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Fork it! The benefits of sharing features at SWS

Let’s say you want to make a cake but you don’t have a lot of time to make one from scratch. You already have a box of cake mix ready to go but this box is for chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. But you really wanted one with dark-chocolate ganache frosting —because you can never have too much chocolate.

gif of chocolate cake with buttercream frosting switching to chocolate ganache frosting

You’re not going to throw out the entire box of cake mix just because it doesn’t have the frosting you want, are you? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel and make a chocolate cake from scratch. You can still use the box of cake mix to save time preparing the cake and instead focus on making the perfect frosting you want. The end result is the same chocolate cake but with your own unique dark chocolate ganache frosting on top.

This experience is similar to the benefits of our open source software development approach for building websites at scale on a shared platform. We are able to share functionality and features for different units while also accommodating their unique needs or flavors. 
 
Last summer, the School of Humanities and Sciences (H&S) Web Team sponsored the design and development of an edge-to-edge image or video feature with other fun display options such as a curtain-reveal or scroll button. One example of this feature with the curtain reveal option is currently live (at the time of writing this blog post) on the Center for East Asian Studies website to showcase their 50 year anniversary.
 
We’ve also used this feature for the Woods Institute for the Environment website to feature videos on the research focal area landing pages.
 
So when the School of Engineering (SOE) communications team came to Stanford Web Services and asked for the ability to feature content on their homepage with a large image or video, we scratched our heads and thought...this is the same chocolate cake we’ve made before but they just want different frosting!
 
screenshot of soe homepage
 
We forked the existing code for the feature we made for H&S—which essentially means we took a copy of the code (like starting with our box of cake mix) and added new code to it—that allowed us to add new functionality and design on top of the existing code (our dark-chocolate ganache frosting) all with the specific needs of the School of Engineering website in mind.
 
We released the first version (or minimum viable product) of the new feature on SOE’s site within four weeks of forking the existing code from the H&S project. This would have taken far longer without the boxed cake mix (reusing an existing feature and adding customizations.)
 
Sharing features allows us to save time and money for our clients. This means we can focus on building more advanced features and improving our existing features for the platform benefiting even more people in the long run.

 

Comments

Thanks for posting this Anna, and it's so great to see SWS continuing to set an example for code re-use. Just awesome. It's not just about saving time+money of course, it creates a contributory environment that let's everyone do their best work, and lifts all boats. We need to do more of this! Can this be a special topic in CITP?

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