Saying Goodbye — John Flatness

If you’ve ever gone to the Omeka forums looking for help with a vexing problem, big or small, with your Omeka-based website, there’s a pretty good chance that the response you received was from John Flatness (jflatnes in the forums). What you might not know is that the person who just gave you excellent advice and a solution to your problem also happens to be the lead developer on the project. John has worked at RRCHNM on the Omeka project since 2010 and has been the lead developer for many of those years, guiding the team of developers through multiple versions of Omeka Classic and now Omeka S.

Like so many of our staff and students, John first encountered the work of the Center through a class project–in his case in the computer science program at Virginia Tech. That class project was to allow an Omeka site to expose its metadata using the OAI-PMH protocol and somehow or other his work caught the eye of our then creative lead, Jeremy Boggs, and later Jim Safley. Before long, Jeremy and Jim were recruiting John to work on projects at the Center and so John became a part of the RRCHNM team even before he graduated from college in 2010.

Many of the most important innovations in the Omeka platforms are the result of John’s work or of his leadership. As proud as he is of those plug-ins and other features, what John is proudest of is the longevity of the Omeka project and the role he’s played in that persistence. Over the years, he and the Omeka team have faced skepticism about whether the project will continue–skepticism rooted in the experience of many digital humanists who have seen worthy projects come and go. As John said recently, “The pattern of promising projects that faded away as grad students moved on or funding dried up was pretty familiar, and we occasionally faced skepticism along those lines from our own users: a printout of a years-old forum post wondering if we were still active has long adorned my office door.” Instead, John’s leadership has helped to insure that the project continues to grow and prosper.

At the same time, John is also very proud of what Omeka has allowed its users to accomplish: “Omeka is ultimately about the projects it enables people to create and so it’s really those that are the greatest testament, whether its the Center’s own work, student projects, sites hosted on Omeka.net, or just the individual goals of the myriad of mailing list and forum posters looking for help.”

Those who know John know that he has never sought credit for his vital role in the Omeka project. Instead of credit, what makes him happy is seeing new projects that have the tagline “Powered by Omeka” at the bottom of the page.

Those who have worked with John all these years at RRCHNM also know him for another reason. A daily tradition at the Center, until Covid disrupted our lives, was an online trivia challenge. Pausing his work for a few minutes, John would lead us through an often bewildering choice of categories–some of them truly trivial–always assuring us that our answers were “really close” or “almost right”, even if they rarely were. Little things like that trivia challenge often provide the glue that helps hold a team together. In his quiet way, John always made sure that everyone sitting at our big central work table felt part of the team, even if all they could contribute was a wildly incorrect guess to a trivia question.

We wish John all the best in his new job at the Corporation for Digital Scholarship and thank him for all of his contributions, especially those that you might have missed if you weren’t paying close attention.