Pleiades software reuse

2012-03-26T17:19:43Z in programming, community, digital humanities, software engineering

Yesterday I read Melissa Terras On Making, Use and Reuse in Digital Humanities:

That's right. The code we made is now in use by another institution, to do their own transcription project. Hurrah!

It was always our aim in Transcribe Bentham to provide the code to others: it was a key part of our project proposal. But you always have to wonder if that is going to happen. Its the kind of thing that everyone writes in project proposals. And whilst lots of people talk about making things in Digital Humanities, and whether or not you have to make things to be a Digital Humanist, we've shied away - as a community - from the spectre of reuse: who takes our code and reappropriates it once we are done? How can we demonstrate impact through the things we've built being utilised beyond just us and - quite frankly - our mates?

So I'm happy as larry that the code we developed, and the system we have built, is both useful to us, but is now useful to others. I'm not sure how much I want to prod the sleeping monster that is general code reuse in Digital Humanities... dont draw attention to our deficiencies!

But I would be delighted if anyone else could point me to examples where code and systems in Digital Humanities were repurposed beyond their original project, just as we would wish?

I was unable to persuade Recaptcha to let me leave a comment and congratulations on Melissa's blog, so am writing a brief post here. TL;DR Transcribe Bentham: congrats! My own horn: toot! toot!

To my knowledge, no one has set up another instance of Pleiades as a gazetteer. But code written for Pleiades gets reused more and more widely the further down in our stack you look. I designed it to be modular and reusable – a stack of tools, not a single tool – so I'd be disappointed if that wasn't the case. I'll explain how it works for us.

Pleiades uses the Plone (and Zope) web application framework. Our Plone products and packages have taken on a life of their own as the collective.geo project. IW:LEARN is a good example of a collective.geo site. Contributions to collective.geo by almost 20 other people have been making Pleiades better. And this is just the start of our reuse story.

Pleiades and collective.geo Zope and Plone packages are based on Python GIS packages spun off from Pleiades such as Shapely, Rtree, and Geojson. At PyCon a couple of weeks ago, I ran into a lot of Shapely users. I saw it mentioned on slides in talks and on posters in the poster session. Famous web and geography hackers even write about using Shapely from time to time. Shapely feature-wise, Pleiades now gets as much back from others as we give out. This is a fantastic position to be in.

Digging deeper in the stack, I've contributed (as "sgillies") to the development of GEOS as part of my work on Pleiades, so Pleiades has thereby played a tiny role in making thousands of open source GIS programs and web sites more spatially capable. A Python protocol for sharing geospatial data that we invented for Pleiades has been implemented rather widely in GIS software. Anywhere you see __geo_interface__ and shape() or asShape(), or programmers sharing data as GeoJSON-like Python mappings, that's the impact of Pleiades. The GeoJSON format itself has some of its roots in Pleiades.

Even if no one ever sets up another Pleiades site, we're having a significant impact on GIS software and systems, even on big time GIS software being used for Spatial Humanities work. The keys to having a similar impact are, in my mind, 1) modularization and generalization to increase the number of potential users and contributors, and 2) a policy of open sourcing from day zero instead of open sourcing after completion of the project – and after people have lost interest and moved on to other software.

Comments

1open sourcing from day zero

Christian Ledermann, 2012-03-27T06:02:11Z

+1

Release often, release early. It is important to let the community know what you are up to, though it might feel a little embarrassing to make unfinished buggy alpha code available to the public it has big advantages. E.g. when I released the alpha of collective.geo.index the UI was unfinished and ugly, not one of my priorities. It would probably still be unfinished and ugly if it was not for David who gave the UI some TLC just days after the initial announcement.

Thank you very much for your hard work and your great products :)

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