Code the Commons

Submitted by Data Commons Tech on Thu, 09/15/2011 - 09:33

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Tech

The Data Commons Cooperative is looking for programmers who are interested in developing robust systems to help grow the cooperative economy.  Are you in?

The Data Commons Cooperative is on a mission to create a democratically controlled, accurate, comprehensive, publicly searchable and updatable database of cooperative economic initiatives. We want to make knowledge of the history, current state, and evolution of the cooperative economy - as defined by its participants - a public good that all can draw on.

That's the easy part.  Here's the kicker.  We want that database to survive.  We've seen too many similar initiatives come and go. We're not looking to build a website that will one day die of neglect.  Or to accumulate a privately-held data trove that will one day disappear into a black hole.  Or to paint ourselves into a corner with disagreements about policing community boundaries.  We're looking for tech folk with experience with community aspects of software development to help shape our vision of how to do data collaboration right.

Here's what we've been doing so far.  We've been following two lines of development, one CONVENTIONAL and one CRAZY.  We need help with both, and in getting them to meet.

On the CONVENTIONAL front, we're building an online directory of cooperative economic initiatives (find.coop) that can be edited wiki-style. There are themed, filtered views of different slices of the directory, so different communities can have their own directory without balkanizing the data itself.  The code for the directory is free and open source.  It is written in Ruby on Rails.  We're looking for excellent web developers to push this work forward.  If you're not a Ruby developer, please don't let that turn you off - if you've worked with django or other MVC frameworks, you'll be able to run along just fine. We also need folks with other skill sets, including graphic design and ETL experience to help import data from our data sharing partners.

On the CRAZY front, we're looking at repeating the history of distributed software development, but this time for data.  We've created a diff/patch tool specialized for databases, and experimented with adapting a distributed revision control system to data-collection projects (see share.find.coop).  This technology seems remote and obscure to non techies, but it could change data-sharing across partially overlapping communities from being a pain to being fun.  The code for this work is also free and open source.  It is written in C++.

We're also making use of emerging data services such as the Data Hub (formerly CKAN), and ScraperWiki, to release member-contributed data as early as possible.  We're working to get this data under clear open data licenses, analogous to free software licenses.

All of our work is open source.  Programmers who want an opportunity to learn are welcome.  Most of our work is done on a volunteer basis, with some paid projects arising as our funding allows.  So far members of the Data Commons Cooperative are all in the US and Canada, but the cooperative economy doesn't have borders.

Contact us with a brief description of your interest, and we'll find a way to plug you in. Or lurk on our mailing list to get a sense for how we operate.

Find out more

Data Commons Tech Team

Our tech team has has worked together on code sprints or asynchronously on separate projects.  Here's a short list of some of the participants.

Jim Johnson, worker-member, Sligo Computer Services. Jim Johnson has been a statistical website engineer with Sligo Computer Services since 1999, has been building websites professionally since 1995, and has been designing and developing databases since 1982. He has been responsible for all aspects of the analysis, design, development, and deployment of numerous database applications and data-driven web applications. Prior to joining Sligo, Jim was the IT consultant for Takoma Park-Silver Spring Food Co-op, and was responsible for managing all aspects of the Co-op’s transition from two cash registers to a four-lane point-of-sale system, including the creation of the product database and the migration and upgrade of the membership database. Sligo Computer Services is a worker cooperative based in Takoma Park, MD, specializing in database programming services since 1985.

Benjamin Bradley, worker-owner, GAIA Host Collective and Ronin Tech Collective. Benjamin has been working with computers and developing software applications for over 12 years. He earned a Computer Science degree at the University of Texas at Austin in 2002. Benjamin worked in the corporate world for a few years before joining the Gaia Host Collective in early 2007 and Ronin in 2009. At Ronin, he enjoys working with Ruby on Rails, Perl, PHP, and MySQL, along with many other languages. GAIA Host Collective is a cooperatively owned and run Internet hosting company with an environmental and social mission. GAIA Host provides a suite of hosting options, based on open source software, including domain registration, shared server web/email hosting, virtual dedicated servers, and managed dedicated servers.

 

Jason Mott, worker-owner, Ronin Tech Collective. Jason Mott has over 11 years experience in various positions engineering large scale high availability web applications for clients such as Kodak, Paychex, Frontier Telephone, Agrilink Foods, and Element K. His experience involved designing and implementing software using Perl, Java Server Pages, Enterprise Java Beans, as well as Oracle and MySQL databases. He has also presented at tech conferences and has been published in C/C++ Users Journal, and The Linux Journal. He is a former member of Brattleboro Tech Collective and the founding member of Ronin Tech Collective, where he actively does Perl and Ruby on Rails engineering work for organizations such as Social Actions, SRI World Group, Reconnecting America, Collective Copies, and more. Ronin Tech Collective is a worker cooperative based in Brattleboro, VT, specializing in open-source website development and consulting, including content management system (CMS) installations, database migrations, and in-depth custom web application development.

 

Paul Fitzpatrick is a co-founder of Robot Rebuilt. He is a developer for the ICUB project, a team leader at the Italian Institute of Technology, and was formerly a postdoctoral lecturer at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).  Paul has a background in artificial intelligence, robotics, and engineering, with a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from MIT, and a BEng in Computer Engineering from the University of Limerick, Ireland. He has worked as a software engineer in the fields of robotics, process control and automation, and static verification. He is a regular instructor at the Veni Vidi Vici humanoid robotics summer schools.  Paul grew up on a small farm in Ireland. There were goats involved. He now lives in Montclair, New Jersey. There are fewer goats involved.