Georgia Tech, Bedework, and Enlightened Self-Interest

Bedework LogoI have so much to say about what went on in St. Paul at the JA-Sig Spring Conference that I hardly know where to begin. I’ll start with a meeting that some Sakai folks had with the folks from Bedework. If you don’t know about Bedework, it’s a higher education-based community source calendar project. It’s built in Java and has an intense focus on complying with calendar standards like CalDAV. It’s currently based at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

After their excellent presentation, we (John Lewis from Unicon, Clay Fenlason from Georgia Tech, Mike Osterman from Whitman College and myself) met with three members of the core project team, Mike Douglass, Gary Schwartz and Arlen Johnson. Mike, Arlen and Gary are very knowledgeable and passionate about Bedework and their work with the standards bodies is extremely valuable for the entire higher education community. Higher Education does have a different emphasis than your average company (e.g. public events are far more important) and even some unique use cases (e.g. faculty office hours need to be made available across multiple classes). Even if your campus is not going to use Bedework you should send a big “Thank you” their way for keeping higher education use cases front and center in the standards committees. And if you’re looking for a new calendaring system, check out Bedework.

Okay, back to Sakai. As you may know, Georgia Tech has recently engaged Unicon to work on an integration between Sakai and Zimbra, another standards-based calendaring system in use at Georgia Tech. Zach Thomas is the lead developer. There are two things I like about this work. First, it gives us a potential path for offering an alternative to Sakai’s proprietary calendar implementation. While it’s been terrific to have that system in place, I can see a day where a good standards-based, free and open source project like Bedework could serve as Sakai’s calendaring code. This is quite similar to what’s happening with content hosting and the JCR implementation in Sakai 2.5. The less code we have to maintain ourselves, the better. (Unless, of course, we need the control. Which we do in many cases but I don’t think calendaring is one of those.)

The second reason isn’t technical, it’s community and process oriented. Rather than doing a custom Sakai-Zimbra integration in a local branch, Georgia Tech is doing a Sakai-CalDAV integration in a public branch. They will (likely) test there work against both Zimbra and Bedework along the way to ensure they are implementing the standard properly. As far as I’m concerned, this should be the standard way of managing custom work in the community. It allows others to see what your doing, which is certainly “good citizenship.” But try telling that to your boss. The real reason this is a good practice is long term self interest. By doing this work in the open and basing it on standards, Georgia Tech is increasing the likelihood that (a) others in the community will help with the project, (b) others will adopt the work in their local instance of Sakai and (c) the work will end up in a future Sakai release. This last one is critical. By getting this work into trunk, Georgia Tech is making a small investment today that will save them from having to merge a significant local branch each time they upgrade Sakai. This is “enlightened self-interest” in action.

So, a tip of the hat to Georgia Tech and Clay as well!

More tomorrow, hopefully, on the Sakai Project planning meetings….

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  1. […] Georgia Tech, Bedework, and Enlightened Self-Interest […]

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