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Building the Berkeley Technology Platform: A Proposal

The single greatest challenge for UC Berkeley is retaining its pre-eminence as a world-famous university in the face of not only such traditional competitors as Stanford and Harvard but also the myriad distributed groups of individuals and organizations that use the Web to produce and disseminate information. A big lesson of Web 2.0 is the incredible amount of knowledge and skill–available to be harvested and distributed throughout the Berkeley community — our faculty, our students, our staff, our alumni – as well as the world beyond UC Berkeley. To meet that challenge through technology, I would put my focus on building a collaborative platform (both virtual and "in real life") to enable all these people to contribute and work together. And because I do not know all the answers of what to do, I would be encouraging experimentation as well as inviting many people to work with me.

Building services for faculty as researchers and teachers

We need to help our faculty apply computational techniques to their cutting-edge research. To that end, I suggest that we assemble teams that combine disciplinary and IT expertise; create a blend of centralized and discipline-specific computational infrastructure to support research and teaching; forge collaborations among IT organizations, libraries, and educational technologists to tackle institution-wide problems such as institutional repositories; create packages of basic commodity hosting to support research and teaching.

Building a Berkeley Technology Platform (BTP) and an underlying SOA

This is a great time for UC Berkeley to develop an information technology architecture to support deep collaboration, specifically an SOA that will work for this context. Because there is little experience of deploying a SOA at the university, we can start with small pilot projects that emphasize the consumption of web services, followed by the deployment of a small set of web services. For example: a web service that gives the roster of course and another web service that lists the courses a professor is currently teaching. I know that such web services would have an immediate audience. Once we gain experience with web services, we can look at building a larger framework for the deployment and consumption of web services and SOA fashion. At that point, I would advocate for the building of a Berkeley Technology Platform (BTP) that exploits XML and XML web services to create an underlying service-oriented architecture for the campus. By the BTP, I mean the equivalent of the Amazon technology platform, a set of services and infrastructure available to both internal programmers to create web interfaces and access data and for external audiences to build complementary services on top of ones provided by the platform. The BTP would be a rallying point for integration. Departments have data that can be reused by other departments. The Berkeley Technology Platform would provide an integrated framework for that data. Moreover, BTP provides a way for internal and external audiences to come together. The Berkeley platform is an opportunity for collaboration around campus, certainly among application infrastructure and data architects within IST.

In developing the BTP, we should invite students to be active co-developers, to use our web services and show us, what can be done with them. If we are doing things right, we will be surprised by how people will use it. Several years ago, I hired a student who made a name for himself in web scraping the Berkeley course catalog system to create an alternative and reportedly superior, interface. Ideally, we can create our systems so that student should not have to web-scrape our systems, but have an API to access the data and wrap their own interface. I hired that student and wanted to get more students like him. Moreover, from teaching my own course "Mixing and Remixing Information," I know that students who have very little computer skills are capable of building reasonably elaborate systems that bring together disparate elements. There is a lot of talent among students to be tapped.

Building collaboration systems that combine the virtual and the fact that we are also physically co-located

The internet has shown a profound capability for connecting people around the world. I believe that UC Berkeley can better apply networked technologies to supporting collaboration right on campus, where tens of thousands of people are co-located. For example, might it be worthwhile to set up something equivalent to the Stanford Wiki at Berkeley?

Building structures for IT staff to learn from each other

We can do more to enable UC Berkeley IT staff to learn from each other. I myself would like to personally teach a version of the School of Information course I teach on XML and web services to staff on campus. With the right opportunities to learn, mentor, and experiment, the staff will be inspired and empowered to create the elements we need in the BTP.

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