Carol Minton Morris
If you could cross Amazon.com CTO Verner Vogels' "Two Pizza Team Rule" with what David Flanders, Project Manager, The Bloomsbury Colleges (and organizer of the summer of 2008 "Repository Road Show") compares to the "Penny Universities" of the 18th century that were convened in public coffee houses, you would get an event like a 'RepoCamp.' The open, non-territorial, and thought-provoking slogan for RepoCamp: "The coolest thing to do with your data will be thought of by someone else," inspired a series of events known altogether as the "CRIG Repository Roadshow," which was sponsored by the JISC Common Repository Interfaces Group (CRIG) during July of 2008.This novel forum designed to promote an open exchange of ideas attracted about 25 repository managers and developers of every stripe to attend one such event, RepoCamp at the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C. on July 25, 2008.
The idea for RepoCamp came out of similar "BarCamp" and "Unconference" events sponsored by UK and US software developers. These unstructured, rapid prototyping face-to-face gatherings are designed to speed up innovation. Instead of spending time in meetings discussing possibilities and planning for how to implement technology, RepoCamp participants quickly explain their ideas and write code together in an open environment. The Third International Open Repositories Conference (OR08) held earlier this year, for example, featured the Repository Challenge, also sponsored by CRIG, that was inspired by informal meeting styles for engaging repository developer communities.
During OR08 developers Ben O'Steen, Oxford University Research Archive (ORA), Dave Tarrant, and Tim Brody, Southampton University, won the CRIG $5000 prize by creating a prototype service that demonstrated enhanced reuse of repository content. The prototype was required to use two different repository platforms. The winning team's "Data Mining with ORE" project demonstrated how data could be moved from one repository to another using OAI-ORE, the new standard framework for moving and sharing digital objects between services. Data and content from an entire ePrints repository was deposited in a Fedora repository. Then the team moved all the content from a Fedora repository back into an ePrints repository.
O'Steen, Tarrant and Brody took what they learned at OR08 and went on to lead RepoCamp events across the US in July as part the CRIG Repository Roadshow. Read about what happened on the tour on their blog.
If You Go to RepoCamp
A typical day at RepoCamp goes something like this: Sharing of five minute "elevator pitches" loosely based on what's currently inspiring or bothering participants about managing, developing or running a repository; self-organizing around flip charts with notes from pitches so that people can gather to contribute insights around particular ideas; ad hoc prototyping with selected "gurus" who coordinate progress and help grab services off the web; and sharing conclusions with a new round of elevator pitches based on outcomes that can include step-by-step paper-prototypes, working interfaces or brand new ideas. The real RepoCamp wrap-up is traditionally conducted at a local bar where the best ideas seem to emerge. "Let's make a lot of mistakes and make them fast," is an often-repeated RepoCamp direction says Flanders. More challenging issues such as scalability, robustness, and interoperability are post-RepoCamp fodder.
Beyond Rapid Prototypes
CRIG takes an inclusive view of knowledge management in interfacing repositories with other services. Rachel Bruce, founder of CRIG along with Rachel Heery, observes, "These issues are global and not something to be dealt with solely within national boundaries." The opportunity to reach out to developers in the U.S. to create solutions with a series of RepoCamp events grew out of collaborations that were already taking place with DSpace, EPrints, and Fedora developers.
Sandy Payette, Executive Director of Fedora Commons, home of Fedora open source repository software, sees RepoCamp and other emerging programming events as being particularly useful for developers who enjoy social networking around problem solving leading to rapid prototyping. "It's a way to gauge interest on-the-spot," She said.
Immediately following RepoCamp at the Library of Congress, the DSpace Foundation and Fedora Commons, two of the largest providers of open source software for managing and providing access to digital content, announced plans to collaborate. Their decision was based on meetings held earlier where members of DSpace and Fedora Commons communities discussed multiple dimensions of cooperation and collaboration between the two organizations.
JISC CRIG organizers saw these and other collaborative community efforts aimed at achieving greater integration and interoperation as an opportunity to host U.S. Repository Roadshow events that wrapped up at the Library of Congress on July 25. JISC CRIG would like to extend special thanks to Ed Summers at the Library of Congress for helping to arrange RepoCamp there.
JISC is planning an academic developer-focused event in 2009 that will utilize lessons learned at the Library of Congress RepoCamp and in other venues (Flanders suggests, for example, that the conference dinner might be something like a massive video game party) to continue to work towards achieving that elusive but worthy goal of "interoperability" by building relationships among developers and programmers across academia. Look for an official announcement of JISC's "Developer Happiness Days" early in 2009.
Copyright © 2008 Carol Minton Morris