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So it’s official: I’m leaving WordPress behind. I’m involved with the development of Habari, the next-generation blogging solution. One might wonder why we’re re-inventing the wheel. Someone recently quipped that we’re past the wheel, and are now working on the hovercar! Nonetheless, an explanation of what Habari offers should help explain why I’m involved.

Community

Community is the cornerstone of Habari development. It was community that brought the four of us together, and we’re keeping community squarely in mind as we approach decisions and plan features. We recognize that only through collaboration will Habari succeed: each participant brings with him or her their own unique skills and passions. This diversity of talent and ability is an important aspect of Habari’s community.

Another important aspect is that Habari is owned by the community. No one person has full authority over it. The people who use it and work on it are the ones who should – and will – make decisions about Habari development. Additionally, community members should be given the power to take charge of their areas of expertise. If someone is passionate about documentation, they ought not have to work through someone else’s restrictions in order to make the docs successful.

Innovation

Habari is about innovation. There’s a lot of great things being done with internet technologies, and we are very interested in integrating them into the way we blog. Things like OpenID, CoComment, and the Atom Publishing Protocol are all very useful innovations. We’ve been frustrated by the difficulty in integrating these – and more – into WordPress. Some of the roadblocks to integration into WordPress were technical, while others were clearly non-technical. We hope to remove both kinds of roadblocks and make Habari the most cutting-edge blogging system available.

One of the very first decisions when planning Habari was to make it a fully object oriented system, and leverage the powerful features of PHP objects. This has resulted in some wonderfully efficient code, and so far the system is remarkably fast. Object oriented programming allows us to streamline the development of user-created plugins; allows us to integrate a unified error handling system; and vastly simplifies the construction of our Application Programming Interface.

Another early goal of Habari was database independence. There exist enough database abstraction libraries that locking oneself into a single database really does seem a poor design decision these days. By using PHP version 5, we gain access to the PHP Data Objects (PDO), which is the PHP-native database independence solution. We currently have MySQL and SQLite working, and are eager to find contributors with PostgreSQL experience. Preliminary conversations suggest that Oracle support wouldn’t be too hard, either, surprisingly enough. Another very real benefit to using PHP5 + PDO is that we gain the use of prepared statements for all database interactions. This drastically reduces the likelihood of a SQL injection attack against your blog. We’re considering using stored procedures, too, as both a means to improve performance as well as to improve database independence.

Documentation

As much as we’re striving to make a system that’s friendly and intuitive, we recognize that not all people have the same background as we do; and as such what’s intuitive to us might not be intuitive to a first-time blogger. Documentation is of paramount importance to the Habari project. End-user documentation and developer documentation will both be included in the download.

We plan to integrate links to the manual into the Habari administrative interface, so that you may get help about specific parts of each screen with a single click. The manual will be part of your Habari installation, so if you can get to your site you can read the manual. Users should be able to access the documentation without relying on our possibly flaky servers to store the manual they need.

Developers – and would-be developers – should also be provided with meaningful documentation. We’re fully documenting (via PHPdoc) the source code to Habari, and plan to include thorough instructions as to how the system operates: initialization, request processing, theme and plugin dispatching, and more. This is a fundamental part of the Habari distribution, and not left to the kindness of volunteers after the fact. New methods will be documented when they’re included in a new release, not after someone figures it out on behalf of everyone else.

Another important aspect of documentation is meaningful changelogs, listing real changes to the product since the last release. Distributors and integrators rely on changelogs to see what’s happened. Developers rely on changelogs to be made aware of fundamental changes to systems they might be using or extending.

Experimentation

Habari is not afraid to experiment with new ideas. The Subversion repository ensures that nothing is ever truly deleted. If someone eagerly checks in a new idea that proves to be either poorly implemented, or maybe just not such a great idea after all, the revision control system makes it easy to correct the situation and move on. We hope to support developer branches for their own work outside of the core trunk.

With all these people having access to check in new code, it’s a very real possibility that someone might try to intentionally foul things up. If someone were to flake out and try to actively harm the project by deleting files or polluting contents, the other project members could simply roll back to a previous version before the attack and keep going. If someone checks in something by mistake, or implements something broken outside of their area of expertise, it can be dealt with relatively easily.

Development Model

I met DrBacchus several years ago, and it’s been fascinating to listen to him speak about the Apache development process. The meritocracy of the Apache Software Foundation is such that regular participation results in increased permission within the project. This is the model we’ve decided to adopt for Habari: frequent contributors are given access to submit new stuff directly, because they’ve proven themselves capable.

This is important for several reasons. First, we each have our own areas of interest and expertise, so by getting more people involved directly we speed up the development of all areas of the code. Second, more people are available to deal with problem situations. Third, the project as a whole doesn’t slow down if a few of the developers are offline for extended periods of time. Finally, more developers improves our “bus factor”: it takes more people getting hit by more buses to interrupt the project.

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We’ve been working on Habari since October, 2006. I’m tickled that many of the suggestions on “What the new kid on the block needs to get right” had been discussed long before we ever announced the project. With the influx of interest and enthusiasm, there’s been a lot of attention on the installation process. Hopefully we can dedicate as much energy to the upgrade process as well.

I’m thrilled with the response to Habari so far. Owen’s posted some more info about Habari, as well as a collection of links to some other posts about it. The IRC channel is becoming surprisingly busy. I know eventually all the enthusiasm will taper off, and tough decisions will need to be made; but for right now the sky’s the limit!

Needless to say, I’m very excited about Habari!


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