Enabling Collaboration

I installed Socialtext on a system at AMI (and hey, who knew, it’s actually *less* work to install on debian etch than on ubuntu dapper) so that various groups could use it for project coordination and collaboration. So far my workspace is just me writing a boat-load of pages, but I have hope that it will turn out to be an excellent way to communicate progress and record our thoughts.

Once the system was set up, I decided to make an IRC server so that I can actually hang out with the people I work with, even though they’re in a whole nother part of the state. Since I had a debian box, and since I am very lazy, I looked to see what I could get with apt and ended up with ircd-hybrid. Took some fussing and fighting but I got it all running and working, and then I decided to add a bot.

Socialtext uses PerpLog for our logging, but since I wasn’t really planning to put in a purple wiki and I wanted something more actively loved (sorry, cdent) I checked the apt-cache for IRC bots. My first choice was “blootbot”http://blootbot.sourceforge.net/ because it’s written in Perl and seems to have all the bells and whistles I might need – plus Perl means I can add functionality easily. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to find the documentation (cleverly hidden on the sourceforge site) until too late, and even then the docs are pretty darned skimpy.

I ended up using supybot, which is written in Python and has a phenomenal set of documentation on installing it, configuring it, writing plugins, playing with it, just generally anything. After installing it I decided to take a slight detour in my day to write a simple plugin for looking up directory information within our company:

kirsten: !cell Kirsten

soupy: kirsten: Kirsten Jones: Cell 831-123-4567

We have an LDAP server which doesn’t have all of the info I want, and a directory page which does, so I entered the magical world of screen scraping. Python has a library called BeautifulSoup which parses an HTML document and builds a tree of objects. Once that’s done, you just have to figure out how to navigate to the piece you want and spit it out. Took me a little while to get it working correctly, but it does, and now I have both some plugin experience (for making more) and a plugin to save me from the horrible fate of going to a web page to find someone’s cell phone.

I certainly could have done the same thing with blootbot, but I didn’t have all day to peer through the code to determine how it worked. The lesson here is that documentation is extremely important – all throughout the supybot docs the point is reiterated that the developers of the bot want input and help to make it the best bot ever…

Plus, I needed to brush up my Python skills.

Dialogue & Discussion