Monday, January 18, 2010

Starting From Scratch

The reason I switched projects from my iPhone application to Philip's work is that I'm interested in this dorm energy competition that he wants to have. This idea isn't exactly brand new. Other universities have had dorm energy competitions before. I'm more interested in the social networking aspect of the dorm energy competition. Because we are providing energy data for each floor in the dormitory, members of a floor can influence each other in reducing their overall usage.

Right now, we are still deciding on a technology to use in creating this social networking site. We could build it from scratch using one of the many web frameworks out there. However, our development time is somewhat limited. This application needs to be ready by the fall semester (August 2010). While I am comfortable using Ruby on Rails, getting other programmers up to speed would take some time. Our current approach is to investigate CMSs like Joomla! and Drupal and use one of those as our starting point. We still need to get up to speed on a new framework, but we'll have time due to the fact that most of the functionality we need will be already implemented.

The first CMS I investigated was Joomla! While I have heard of Joomla and CMSs, I never really investigated them until now. There's a wealth of information on the Joomla site and numerous other sites devoted to extensions. I found some of the things we were looking for, like an LDAP extension (so that users can use their UH login to authenticate) and an extension that allows subcategories for content (we hope to arrange the content based on a hierarchy that starts from the user's dorm floor and goes up to the entire state).

Of course, there's no better way to familiarize yourself with a piece of software than to download it and try it out yourself. It took a little bit of command line configuration with Apache and PHP, but I eventually got it to work. I plan on doing some digging around in the code to see if I can make changes.

Another interesting thing I found was the Community Builder plugin. This seems like it will provide most of the social networking functionality that we need. I haven't tried installing the extension yet, but it's something to look into.

I also started to look at Plone. Two websites in the department (the ICS website and the CSDL website) both use Plone. I'm a little hesitant to use Plone mostly because these two websites look almost identical. However, there are a lot of themes available for download. I also noticed that they have an LDAP plugin. I'm still looking into this CMS, but it seems like it has potential. Also, I've always wanted an excuse to learn Python (which is the language used in Plone). I'll have to ask Philip and see what he thinks since his lab is one of the sites that uses Plone.

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