The School of Everything Science Department has been busy working on the innards of the site. The biggest chunk of work has been opening it up so that anyone around the world can create a teacher profile.
Until a little while ago, we used UK postcodes for our locations. If you happened to live in the right place, we could show everyone exactly where you were – not always a good thing. Unfortunately we had to turn away anyone from beyond the island because we couldn't plot them on a map. To fix this, we went back under the hood, and made some changes.
We now make use of Geonames (http://www.geonames.org), an open geographical database, to allow us to work in any country across the world. Since a large amount of the data is submitted by its users, there are some quirks, but on the whole, it’s an awesome tool (and, since the data is open, if we find a hole, we can plug it). So we can now allow anyone across the world mark their location on their profile.
We've also opened up our code. For those interested in our imperfections, the code is all downloadable from Drupal.org. (http://drupal.org/project/geomap, and http://drupal.org/project/geonames_cck) The modules are in their infancy, full of "TODO’s" and "wouldn’titbenice", but, they work well enough to be installed and used on any Drupal site.
The process of releasing open source code is time consuming, and it could seem like a waste of energy. You have to clean things up, document, debug all sorts of little things that could be much easier to just ignore. If you did not release things, no-one would know. Yet, when those links finally appeared on the Drupal website, it was pretty darn satisfying. Getting code to release state means we are building a solid foundation that will end up paying for all the time we spent on it. Small issues have been closed, the documentation is written, the niggling problems that can rise up and bite six months down the line have been addressed, rather than just swept under the carpet.
There are going to be challenges in staying open. We have to keep releasing our code, and as the year goes on, we are going to be under more and more pressure to deliver additional features. The Science Department may need to fight its corner to get time reserved for code cleaning and releasing, but hopefully, getting a bit of a habit ingrained now will mean that it gets easier as time goes on.
That’s enough I think. They only let us Science Guys out every now and then, and I have to get back to my machine now. But don't forget to tell someone to sign up as a teacher – wherever they are.