This week I dove deeper into combining live conversation with live video.
Some of my thoughts in approaching this project:
- I wanted it to be all within 1 Webpage (no redirections). While I ultimately might opt for a system like Google Hangouts, for this assignment, I wanted to explore combining tools in a single Webpage.
- I wanted it to be dead simple. No weird downloads. No redirects or prompts to sign in elsewhere. Just live video and discussion on 1 page.
- On a related note, I wanted it to be limited to just live video combined with live discussion. Nothing else for now. And plus, I’m more and more convinced this is all people really want/need for an awesome interactive class. Too many things and it just gets confusing.
To do all this, I built off Discourse, a recently launched open source platform for running discussion forums (if you haven’t heard about Discourse, take a minute to read this: http://techcrunch.com/2013/02/05/jeff-atwood-launches-discourse/). It’s by the same people who did Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange, and it’s a really really good product. Basically, it takes all the shitty problems of discussion platforms / forums, fixes them, and does so in an elegantly desiged product that is completely open source. I truly feel it may become the future of online discussion platforms.
It’s still in Beta, but I took a developer download and started hacking away on my local machine (it was a good excuse to get better at Ruby on Rails too ..).
My approach was to make each class its own “discussion forum.” The live video (powered by Opentok) is on top, and the discussion is down below. Discourse makes this very compelling, because it is constantly updating and showing new comments, thus making it like a real time discussion feed. Not only that, you get notified every time someone replies to you, and it allows for conversations to gracefully break off into different threads.
Here’s a screengrab of my local set-up:
I’m really excited about the above set-up, as I intuitively feel it is a very effective combination of tools. Discourse is amazing at updating the discussion in real time as it happens, and Opentok lets different people stream video. Discourse also allows for tagging of classes into categories, and easy access to a school’s entire online courses in one simple forum.
If I go further, the next steps would be to figure out how to connect Discourse’s user roles into Opentok’s user roles (so teachers and students could have different roles, especially when it comes to broadcasting video).