I’ve been making an attempt to kick the tires more with Sandstorm in preparation of our upcoming workshop at the Festival of Learning.

MyGrains

Snapshot of my Sandstorm grain dashboard

Small pieces, loosely joined is what Sandstorm is all about. Sandstorm is the stitching that joins the small pieces, providing a common authentication and security framework to a patchwork quilt of open source applications.

So far I’ve tested out about half a dozen of the 50+ applications within the Sandstorm eco-system trying to use them in my day to day work. Etherpad (the collaborative document editor that is a scaled down version of Google Docs) and Frameadate (a handy meeting scheduler alternative to Doodle) have been the most useful. I’ve also played around with Ethercalc (spreadsheet), Quick Survey (survey tool), Hacker Slides (presentation tool that uses Markdown), OpenNode BB (forums), GitLab (Git repo), Rocket Chat (Slack alternative), and mucked around a bit with the WordPress port in Sandstorm.

My general observation is that the applications that work well within the Sandstorm environment are small, discrete and focused where you can create a single instance of the application (called a grain in the Sandstorm world). Things like a single document or meeting invitation. Tools like Etherpad, Ethercalc, Quick Polls, Hacker Slides and Frameadate are the type of applications that Sandstorm does well in that you create a document, share with others to collaborate and contribute to, and then move on.

I tend to think of these tools as being somewhat disposable. Once a discrete task is done, it’s done. The survey is finished, the meeting dates are picked, the document has been edited and completed. Get in, do your work, get out.

As you can see from my screenshot, I’ve got a lot of Etherpad instance on the go, working on collaborative documents with different users. There is no folder scheme in Sandstorm, or way to organize these multiple instances so I can imagine over time as you create more and more documents, the user interface could become quite cluttered. I’m just starting to get to the tipping point where I’d like to be able to put some structure around the different applications I have going. Maybe organizing by project I am working on and grouping all the related apps I am using with a single project in a single folder or some other visual organizational metaphor. But haven’t seen a way to do that yet.

More complicated applications seem to have more limitations. WordPress, for example, is not the full featured version of WordPress that you would get at WordPress.com or if you installed it yourself. Installing plugins and themes means uploading a zip file instead of connecting to the remote WordPress plugin repo. Publishing is static, meaning whenever you add new content you have to rebuild the site.

Rocket Chat (a nice open source Slack-like application) also has a limitation with the mobile app. Rocket Chat works quite well if you are logged into Sandstorm, but  the mobile application cannot connect through Sandstorm, which limits its usefulness.

These are not dealbreakers, but really just the things you learn while sandboxing and experimenting with new technology – seeing what the tool does well and where the limitations are.

Image: Blue Sky by leg0fenris CC-BY-NC-ND

CC BY 4.0 Working with Sandstorm by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Profile Picture for Clint Lalonde
Wrangler of learning technologies by day, Dad, cyclist, soccer fan and, lately, home roaster of coffee by night. INFJ. I am the Manager of Educational Technologies at BCcampus, working primarily on open education projects. This blog is a personal blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BCcampus.

Comments

  1. If I am using a collection of apps at oet.sandcats.io for a particular project, I just add tags to the name of the grain .. when I need my app collection for a project I just search for the associated tags and the search utility gives me only those grains w/ those tags.

  2. I just installed WordPress on the Sandstorm instance at TRU. Unfortunate to hear of it’s limitations as I was wondering if it could be an experimental platform for students (rebuilding for every update is too much). I’m very optimistic, but it seems there is still a long road of experimentation and development to travel before Sandstorm can be deployed for student projects, managing student deliverables, etc. Here’s hope to being a guinea pig!

    1. Rebuild probably sounds more onerous than it really is. It is just a matter of hitting another button when you publish new content. It would be great if you took it out for a spin with some students. Would be useful to hear what you learned. But I know not all students are comfortable being guinea pigs.

    2. WordPress in oet.sandcats.io works great if all you need is a place to host your content and map your domain. If you want a WordPress space that has lots of plugins & theme customizations, you are better of getting dedicated WP hosting someplace. oet.sandcats.io also offers Ghost https://ghost.org/ which I think is a better option for basic site/blog setups and also maps to domains.

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