The workaholics making up Team Elgg continue to win friends and gain influence:
Elgg recently appeared in NetworkWorld's 2006 Vendors to the All-Stars major industry player dominated list as Saugus Union School District (California, US) won an award in the Applications category for their use of the platform.
Over in the UK, The University of Brighton just added to Elgg's international portfolio of implementations - the process is being well blogumented by Stan Stanier. They're also continuing to work on new and improved features which are going to be previewed in Oxford this week, informally (i.e. beer will be available to buy in the immediate vicinity) at Tuesday's user group meetup and at Wednesday's EIfEL Plugfest.
If all this wasn't enough, they're just about to launch Elgg Spaces. Unsurprisingly, the indomitable Leon Cych already scooped me on the Spaces venture with his interview with Ben Werdmuller over at Y.uk?
- but hey, maybe your speakers are broken. Dave Tosh and Ben W. were nice enough to answer some questions - thanks guys!
Who’s involved in the Elgg team?
The core of Elgg is Dave Tosh and Ben Werdmuller: we developed the idea collaboratively around the time we were both still working at the University of Edinburgh, and it's still the two of us that develop most of the ideas and keep the project turning. We've got a pretty good split between us, which means that, once we've decided what we're going to do, Ben spend most of his time sitting writing code and Dave will develop interfaces and spend time talking to potential users and customers. We both put a lot of hours in, because ultimately, we really believe in it - we've been doing this for almost three years already, and we want to see it work.
We've been lucky over the past year or so to have the involvement of Misja Hoebe from CHN University, who has become an integral part of our team. He's brought in a very handy third perspective, and it's always useful having a third person when you're voting on whether to do something or not. There have been a huge number of three-way Skype calls between us, talking about virtually every Elgg feature that's emerged since last summer.
More recently, we've been working with Chris Johnson, a Sloan MBA who until recently was part of OpenCourseWare, and Sasan Salari, one of the co-founders of WebCT. Again, they've brought invaluable perspectives, this time relating to how we do business and market to the outside world - something we haven't necessarily been so good at.
Finally, Kevin Jardine has been working with us of late. He used to be head of cyberactivism at Greenpeace, and has been hard at work coding OpenID and a new presentation tool, amongst other things for Elgg (some of this development work has been made possible by OpenAcademic – a project we set up with Bill Fitzgerald and Marc Poris, see below). As a programmer he's incredibly sharp and insightful, and we're really lucky to have him on board for these functions.
We're also working with Bill Fitzgerald and Marc Poris over at Funny Monkey on the OpenAcademic project, which integrates Elgg, Drupal, MediaWiki and other projects together into a turnkey educational solution.
One of the real strengths of Elgg has been that nobody on the project, apart for us (Ben and Dave), would be working with us if they hadn't found the project through the software itself. The Elgg team itself serves as proof that Elgg works well for bringing people with similar interests together.
Can you explain the difference between Elgg, Curverider and Elgg Spaces?
Curverider Ltd is the company we set up to provide Elgg support, development and consultancy services. If you want to use Elgg and have access to the level of commercial support you'd expect with a commercial partner, we provide that. These’s also Elgg Spaces and a series of commercial blogs, and planning and preperation going on around a bunch of additional services that will be emerging in the near future in the future.
Elgg Spaces is a service provided by Curverider that allows anyone to run an Elgg installation without installing it on their own servers. You sign up to the site, fill in some information, and your installation is automatically set up. We maintain the server and keep Elgg updated to the latest stable version. It's subscription based, with options to add extra plugins in the future.
It's perfect for people who don 't want the hassle of their own installation and maintenance.
How did Elgg Spaces come about?
Ben: We think Elgg is a great product, but the major issue is that a lot of the people who want to use it don't have the technical skills to install it or the relevant infrastructure. If they do, great: they can still always grab the latest version for free, and we do standard open source things like make our code repository world-readable so anyone can grab the latest version of the code as we work on it. But more and more people were asking us if we could host it for them, and it made sense to create a service for this.
It's priced very fairly, so that even if you do have the IT infrastructure to support Elgg in-house, it may be more cost effective to just buy an Elgg Spaces account, particularly when you factor in the upgrades. We're likely to provide some Spaces-specific functionality, too, including services for business intranets.
Dave: The thing about new technologies and approaches is that users should be spending their time using the software, exploring the possibilities it affords and get use from it – not worrying about the install, upgrades, bug fixes etc. this is why Elgg Spaces was developed; to let people use Elgg for what it was designed for, without any hassle. Plus, plenty of people were asking for it, so it made sense.
Whats the level of interest been so far in Elgg Spaces?
It's been huge; Elgg Spaces is definitely the #1 thing we're asked about. Our list of people who want to be notified when we release it to the public is growing pretty long, and we're really excited about emailing them all and letting them in.
I think for a lot of people it just makes more sense, and Elgg is now at the level where it can support this kind of heavy use. There are still a lot of people who haven't been able to see what it can do, and Elgg Spaces should really help that. Even in-house, it's making it a lot easier for us to create new installations for people. We have a couple of pet projects we'll quietly release amongst all the customer sites.
What do the Elgg Team see themselves doing over the next couple of years?
Ben: By this time next year, Elgg will have hit version 1, and I genuinely believe it will have become one of the most influential e-learning software platforms in the world. We have a whole set of ideas we haven't implemented yet, and I think distributed authentication - the ability to participate in all kinds of different communities all over the web but still retain your single login and profile - is going to be revolutionary. We're also hard at work developing a full open API to make it easier for people to build awesome plugins to stick on top of Elgg; we've already got some neat ones from people like Orange, but it's important to us that the barrier for extending Elgg is as low as it can possibly be.
When you put those things together with existing features like multiple languages, site-wide tagging, granular RSS and access restrictions on individual items on data, this is going to change the way people look at collaborative environments.
And to think we give it away for free ...
I think over the next couple of years the landscape of e-learning will change significantly, at least in terms of what people want out of the tools they use. I think we will be an integral part of that.
Dave: That is a hard question to answer as you never know what twists and turns life throws at you; this equally applies to software development. Elgg is shaping up well and we are noticing a considerable change in the way people look at learner centered environments.
We don’t learn, or work or live in isolation or in silos : Elgg recognizes and facilitates the connections that people want to make and the ways people want to learn and interact.
If nothing else, I hope it gets more people talking about the potential of what is out there and how it can be used.