Introducing The Hull Computer Science Blogs Workgroup

I’ve found that for projects like this is useful to have a Facebook group as most people at uni check Facebook more often than their Email Inbox

You may recall that earlier this year I started work on a Windows Phone 7 application for HullCompSciBlogs.com, this quickly progressed into a full scale project to make sure that the 3 smartphone operating systems with the highest market share had an application available. So far we already have a Windows Phone 7 app available on the Windows Phone Marketplace and an Android App available on Google Play.

Cameron is still working hard on the iOS application and expects that it will be available through iTunes in the very near future! When we were discussing this we both agreed that the back end system needed a complete revamp.

When I was designing the Windows Phone 7 application I decided on using XML as the data interchange format, mainly because I was getting used to using LINQ which means that an XML based solution is very easy to implement in C# for Windows Phone. I never expected that it would turn into a full scale project and instead expected that it would remain my own personal project. Probably a silly idea in hindsight considering that the Hull CS Blogs very fundamental idea is that of a community. Not only is XML not as well supported out-of-the-box on certain other fruity platforms, its not the best format for the job. In my opinion JSON is much better because it provides the same data in a much smaller file due to its simpler syntax.

The Data Interchange Format is just one niggle with the system, the other is that it is at the moment a bit of a pain to update. I have to manually edit an XML file to create, edit or update information on featured applications and contributors — which is based on my portion of Freeside, so no one else has access rights in order to update it themselves. There’s also currently no system for someone to submit their blog to our system and have it reviewed before becoming publically viewable. So the addition, removal and editing of contributor profiles and blog feeds isn’t exactly the perfect solution at the moment.

The final big issue with the system is that we simply don’t keep enough data on our contributors. The system we are currently proposing will keep the following details for contributors:

  • A display picture
  • Their full name
  • URL’s for both their website and blog RSS feed
  • Twitter Username
  • LinkedIn Username
  • Reddit Username
  • Date they joined HCSB
  • Study Year
  • Study Programme

Whereas at the moment we only keep their Name, Twitter username and Blog RSS url. We’ll also keep information on applications developed by students and lecturers who attend the university including:

  • Platform
  • Release date
  • Name
  • Version
  • Price
  • License type
  • Description

At this point we need to think about security because we carry a lot of information. It then becomes a bit more of a project that needs to be handled by more than one person, and instead handled by a team of competent computer scientists, and wheres better to source them than from the list of contributors itself? Therefore yesterday I put together the Hull CS Blogs Workgroup consisting of the current mobile application developers, John Van Rij — who set HCSB up initially — and a few people I thought would be helpful in producing a back end.

The basic aims of The HCSBW is to create a community based around Computer Science at the University of Hull based on an open JSON api that can be expanded on and improved by University students for years to come (one of the reasons why the whole system will only be written in language formally taught within the university itself) allowing students to improve their career prospects by getting their story out there for employers to see.

It will all begin properly in freshers week where the team and I will be presenting to the new first year computer scientists in an attempt to get them interested in Hull Comp Sci Blogs and indeed blogging itself. I’ll be sure to write about how our software project and social project of getting people on board works.

Danny.

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