Sag Rising

Notes to Myself

Coding, Community, and the Habari Cabal

Posted by Richard Cockrum on May 23, 2008

I've been blogging for over two years now. Like most people, I started on a service, Blogger in my case. It didn't take me long to want more control than Blogger would give me, so I began looking around and found WordPress. For most of the time since then, WordPress has served me well. I built Shards of Consciousness on it, ran my software site, Cockrum Publishing with it, and created a web presence for my wife's and my movie house, the Ambridge Family Theatre, on the platform.

Then, the work of maintaining multiple installations of WordPress began to wear on me and I began wandering the web in search of alternatives that would be easier to maintain.

I found Habari. Four things about Habari caught my eye at first.

  • It had multisite capability. I would be able to run all my websites off one installation. When the platform changed, I only had to upgrade it once. If I installed a new theme or plugin, it could be available to all my sites. If this doesn't sound like a big deal to you, you've never had to maintain more than one site.
  • It supported multiple database backends, including SQLite. I've used SQLite in desktop applications. It's a serverless, single file database. It supports most standard SQL, is easy to backup and maintain, and easily has all the capabilities needed by most websites. I like it a lot.
  • I could grasp at least part of the code. I like to program. I've written desktop applications in C++. I know C and the basics of COBOL. I've been wanting to learn PHP and web programming for some time, but didn't have the knowledge to start from scratch, and would get lost in the code for something like WordPress. Habari seemed like the perfect vehicle to begin learning to program for the web.
  • It actually had a help file distributed with the software and linked from within it's admin pages, so if I had a question, I could refer to it for answers. If you've used much web software, especially open source software, you know what a refreshing change from having to scour the web for answers that is.

So I jumped in. I installed a web server and Habari on my computer and began playing with it. Being alpha software, it of course had bugs. In reading the code I found that I could actually see where some of the bugs were. To learn more about the software, I began reading the mailing lists. I learned how to use irc so I could read, and eventually participate in, #habari. To submit the bugfixes I came up with I learned to use TortoiseSVN, a Windows interface for subversion, and trac, the bug tracking software the Habari team uses. I started learning how to use XDebug, a debugger for PHP.

In short, I've been getting a good education in web programming and using the tools needed by a team of developers working on an open source software project. Oh, and I've been able to switch three of my sites over to Habari.

The one thing about software, or any technology for that matter, is that it serves a larger purpose. It isn't important in and of itself. It is a tool to enable other goals. The goal of blogging software is communication. It allows us to connect with other people - sometimes in our own town, more often in another state or country. We get to meet people we would never have been able to meet otherwise. Communities grow and develop.

Even more than the software, I've been impressed by the community aspect of Habari. With most software projects, the software is the focal point. The people matter insofar as they contribute to the software or use it, but as people, not so much. From it's beginning, the individuals behind Habari have put a strong emphasis on it's community. They help one another. They help strangers who come in. I've had some excellent mentors, even when they didn't know they were mentoring me, and met many new friends. There is a constant emphasis on ensuring there is no line between coders and users, documentation writers and theme designers. Community is as important, if not more so, than the software.

Today I was honored to be invited to join Habari's Project Management Committee, affectionately known as the cabal, along with Chris Meller and Blake Johnson, with all the privileges (including the, to me, frightening privilege of commit access to Habari's code trunk) and responsibilities (including being a formal part of Habari's community), that entails. After the shock wore off, I gratefully accepted (even though I had just seen MellerTime metaphorically thrown down a flight of steps in irc :) ).

Members of the PMC, thank you. I hope I can contribute as much to the Habari community as I've received from it.

MellerTime, blakej, congratulations!

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6 Responses to Coding, Community, and the Habari Cabal

Rick, thanks for this great post. Reading your success with Habari really reaffirms our driving vision. Your participation in the mailing lists and IRC has been a great addition, and we're grateful to have folks like you involved with the project.

It strikes me to notice that I havn't read this post until now although I got you in my feedreader. Weird.

I feel I can connect with this article, I too started to learn PHP with Habari. And although I am not learning as fast as you are (you geek!), I still feel that the way Habari was written is perfect to teach people not only how to write code in PHP, but how to write it right.

On top of the code itself are the people. I linger in tons of OS freenode channels and I never ever were in one like #habari. The friendliness, the will to help, the focus on the community as a whole. That was what got me to stick around and be part of this enriching experience.

I am going to shut it now ;)

Hi Ali,

Geek? Yeah. Fast learner? I wish. :)

One of the things I like about object oriented code is that it is so much easier to grasp than procedural code, and Habari makes good use of this characteristic. I'd probably still be at 1+1=2 if it weren't for it, though some of the characteristics of PHP, such as how it uses arrays and the creation of functions on the fly still looks like magic to me, magic I hope to grasp some day because it enables some amazing functionality.

I have no experience with irc other than #habari, but if #habari isn't the norm for irc channels, I'm glad for I haven't experienced them. I'm glad we both found it, and the group of people that frequent it.

What do you think?
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