A thought-exercise: Redbrick “Web 2.0″

I originally posted this on the Redbrick babble newsgroup. If you don’t know what Redbrick is, this entry will have little interest to you. However, I’m posting it here because I think it’s interesting and also I’m hoping that it might filter out to some of the other Redbrick users who don’t use the newsgroups.

I’ve recently setup Pligg for Redbrick. It’s only available to Redbrick users and you can only login with your Redbrick user name and password, thanks to the power of PubCookie. I only did this as a demo. I wanted Pligg for something else, but a few people have started using it.

Anyway, because of that some users had suggested Redbrick’s services are not very well integrated. There all little distinct bits and bobs, not really connected or talking to each other. i.e. There not “Web 2.0″. Now I think “Web 2.0″ is one of those bullshit phrases, however, the idea of integrated services much like MySpace is an interesting idea and I started thinking, a thought-exercise if you will. Here is how I would see Redbrick becoming “Web 2.0″…

BTW Any software I suggest is only because I’m familiar and have in some capacity setup, hacked or modified. I’m not saying they are the best in class, only that I know what can and can’t be done with them.

Backwards Compatibility

Forget it. The first thing to do is, get rid of the newsgroups. Why? Well any new service setup has to integrate with the newsgroups or worse… synchronise in some fashion. This is never well done and discourages use of the new service as people revert back to what works. Also, because it’s a set of newsgroups, readable via only an archaic text browser, it’s impossible to take advantage of the many new web-based applications (like Pligg) and integrate them to give a complete feel. You can’t extend newsgroups with new features!

Also our newsgroups do not archive and do allow us to reference a post in other software. A big pain if you want to integrate with something like Pligg and allow people to submit their “posts” for voting, for example. (On the flip-side it means there is nothing to save making it easier to ditch).

Then there are the inevitable comparisons. “This software sucks because it doesn’t do XYZ feature in SLRN”. I’ve heard arguments in the past in a different community on a mailing list from people who stubbornly didn’t want to have a web forum, cries of “splitting the community!” and that email is so much better than using a web interface. Do you see me shedding any tears? And there is also the social aspect to consider, people use it because they know it and everyone else is using it. Until the majority stop using it, the majority won’t move.

I’ll come to “hey” in a minute…

I’d like to point out that I’m not advocating that Redbrick does this, only that this is probably what is needed to “move forward” into Web2.0. I don’t think Redbrick would need to get rid of all its technical
services like shell access, user webspace, vhosting, etc. to do this either. Both can easily live side by side.

Now that we can start with a clean slate, what should Redbrick 2.0 do?

Now What?

The boards formed the social centre point for the users of Redbrick software. So to replace the newsgroups, we need a web forum. One that’s extendable, hackable and just plain cool. My personal preference is for Vanilla (http://getvanilla.com) which is a very nice looking piece of software and is certainly not like phpBB. We need to be able to easily extend the software and I’ve played with Vanilla and it’s quite easy to extend. It’s built on adding “extensions” and has extensions for RSS feeds, permalinks, signatures, bookmarked discussions, blocking categories, threads and users, etc. I haven’t tried integrating it with Vanilla but I’m pretty confident it can be done.

BTW It does have a spell checker plugin. This uses GoogleSpell, however it won’t work on Redbrick because it won’t work through the proxy with https. We’ll need to get curl installed on PHP to do it.

Now we can start integrating the other services. Let’s start with Pligg. To integrate with the Vanilla forum, we need to make a “virtual” category that actually submits a story to Pligg. A simple approach would be to create a theme for Pligg that matches the forum and then create an extension for Vanilla that shows Pligg has a category. Submission and voting would be still via Pligg.

With the Wiki, it depends on the level of integration we want. MediaWiki is a monster of a piece of software. Modifying the look and feel is a headache. The most basic integration would be that the “Talk Pages” actually go to discussions on the forum. This could be just redirection or something more integrated. I don’t particularly like the idea of importing Wiki entries from discussions posts or threads (or vice versa) but you could easily write an extension to autolink to Redbrick Wiki entries and there is a Wiki markup plugin available for Vanilla.

As for Planet… well Planet is good for the combined Redbrick Blogs feed. The best thing to do is have entries in Planet submitted as new stories to Pligg. The interesting ones get voted up and become “published”. It is questionable though if you want to provide users with web services like blogs, if they should be automatically submitted to Planet and Pligg or should it be an opt-in/out like service.


“Hey”: the other corner stone of Redbrick. It’s great now that Redbrick has a Jabber server. Why do we need Hey? For the same reasons as the newsgroups, why do we need to have a Jabber to Hey service?

I think people would need to start using Jabber more, in fact exclusively. Jabber and some magic web coding could be the greatest replacement for Hey. Like Gmail, when you’re browsing the new Web2.0 Redbrick forum, signed in to Pligg or the Wiki, you could have a “chat” window popup when someone tries to talk to you. It would be nice that you can also use Jabber to “hey” someone who happens to be logged in using a shell.

As for IRC and chat services… well, em, I don’t really use them too much. I leave that up to someone else.


“Tagging” stuff on Redbrick would be the big thing or the most challenging. Tags can be just superficial and give a nice visualisation/”tag cloud” of Redbrick or they can be useful like in Flickr where people use tags to group stuff.

You need some sort of API or service that would allow Redbrick users to freely add and remove tags from any forum thread, wiki page, pligg entry and possible from user’s webpages and blogs. I’m sure it can be done but it’d need some thought.

Making it look the same

I think this is a pretty major and important thing. If the services are integrated, they need to look the same. However this isn’t challenging. It’s just a lump of work that someone would have to do.

Frontpage or rather, bringing it all together

Yea. Redbrick Frontpage. If we’re going to have all these services really tightly integrated, the frontpage is the place to bring it together. This isn’t just “links” but rather a summary of the latest Wiki pages, new forum threads, published pliggs, etc. But that’s not all though, I mean if you’re like me, you’ll pick and choose the RSS feeds you want and never have to visit the Redbrick frontpage.

The frontpage has to encourage discussion, commentary, etc. In a sense, it should be more “blog” like. News should have comments and trackbacks so we know Redbrick bloggers are interested. It should have an RSS feed as basic! Podcasts and guest blog entries from Redbrick users. Rants from Associates, etc. Moderated by the current committee/admins. A sort of “best of Redbrick”, kind of place.


Why bother? Everything works well enough for us now. :)

Related Posts: