Building the Commons Update: May 2023

Over the past month The Commons hasn’t had any significant user-facing updates, but we have many some behind-the-scenes improvements and we have been making steady progress on many projects.

To better communicate all of these projects, we have created a public roadmap on the Building blog. If want an overview of all the things we’re working on, this is the best place to look.

Nevertheless, here is a look at some of what we’ve been working on over the last month:

Mastodon Updates

The Commons runs a Mastodon instance at Mastodon requires a significant amount of maintenance to keep it running well. Over the last month, Dimitris, our infrastructure engineer, has made a number of improvements to our instance, including upgrading us to the latest version of Hometown, upgrading our database, and implementing automated procedures for managing our storage requirements.


Over the last several months, spearheaded by Stephanie Vasko, our UX researcher, we have undertaken several projects to better understand our users and how best to improve the Commons. This month we began a trial of Matomo, and analytics platform that better aligns with our values and goals than Google Analytics, our current one.

Repository Data Migration

We are in the early stages of developing our next-generation repository. This month our focus was on data migration: transferring deposit data and files from our current Fedora-based repository to the new Invenio-based system. Ian Scott, our Python developer, and I developed a procedure for exporting the data and Ian worked to get it into a format amenable to Invenio. Ian also did a lot of work to validate and improve the metadata for deposits to correct some errors and inconsistencies in the data that have accumulated over the years.

We plan the officially launch the repository early next year, at which point we will close the current repository to deposits and do one final export. So don’t worry, nothing will be lost!

Our next step in repository development is the deposit form, which the user experience team has been working really hard on. We hope to have some early designs to be able to share with you soon!

WordPress Containerization and Local Development

Currently the Commons runs a number of mirrored servers in the cloud to facilitate development. This system works surprisingly well, but is expensive and is difficult to scale as our team grows. It also leads to problems with ensuring consistency between instances for testing.

We are working to move to a local development workflow with cloud-based staging and production environments, which is a common setup. The first step in this project is containerizing the Commons site so that it can run on a developer’s machine. Following that, we plan to also containerize our identity management and authentication system, so that the entire Commons stack can run locally.

For users, the main benefit of this change will be that it will make it much more feasible for us to tackle some of our persistent performance and maintenance issues. It should also reduce the time it takes for us to develop and test new features and releases, meaning that we can get improvements to you more quickly and more reliably.

Theme Modernization

Our other major project to facilitate improvements to the site is “Theme Modernization”. As discussed in the March update, the aim of this project is to eliminate our dependence on an out-of-date BuddyBoss theme, allowing us to use a modern theme such as Twenty Twenty-Three for our base and organizational sites. Dave Ventresca, our contract WordPress developer, has been working hard on this over the last month and we are nearing completion. This will allow both for improving the appearance of the site and its performance.

Until Next Time

Those are some of the projects we’ve been working on over the last month. We also continue to work on our plans for the next-generation Commons, and I hope to have a more in-depth look at that on the blog soon. Until then, any an all feedback is appreciated, either here or on, our Mastodon server.