By Anna Powell-Smith, freelance web developer.
I recently attended the Collaborations Workshop as a supported developer: thanks to SSI for organising a very interesting two days. I'm a freelance web developer, and I came to the Collaborations Workshop partly to show off my Open Domesday project, the first free online copy of Domesday Book. But I also came to learn about the cutting edge of software in British academia, and observe the challenges that academics face when producing open data and open source code.
After a thought-provoking series of workshops, discussions and lightning talks, I could write a long, reflective post about the nature of programming within academia, and how to create the incentives needed for research to produce great software as well as great papers.
However, I found that the most productive discussions I had over the course of the workshop were highly practical. So I thought I would share some services that I use as a developer, and that - based on my observations over the workshop - might provide simple, tangible, benefits for technically-minded academics too.
Tip 1: Sharing knowledge though QA
I use the question-answering StackOverflow day in, day out to help me code. I couldn't be a developer without it. It struck me that many academic disciplines might like a similar community question-answering board - where users can ask questions, vote for the best answer, and award other users points for helping out.
Luckily, setting up your own system is straightforward. One option is StackExchange, the software that powers StackOverflow. StackExchange is already setting up a bunch of communities based on its software - there's an active maths site, and proposals for others ranging from neuroinformatics to paleontology that you can support.
If you'd rather roll your own site, there's OSQA. This is a free, open-source clone of the StackExchange software, easy for any sysadmin to set up.
Tip 2: Productivity and collaboration
Just three small, but hopefully useful, recommendations:
Tip 3: Becoming a coder
If you already have HTML and CSS skills but struggle to get sites looking professional, the new and very exciting Twitter Bootstrap is your friend. It's a collection of flexible, adaptable design elements that massively simplify the process of putting a site together.
Tip 4: The open data community
Finally, academics interested in collaboration and open data might like to know about the Open Knowledge Foundation and its work promoting open science: