Early last week we had our monthly SubCAT meeting where we flesh out what’s been going on for the last month and what we’d like to get done in the future. A big part of these meetings is prioritizing new features and going through feedback we’ve received about the site from users who’d like changes implemented. It’s also a good time to circle wagons and make sure we haven’t missed something. One of the big announcements at this last meeting was that our lead developer, Boone Gorges @boonebgorges, has officially joined the BuddyPress Core Team as a core committer. I’ll let Boone explain what exactly that means in his own words , but it’s enough to say here that’s a huge deal and we’re all proud of him.
I’ve written before about the more tangible aspects of the Commons and what we do to link the CUNY community together, but it’s worth taking some time to discuss some of the lofty parts of the Commons that maybe we don’t talk about enough. As Boone put it, BuddyPress gave him “the keys to the car” because you can’t go on a road-trip unless someone knows how to drive. But the thing about open source projects is that everyone gets to pick a place on the map to visit. Hundreds of WordPressers (Buddyites?) contribute to their code everyday, creating better widgets, better themes, new features and generally just working together to build something wonderful…and most of them do it for free.
It’d be a little too strong to say that everyone who contributes their time and talent to open source projects for no money is doing it for some subversive ideological reason. A lot of open source work comes from the same place that sends people out to their garages to tinker around with dead lawnmowers, spare car parts or old motherboards – sometimes it’s just fun to see what happens. The boom in the open source ethos and the myriad websites, software and other innovations that have come to life in the last ten years because of it also speaks to something that many of us around CUNY have long known; learning, innovation and growth can be priceless.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to think back to CUNY’s free days as something akin to analog open-source. For 126 years New Yorkers could sign themselves up for a free education, learn and then come back to society with more to give. Granted their taxes paid for their education so free isn’t exactly the right word, but then again even open source websites have to pay for servers and power. The point is that “open source” isn’t a new idea, it’s an idea that finds ways to express itself time and time again.
What is new is watching how the intersection of open source and education has come around in the form of edupunk. It wasn’t that long ago that Jim Groom’s ‘The Glass Bees‘ led to the Chronicle of Higher Education declaring that tech-savvy punk professors were taking a stand against the gross homogenization of online academic tools and its dodgy implications. While there’s no doubt that the ubiquity of a product like BlackBoard leaves some of us in education uneasy, I think it’s important to look at the other side of edupunk and the internet – you can do it yourself. Anyone with a little time to spare and some curiosity can learn the tools of the trade and write some code. Granted it takes work and practice, and it’s a well known fact that those of us in education have nothing but free time (whole summers off!), but if there’s something out there you really want, you can build it – and there’s probably tons of open source base codes out there to help you get started.
The idea that contributing something for free because it will make things better for yourself and others finds expression in a lot of places, but I think it’s important to look at the ways in which CUNY has fundamentally stood for that and still tries to provide the best education in the world for a little as possible. While the Commons isn’t explicitly open-source, any one in the community can build something through WordPress/BuddyPress that could possibly be used here. More immediately, your feedback on the site tells us the directions to go in and what we can do to make things better. Broadly speaking our job is to use the internet to bring CUNY together so that the greatest amount of collaboration and exchange can happen while taking advantage of the embarrassing wealth of knowledge and passion that’s found in you.