November 12, 2009

An invitation to build with the UW’s Student Web Services

By admin

The term “web services” has been used frequently on this blog when discussing new tools for the University community. Some examples include m.UW, the UW’s iPhone app; an improved course catalog search; and Kuali, the next-generation student software initiative. With the fourth version of the Student Web Services (SWS) open and available for use, it’s time that the Office of the University Registrar officially invite interested developers (and their managers!) to dive and start creating new, useful tools.

Okay, but how do I start?

That’s a good question. Here are the ingredients necessary to get a SWS project off the ground:

  1. Join the community – The UW’s web services community is strong, and if you’re going to develop something using SWS you should get to know it. Read On the ROA, the UW’s web services blog; review ideas from other developers at UserVoice; and stop by at a Web Services Discussion Group meeting. Sign up on the “appdev@u” mailing list to be notified of meeting dates and locations.
  2. Identify a need – Have you wished there was a site that did X? Are your students asking for Y? Want to find a better way to display Z? Once you’ve identified something to build, fix, or improve upon, you can plan a web site, iPhone application or something else to accomplish it using the data available to you (see number 3).
  3. Research the services at your disposal – The Web Services Registry is a maintained list of UW web services, including a description and links to documentation and a contact person. You can also submit your own UW-centric web service to the registry. But don’t limit your idea to UW-specific data; maybe there’s another dataset that you could mash up it up with?
  4. Build it – Web services really shine when it comes to accessing data. If you’re using public information you can simply access the service you want and start using the data returned. And it’s easy to do so regardless of your preferred language: PHP, Python, .NET, Ruby on Rails, etc. There’s a PHP class already available to simplify things even further; a .NET version is in the works.

What about an example?

Part of the reason for inviting the community to built tools with SWS is the “serendipity” factor. With pubicly-available data and a whole community of smart people, the sky’s the limit on what sort of useful tools might emerge.

An example is the recent improvements to the University’s course catalog search. A developer in the Office of the University Registrar saw the data available, knew of the issues with the current Google-based search, and built a prototype replacement in just a few days. A presentation of this tool’s development was recently given at the Office of Information Management’s Community Forum (the developer’s slides are available for download).

So go ahead: wow your students and the University as a whole with your creation. Show us the tool we didn’t know we couldn’t live without.

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