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Bashers and Pluggers fix IMS Content Packaging spec

There's nothing quite like a bunch of developers with their tools to iron out the pesky little bugs in a spec. That's what participants to the ADL plugfests and CETIS codebashes did, and fixing the bugs that they found took Content Packaging from 1.1.3 to 1.1.4.

It's the guesswork in particular that cropped up in the Plugfests and Codebashes: features of the spec that people could use, but were afraid to try, because the spec wasn't clear or complete enough in how you're supposed to go about it.

Not all of the issues that were raised by Plugfest and Codebash developers have been resolved in this maintenance release, however; chiefly because fixing them would have broken backward compatibility. People aren't sure how to use submanifests — a way of rolling several packages into one larger package —, for example, because they have been used for quite different purposes. Deciding once and for all which of these different purposes is correct, would have meant that some implementors' tools and content would've been excluded.

That's not to say that nothing will ever be changed in IMS Content Packaging again. In fact, IMS members are meeting at the UK Open University in Milton Keynes right now to delibarate about future developments of the spec. Whatever is decided there, though, will likely be a fairly clear departure from the 1.1 line of the Content Package spec that many developers have used to make scads of packages and lots of different tools. Any elements of the spec that are likely to change in such a future version have been clearly listed in the new documentation set. In short, 1.1.4 looks like the final version of a spec that will be with us for many more years, alongside newer, fancier versions.

On a very practical level, for the vast majority of cases, the new 1.1.4 version will not make much of a difference to the content or tools that are already out there. The changes deal almost exclusively with typos, ambiguities and inconsistencies that crept in over the years. The whole idea is that it should be easier for someone to pick the spec up and implement it, without too much guesswork.

The one change that has any chance of affecting current tools and content is an edit in the Content Packaging schema to bring it in line with what the information model (the normative part of the spec) already said: if you want a package to just archive stuff, and not display any navigation trees in a Virtual Learning Environment, keep the <organizations> tag, but don't put in an <organization> tag. Previously, people could have put in both the <organizations> and <organization> tags, and left out any of the <item> tags for the same effect, and got away with it. Now you can't.

Resources

The new documentation set and a list of all changes can be found at the IMS website.

Declaration: I was involved in writing the maintenance release.

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