Local students hack up Facebook alternatives

Course aims to demystify IT

The iRobots prepare for rescue at the University of Sydney's IT summer school challenge

The iRobots prepare for rescue at the University of Sydney's IT summer school challenge

A group of high school students will today unveil four alternatives to the popular Facebook social networking service as part of a Sydney University summer school projects, in part sponsored by Google.

The social networking sites were developed as part of the University’s annual National Computer Science School (NCSS) run by Dr James Curran and Dr Tara Murphy from the School of Information Technologies.

NCSS aims to get school students thinking more about careers in IT and to complement a high school syllabus “wanting in relevance”, according to the university.

Curran said although IT now “permeates our everyday lives”, it still suffers from an image problem.

“NCSS is about giving school students a peek into the opportunities and excitement the industry holds,” he said, adding it’s not about certification, but interest and problem solving.

“We worked for 24 hours straight to give the students a taste of the IT world running to a hard deadline.”

The school also aims to demystify IT for prospective university students.

“While much has been made of the genius behind the likes of Facebook and Twitter, their success is partly a matter of timing. The principles behind these sites are something you’d learn as an undergraduate IT student,” Curran said.

Four of the teams built Facebook-like applications with the Python programming language and the open source Tornado Web server and framework. Ironically, Tornado is a Facebook open source project.

“Most parents would think Facebook is an application for time wasting so one student has produced an education Facebook built around the sharing of resources for a given subject,” Curran said. “The social networking aspect is about not trusting anyone’s resources, but this site brings the power of the trust element of a social network to a study guide.”

The projects include the ability to for users to remain anonymous, and to collaborate on shared projects.

Another project focused on sharing content and resources by other users of the site.

NCSS runs over 10 days and also includes robotics programming. Some 70 students participated in this year’s event.

NCSS 2011 is organised by the University of Sydney and NICTA. The gold sponsors are CargoWise, Embedded Systems Australia (ESA), Google, and Industry and Investment NSW.

“Unlike most computing at school, which will be almost all individual, we help students work in groups and show how difficult it can be to collaborate.”

The students used Atlassian’s (a sponsor) Confluence enterprise wiki software for collaboration.

For the robotics programming the students used an embedded language similar to C++.

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Tags Facebooksocial networkingpythonroboticsuniversity of sydney

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