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Showcase your data

September 21, 2015 in Extensions

We all know CKAN is great for publishing and managing data, and it has powerful visualisation tools to provide instant insights and analysis. But it’s also useful and inspiring to see examples of how open data is being used.

CKAN has previously provided for this with the ‘Related Items’ feature (also known as ‘Apps & Ideas’). We wanted to enhance this feature to address some of its shortcomings, packaged up as an extension to easily replace and migrate from Related Items. So we developed the Showcase extension!

Showcase Example

A Showcase details page. This Showcase example is originally from http://data.beta.nyc/showcase/illegal-hotels-inspections

Separating out useful, but under-loved features from CKAN core to extensions like this:

  • makes core CKAN a leaner and a more focused codebase
  • gives these additional features a home, with more dedicated ownership and support
  • means updates and fixes for an extension don’t have to wait until the next release of CKAN

Some improvements made in Showcase include:

  • each showcase has its own details page
  • more than one dataset can be linked to a showcase
  • a new role of Showcase Admin to help manage showcases
  • free tagging of showcases, instead of a predefined list of ‘types’
  • showcase discovery by search and filtering by tag

This was my first contribution to the CKAN project and I wanted to ensure the established voices from the CKAN developer community were able to contribute guidance and feedback.

Remote collaboration can be hard, so I looked at the tools we already use as a team, to lower the barrier to participation. I wanted something that was versioned, allowed commenting and collaboration, and provided notification to interested parties as the specification developed. We use GitHub to collect ideas for new features in a repository as Issues, so it seemed like a natural extension to take these loose issues (ideas) and turn them into pull requests (proposals). The proposal and supporting documents can be committed as simple MarkDown files, and discussed within the Pull Request. This provides line-by-line commentary tools enabling quick iteration based on the feedback. If a proposal is accepted and implemented, the pull request can be merge, if the proposal is unsuccessful, it can be closed.

The Pull Request for the Showcase specification has 22 commits, and 57 comments from nine participants. Their contributions were invaluable and helped to quickly establish what and how the extension was going to be built. Their insights helped me get up to speed with CKAN and its extension framework and prevented me from straying too far in the wrong direction.

So, by developing the specification and coding in the open, we’ve managed to take an unloved feature of CKAN and give it a bit of polish and hopefully a new lease of life. I’d love to hear how you’re using it!

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