PKP Quick Study: Campus Conexion's Jamie Fowlie
About twice a month PKP will send a list of general questions to a user of our software who is doing interesting things, such as publishing in interesting ways; special customizations; plugin or development work; extended institutional integration work; and so on. The resulting questionnaire will be published on this page, and publicized on our blog. Prospective candidates for these interviews can send an email to pkp-support [AT] pkp.sfu.ca.
Who we are:
I specialize in providing ITC support for Higher Education institutions in Europe. This means finding ways to develop websites for research projects, departments, and faculties. It also means exploring ways to integrate all the activities of an academic discipline through simple web tools to facilitate communication and promote intellectual activity. To achieve this I focus on knowledge portals, e-learning platforms, language and translation services, and now conference and journal systems thanks to the development of platforms and software created by the PKP. I am neither a computer programmer, a designer, nor a student of IT. I am a Canadian living far away from home trying to keep his head afloat of all the ITC developments that can be of use to academic communities in one way or another. For this reason CMS platforms appeal to me, and especially the PKP. I want end users to have a positive experience in creating dynamic web content, and not have to struggle through a learning curve to do it.
Our path to this software was:
Through OCS. I have been developing a CMS concept for conference web services for years. I had also started using some Joomla! components to manage on-line journals, but have never been satisfied with the results, even implementing 3rd party commercial components I have had difficulty in finding a product that isn’t pushing distracting elements like adverts and overly graphic displays. OJS impressed me because it is based on and promotes an academic perspective. The same is true of OCS, which responds to some very important needs in the academic running of conferences and seminars, especially in the European context where multilanguage requirements and ease of use from the end user perspective are vital to their success.
The features that help us in particular include:
The administration and management of the submission process from start to finish. This is what you will not find anywhere in other software that works so well, and that has a healthy community of programmers and users behind it.
Features we would love to see in this software include:
Small things are needed in OCS for now. For example, greater control over dates, time blocks, and their respective display. Probably these things need to be extracted from the way they are entered currently in the database, and controlled through a separate module, like the Joomla "Events Calendar", or as an agenda approach like we see in e-elearning modules like Moodle and Dokeos. Most interesting to me today would be to find a way to integrate the commonalities of an OCS and OJS installation. This would mean an easy way to synchronize users, papers, abstracts and the selection process. I see an enormous advantage in using OJS to publish Papers and Keynotes as conference proceedings after the conference has finished. A module approach to OCS and OJS which I believe is in the roadmap for PKP would make it unnecessary to build up an OJS version of the OCS conference, thereby reducing the time and steps needed to quickly more papers across the two platforms. The best we have to date is the "quick submit" plugin [new in OJS 2.3 -- ed.], which is a step in the right direction, but could be even more improved if we could synchronize users and papers automatically.
We have been doing some interesting things with this software. For example:
My main project with this software has been investigation of the possibility of integration of PKP software with Joomla CMS. I don’t exclude Drupal in this by any means, only that I am not as familiar with Drupal and am yet to be convinced, at the level of component, module and plug-in development, that Drupal has any advantages over Joomla. In fact, I hesitate to move to Drupal because of this lack. My interest in doing this is to support our projects here in Spain, but with an eye on the European market, for developing conference web services, knowledge portals (research projects and electronic journals) held together with linguistic services for non-native speakers of English.
In my work integrating PKP with Joomla I have settled on working with a plug-in system. What does this mean? Integration has 3 paths.
- Merely inter-linking Joomla portal with OCS portal. This can be achieved without any problem, if, and only if, one wants to have 2 “looks”: The Joomla look based upon its template for developing content related, for example to an organization, its activities, its blogs, its membership etc. and a second “look” which would be the OCS and/or OJS application, running a separate (perhaps modified) template. This is really about moving back and forth between applications without an serious dynamic integration (users, seamless template design etc.). For some organizations this is not a problem if they don't mind that the look and feel of their journal resembles their organizational portal.
- User integration using a single login plug-in. This allows us to create content freely between any of the three platforms: Joomla, OJS and or OCS, all held under a Joomla template. For this we want seamless integration of the user experience. Users login ONCE, and can navigate freely through all the menus without knowing, or having to know, if they are receiving content derived from OJS, OCS, or Joomla. This is done utilizing Joomla wrappers (iframes) and is sometimes a little finicky. This integration also permits managers to opt out of some content areas of OCS or OJS, for example, announcements, and use the extremely versatile and more complex news and news flash, FAQ, web links, calendar functions etc. components of Joomla. What is important here too is that OCS and OJS managers can add content without having to navigate to each platform's administrative pages: we merely generate a single set of admin links from all three platforms under ONE menu heading: Management, so that adding a user, allocating a paper to a session, creating a paypal registration, publishing conference proceedings through OJS are all achieved from a single management set of menu links. Additionally we do this with a single look by using ONE template for all 3 platforms.
- Total integration is perhaps more desirable, and is not, at present, in consideration. Three reasons:
- We must spend more time on the previous form of integration until we understand everything that is needed to work with 3 distinct platforms.
- PKP platforms are still under rigorous development. It would be an error to take the current production stable platforms and work with them. We need to see how much further PKP intends to go before attempting a total integration approach.
- The cost. Total integration of Joomla with PKP essentially means taking all the code and creating an installable Joomla Component based upon it. i.e. ONE installation of Joomla, and we merely install the OJS and OCS components. No more wrappers, no more creating menu systems: everything under one roof. Developing components for Joomla is extremely time consuming, costly, and uncertain. It is not in my immediate plans to move forward on this until I have more resources (to invest) and unless I am convinced there is a need: at present I have had very little interest expressed even for the plug-in.
Any further thoughts:
When I make choices about CMS open sourced software and platforms, or any software for that matter, I am always concerned with 4 things: community, support, quality software, price.
And in that order. I see no point in focusing on cost as an important element in software purchase. What matters is the community behind the software, and related, the support one can find at the programming level. I am not here to promote PKP for any specific purpose, but I think it is important, when you have something to say, and you believe in, you express it: the PKP project is, in my opinion, one of the best open source projects alive today. The community behind it is fantastic, if only a little small in size (but that makes sense as it is a very defined field). The support that comes with it is top notch. It is excellent. This does not mean that if I have a problem, they solve it, it means they want to help me to solve it. And their responses are always the most courteous and fully explained you will find. The software speaks for itself. It is an excellent product: in terms of OJS, better than anything you can find, at cost, in Joomla or other CMS systems, and OCS is miles ahead of the 6 or 7 similar projects I have tested in the past years. So I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone involved in this ambitious project.