Drum Roll Please…..

After many months of brainstorming, debating, dreaming big, getting down to business, panicking, refocusing, programming, and fine tuning, Prism is here!


It has been a great journey, and I think my fellow Praxers would agree when I say that we have learned a lot.  Not only have we been introduced to the world of DH and received hands-on training in things like HTML, CSS, Ruby on Rails, database construction, and a smidge of JavaScript and Coffee Script, but we have also learned a great deal about working in a team environment and collaboration.

Although I plan to share some of the lessons learned throughout this year with you all in a subsequent blog post, I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you about what we have done with Prism this year.

Oauth:  With the new Prism, users are able to sign in through a variety of options.  We have retained the ability for users to create their own account on Prism.  However, users can also sign in through existing accounts with Facebook, Google, and Mozilla Persona.   Props go out to Brandon who tackled OmniAuth early on in the semester and then stuck with it despite many unforeseen hurdles!

Redesign:  From the beginning of our meetings, we discussed creating an online environment that was playful and would invite users to explore and participate.  In tandem with our vision of playfulness, we wanted to design the site with special attention to the user interface.  We pictured a site where the design itself would direct users on how to interact and lead them through the workflow from Prism creation to visualization in a streamlined manner.  Manifesting this vision fell to Gwen and Cecilia, and they have done a remarkable job creating a beautiful and functional site.

Database Refactoring: On perhaps a less glamorous note, Brandon and Shane (or “Brane” as I call them) have refactored the database for Prism.  This refactoring was crucial to some of the improvements we’ve made to visualizations, allowing for user uploads, and will hopefully allow for others to build upon our code more easily.

User Uploads: Thanks to Shane and Brandon, Prism now also provides the ability for users to upload their own texts to the site.  Our hope is that this contribution allows for Prism to be deployed in a variety of classroom and scholarly settings.  As users create a new Prism, they have the option to either make their Prism public and available to anyone for highlighting or they can choose to make an unlisted Prism.  Unlisted Prisms are not listed in the Browse page, allowing users to limit participation to desired audiences.  I encourage you to check this feature out for yourself!

A New Visualization:  This version of Prism also includes a second option for visualizing collaborative interpretation, the Winning Facet Visualization, developed by Chris.  This option allows users to see a combination of all the facet categories at once.  In addition, users can interact with the pie chart to see the exact break down of user highlights by category.

There are many other smaller improvements that I have not listed here, so go take a look at Prism and experience it for yourself!

Before I sign off, I want to give a shout out to the SLab faculty and staff.  They invested many hours in our team and rescued each of us from a precipice of panic or frustration more than once this year.  None of this would have been possible without them.  I will have more to say on that later, but for now, I will just say THANKS!


  1. Thanks so much, Caroline! I just went through the models and added some comments to try and clarify things. You’re absolutely right, of course, that our terms are a bit esoteric and unintuitive. Hopefully those help somewhat! It’s very exciting to hear that people are using Prism and reading our code, and your work sounds fascinating!

  2. Thanks for this work and for releasing it open source.

    Did you ever wonder as you wrote (or didn’t write) comments in your code…”will anyone ever read this?”

    The answer is YES. I’m reading your code.

    Nice job commenting highlight.js.coffee

    On the data model. A couple of sentences about what is a “prism” and what is a “facet” would have been really useful. I do think I figured it out. I looked for hints in the models files but didn’t find any comments at all.

    If you are curious about what I’m doing, I was working with a similar idea from some teachers I had worked with. I also did a first draft in Ruby. Currently I am using this idea to learn Meteor and try out the latency compensation. My target is Middle School classrooms with inadequate internet connections. Definitely still an experiment at this point.

    Just wanted to say hi, thank you, and give you some feedback about your code commenting.