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Open source goes beyond coding for Seneca students

CDOT project creates flexible and customizable analytics

Matthew Welke (left) and Henrique Salvadori Coelho are research assistants at Seneca's Centre for Development of Open Technology.


Forget competition. In the world of open source, it’s about collaboration and free, as in freedom.

Just ask Henrique Salvadori Coelho and Matthew Welke, Computer Programming and Analysis students at Seneca. After recently releasing an open-source software they have developed, the pair is leaving it in a repository that is “the Facebook for software developers” so others can make changes to their work freely.

“Freedom is nice,” they say. “We want the world to make contributions to it.”

“It” is Rutilus, a free, open-source analytics application that is like Google Analytics but is more flexible and customizable. Named after the first plebeian censor of ancient Rome, Rutilus records data and profiles users to optimize a website.

In open source, bug fixes and modifications made by others in the future will continue to improve Rutilus for its users.

As part of their co-op program, Henrique and Matthew are working as research assistants at Seneca’s Centre for Development of Open Technology (CDOT). Past projects from CDOT have included working with Mozilla, creators of the Firefox web browser, and Red Hat, makers of the most successful commercial Linux operating system. For theirs, Henrique and Matthew created Rutilus for Engineering.com, an engineering news publisher wanting to increase website traffic and target its users more effectively.

“Our tool allows you to uncover new things about website users and understand their behaviours,” Henrique says. “It can customize questions to discover who the users are as opposed to where they are coming from. It allows you to make unknown people known.”

Based on the activity and information provided by known or registered users, Rutilus can help guess interests and characteristics, such as job and age, of unknown users who share similar browsing patterns. The data, recorded per millisecond, can then be used by small businesses to recommend new web content for their users.

Under the guidance of their project Faculty lead, Seneca Professor Andrew Smith, Henrique and Matthew have learned some of the latest technologies on their own to develop the project.

“Students learn something new that they didn’t know about before and it can be a bit scary at times,” Andrew says. “That’s why I hire students who love learning, because whatever we know will be obsolete next year. I direct them to the right place to look for answers. I rely on their independence to complete the project.”

Both Henrique and Matthew have been blogging about their work in detail so others can benefit from their learning process.

“There are no instructions to follow because we are creating the instructions. We choose the tools because nobody else has done this before,” says Henrique, who has been programming since 11 years old in Brazil and has had what Matthew calls “a strange love affair with JavaScript.”

Matthew, who began learning about computer programming in St. Catharines, says working on the project has taught him everything about building his own software.

“CDOT’s focus on open source has changed how I think about programming and working in general. We are definitely open-source nuts now,” he says. “Before I graduate, I’ll already have contributed something to the world. Even if the open-source tools spawned by our project end up not being popular, eclipsed by the more well-known tools of giant companies like Google, I’ll know that I finally got a chance to give back to the world.”