Blackboard collaborate

I’ve just been working on a site that integrates with Blackboard Collaborate. I just thought I would say something about it here as when I looked for information from a developers point of view there wasn’t a lot online.

What Blackboard Collaborate is

Its a conferencing solution where you can voice/video chat and share desktop and a white board divide members of a meeting into rooms and have sub meetings etc. So like a conferencing solution. Its probably easiest to actually try it out rather than me describe it. They have a testing/configuration room here.

If you interested you can sign up for a demo via their site that gives you your own room you can play with and invite delegates to.

The Good

  • You get a video and voice sharing sessions that aren’t affected by web browsers. Its all written in Java and you launch via a java web start file. So in theory you shouldn’t have to install software on anyones machine.
  • Its ment to be quite undemanding on the specification of client machines and the quality of the internet connection.
  • You can be hosted on their servers so you don’t have to deal with hosting software on your own machines.
  • They have an api so you can set up sessions remotely and add attendees and moderators leaders. And give each attendee a url to login directly with no passwords/usernames.
  • Because they have an API you should be able to integrate with it via your programming language of choice as long as you can use SOAP. I guess in theory it would be easiest to use Java, but I used PHP and it was fine.
  • You do get a contact who you can ask questions directly.

The Bad

  • Cost – I’m not sure how much exactly (the client is paying but they said a lot) on the other hand Adobe Connect is more.
  • Location – their servers seem to be based in North America so it can be slower if your outside of the US. Seems most of their clients are based in North and South America but that might just be my perception. That can make there maintenance times our UK morning and their people start work our lunch time.
  • If you search online there isn’t a great deal of experience online dealing with their API. On the other hand they do provide you with good pdf documentation of the API and requests once you have signed up.
  • It uses java and downloading the java web start file can confuse people its not a massively common file type. The thing is to always open/run the ‘meeting.jnlp’ file.

Notes for other developers

These are some of the things that threw me a little.

  • You want to be using a 64bit OS to develop on as they specify session start times with a specifity that goes beyond what you can achieve on 32bit. If you use a 32bit OS all your session start times appear in the past to their server as they get truncated.
  • The information they give you to login to the web control interface is different from that which you need to use to access the API.
  • The .wsdl file isn’t available at all on the live server. On their test server it is. When they say to cache the wsdl file they don’t mean temporarily. Grab it from their test server and then use that local copy permanantly.
  • In their web interface you need to have java enabled in your browser or you end up with some blank admin webpages. Which was a bit confusing until I viewed source.

The alternatives

I don’t know a lot about the alternatives my client only investigated Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate. I’d be interested if anybody does know of an alternative. It seems that Elluminate which got taken over by blackboard and became blackboard collaborate had fans.

Interesting Blogs

I spend quite a lot of time reading other peoples blogs. Here are some of the recent posts I’ve been reading which I found interesting or useful. Some of these might have been around for while before I came across them but they are new to me.

  1. If php had a flux capicitor  РDistilled wiseness from Matt, but no pictures of DeLoreans or Doc Brown :).
  2. The MicroPHP Manifesto – An interesting idea I can see sense in it.
  3. Grumpy Programmer – opiniated, but some useful stuff in there. He also does a podcast with Ed Finkler at dev/hell
  4. Lorna Jane did a series of posts on how she builds a RESTful PHP Server at Understanding the request, Routing the request and Output handlers.
  5. Derick Rethans on spatial indexes from open street map. You too can find out where the nearest pubs to you are (or more useful stuff).
  6. Roger Johansson is always worth reading at 456bereastreet.com about web development with a special focus on accessibly. I found this one visited link styling, about what css styles you can use to signify visited links taking into account recent browser privacy settings, useful.

Going to PHP UK Conference 2012

Went to the PHP UK Conference 2012 last week. It was very neat, I was a volunteer so I missed out on some sessions and got a random choice of talks depending on which track I was assigned to at any one time. Lucky dip was fine saves you making decisions. Its also nice to talk to other developers when you usually work on your own. You can reassure yourself that your somewhere on the right level and heading in the right direction. Here are some of the sessions I was in the room for.

Rasmus gave his perspective on PHP development and left me thinking that simple is better.

Davey Shafik gave a talk about the new bits of PHP 5.4 its more than just [1,2,3] instead of array(1,2,3). slides

Nikolay Bachiyski from automattic spoke about how they organise wordpress.com to account for multiple data centres and 35million ish users. 100 commits a day on average from 50 different users. slides

Derick Rethans did a session on tools for profiling your PHP applications performance. slides

Hugh Williams from Ebay gave the opening keynote on the second day, I’ve never really got on with ebay I just find it irritating but its interesting to see the scale of what they do: HUGE, and also learning about the consolidation of their numerous api’s at ql.io

Andy “Bob” Brockhurst talked about how they organise stuff at the BBC, varnish, caching, standardisation on the ZEND Framework. Was surprised by how few servers they actually use 40ish. I imagined a lot more. slides

Went to a session on MongoDb which I had not played with but was pretty interesting gave me an idea of the kind of projects it would be well suited for. slides

Bert Van Hauwert talked about powering your site using real time data using XMPP and why you would use XMPP rather than web sockets. He also gave pretty good instructions on how to the server up and running. We overran a bit because my watch was running slowly, but he did very well to get his hour long talk in over just 45 minutes. slides

Thanks to all the organisers for all their hard work getting the conference together. Many were looking exhausted by the end.

Symfony

Jakub Zalas gave a talk at PHP London last night about Symfony components.
Not something I knew much about so interesting to hear about. YAML component sounds good and Event Dispatcher component seemed like it might be useful too. They also have a Finder that allows you to find files and directories. I’m not sure what I’d use it for (but i’m sure it would come in useful somewhere).
You can use the components independently of the framework. Jakub said the community is very good and the documentation is being expanded quite fast, what I’ve seen looks quite good.

Oh and the components have nice logo pictures so that is me won over. I’ll add them to my list of technologies to poke.

Perhaps the next thing I build will be in Symfony or involving it any way.