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

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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