order to test it. (Here’s how to run it with a whitelist of users, if you want)
  • BuddyPress Terms of Service Agreement, another as-yet-unreleased plugin (this one by CAC Dev Team member Chris Stein) that requires new members to check TOS acceptance box before being allowed to register.
  • Custom Profile Filters for BuddyPress allows users to customize the way that their profile interests become links
  • Enhanced BuddyPress Widgets. Lets the admin decide the default state of BP widgets on the front page.
  • Forum Attachments for BuddyPress. Another of our most important BP plugins, this one allows users to share files via the group forums.
  • Group Forum Subscription for BuddyPress. This is our legacy email notification system, which is going to be in place until I get back from my honeymoon and can replace it 🙂
  • Invite Anyone lets our users invite new members to the community and makes it easier to populate groups.

Questions about any of these plugins or how they work with BuddyPress? Ask in the comments.

Welcome to the AC Dev Blog

I’m proud to announce the opening of the CUNY Academic Commons Development blog, which will track new technical developments on the Commons website.

The Commons is one of a number of academic projects in recent years that have sought to foster online communities in university settings.  As George Otte, our fearless (and peerless) leader, has pointed out, the structural make-up of CUNY — the largest urban university in the world, with 23 campuses and a quarter of a million students — makes this project not just desirable, but also necessary for the university system.

What’s exciting about this moment at CUNY is that we’re (finally) seeing the rise of a number of open-source projects across the system.  By choosing to construct the Academic Commons using a connected series of open-source platforms, we have engaged the growing movement of open education (join our local Open Education group here).  Such efforts, I would argue, represent a twenty-first century extension of CUNY’s longstanding mission of making knowledge public, accessible, and affordable.

The remarkable thing about open source software–and, really, what defines it as open source–is that the code behind the program is released freely to users, who can then look at it and customize it for their needs. This is in contrast to a model of proprietary software, in which users are powerless to implement fundamental changes to the system without the help of the company that made the product.

Here at the Commons, we took a “small pieces loosely joined” approach, in which we have assembled a best-in-breed series of platforms (WordPress Multi-User + BuddyPress + BbPress + MediaWiki) and cobbled together a way for them them all work together. As we’ve tested out this system, we’ve found many things that work well, and other things that don’t. And as we find things that don’t work, we create custom plugins and extensions to fix the underlying problems.

The wonderful thing about open-source systems is that communities of developers and users tends to form around them in order to share their work and improve their websites. To truly be part of the open-source movement, we can’t just take–we have to give. And so, one reason we created this particular blog is to use it to release our custom code to the larger open-source community. That way, others can build on our work, just as we have built on theirs.

We have some exciting extensions to announce in the very near future, so please stay tuned.

Up next:  introducing the CUNY Academic Commons Development Team.