HAX the Web @HaxCamp

It is long overdue, but the bava has been busy. I have been wanting to write about HAX the Web and Bryan Ollendyke’s larger-than-life approach to the future of the web since I first met him in January at the University API (uAPI) conference sponsored by BYU. I was blown away by both Bryan and Michael Potter‘s sessions at uAPI. Penn State University has had a long tradition of innovation in edtech, and Bryan and Michael (and I’m sure many more from their group I have not yet met) did that tradition proud. I sat in on a fascinating session by Michael Potter wherein he showcased A-frame, a web framework for creating VR experiences with HTML. We played along with him by using A-fame in Glitch to create 3-D objects on the web in HTML code, simply wild. 

In another session Michale and Bryan co-presented on the Beaker Browser, which is a peer-to-peer browser that re-defines how the browser experience works, here is a bit from their About page:

The Web enabled communication, collaboration, and creativity at a scale once unimaginable, but it’s devolved into a landscape of isolated platforms that discourage customization and interoperability. The Web’s value flows from the people who use it, yet our online experiences are dictated by corporations whose incentives rarely align with our own.

We believe the Web can (and must) be a people-first platform, where everybody is invited to create, personalize, and share.

That’s why we’re using peer-to-peer technology to improve how we create, share, and connect on the Web.

I’s an experimental approach, and by no means widely adopted, but these two sessions confirmed this group is thinking far and wide about the possibilities of the web, and the promise of trying to keep some of its core components free and open, which brings me to work Bryan has done which firs got my attention (and everyone else’s on Twitter :)): HAX the web, or he headless authoring tool he has been developing that is powered by web components. Let me try and break this down a bit, and then Bryan can come and correct any mistakes I make here given the bava is still an open web enterprise, and 100% Gutenberg free 🙂 

So, if I understand the road to HAX the Web right, it started at PSU as part of a LMS-killing project known as the ELMS Learning Network, a project Bryan’s group has been developing in-house for many years on top of Drupal as a means to explore alternatives  to the campus LMS. The project is on-going, but when PSU went to Canvas (like virtually every other school on the planet) ELMS was a bit forlorn, but from the ashes of the new boss LMS (same as the old boss LMS) came HAX, or the authoring tool within ELMS that was abstracted out of that system and brilliantly re-framed as a headless authoring tool that can be essentially be used to author in any system: Drupal, WordPress, Sakai, etc. The vision of removing the authoring experience from any one system is what “headless” refers to, and it begins to smack of the distributed, decentralized promise of the Next Generation Digital learning Environment, which is something Bryan has already written about at length. I just love the way this group’s work with ELMS gave birth to HAX which in turn resonates with the promise of a broader series of system integrations that liberates the use from any one tool for creating, sharing, and archiving their work. It’s a testament to why you want R&D shops in higher ed that are allowed to explore, create, “fail,” refactor, and create again.

I love this story, and secret sauce behind the HAX the Web editor are web components, and Bryan and his group have written a ton of them fo this editor. Now wha are web components, you ask? Well, let’s go to the source:

Web components are a set of web platform APIs that allow you to create new custom, reusable, encapsulated HTML tags to use in web pages and web apps. Custom components and widgets build on the Web Component standards, will work across modern browsers, and can be used with any JavaScript library or framework that works with HTML.

Web components are based on existing web standards. Features to support web components are currently being added to the HTML and DOM specs, letting web developers easily extend HTML with new elements with encapsulated styling and custom behavior.

So, Bryan’s talk at uAPI was the first time I ever got an overview of web components, and I can’t claim to be overly knowledgeable on this front. But from what I understand (and why they’re increasingly attractive to folks like Jon Udell—who is a great barometer for such technologies) is that these components allow you to build custom elements on top of HTML making them to not only web standards compatible and browser-friendly, but also extend the possibilities of working within HTML. Web Components were championed by Google, but then he HAX team took over 🙂 I am completely open to better definitions in the comments.

So, HAX has been steadily gaining recognition over the last few years in no small part because of Bryan’s tireless presentations, Tweet storms, and developing HAX like a madman. Tim worked with Bryan to get a HAX CMS up and running fo Reclaim Hosting, so we do have a one-click installer for  a quick application Bryan put together for the uAPI which is basically the HAX editor with a simple CMS wrapper to publish content.  The possibilities for OER, personal web publishing, app integration, and more are exciting, and that’s why Reclaim Hosting is honored to sponsor the HAX Camp that will be happening at Duke University next week (October 7th and 8th). Tim will be there, and from the looks of Twitter so will almost 60 other folks who are interested in hacking on HAX. That’s a huge turn-out, and major kudos to Bryan and the whole HAX team that have so brilliantly demonstrated that edtech innovation can still be born out of the university, it just takes time, a solid group, endless work, and some love and recognition from institution where its happening. Not an easy formula at any institution, but lightening in a bottle when it all comes together. 

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One Response to HAX the Web @HaxCamp

  1. Jim, thank you as always for the kind words and link farm out to the many concepts surrounding what we’re talking about. UAPI is always the start of a great year and I’m greatful the universe brought us together there.

    As for history, this is largely accurate. Some finer points:
    – ELMS:LN is still alive and well. Canvas actually emboldened us as we saw more people move to either 100% Canvas or 100% efforts towards actual, useful technologies.
    – HAX was pioneered in ELMS:LN long before it was ever able to fly anywhere else, now HAXcms is the default space for development and ELMS:LN improves in quality directly (see roadmap for innovation flow: https://haxtheweb.org/home/roadmap )
    – Tim will get to meet the rest of the team as they’re all coming to hax.camp 🙂

    Reclaim supporting HAXcms is something I’ll never be able to thank you enough for as it’s empowered a whole new group of people to participate in our community and peak in at what we’re doing, waiting for the time to be right to jump on the publishing revolution.

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