CAMPfire Social Tool

Case Study // Custom Web App

Screen-reader compatible app to power Zoom social hours

The Challenge

Like so many annual events held in 2021, InCommon’s Campus Architecture and Middleware Planning (CAMP) conference took place virtually. The social app introduced to provide a virtual alternative to networking at an in-person conference wasn’t accessible to people using screen readers. They wouldn’t be able to participate in social sessions and benefit from these important opportunities to connect with other attendees.

Services Provided

Key Obstacle

The inspiration for creating this tool was to provide an accessible app that lets people connect in a virtual space. Traditional vendor products on the market for the social part of virtual events are typically inaccessible for people who use assistive technology.

As a benefit corporation, West Arete likes to give back to the higher ed community in meaningful ways. Software should never be a barrier, so it was important to create a space where social time is inclusive to everyone.

Screenshot of original web app from 2021

Tech Talk

This app is written with ❤ in Elixir, a modern language built atop the venerable Erlang platform. These technologies allow us to build realtime apps that scale seamlessly across server clusters, handle many concurrent sessions, and self-heal when problems occur.

When you view the meetings dashboard, your browser opens a persistent, two-way connection back to our Elixir server which is maintained as long as your browser tab is open. Meanwhile, the Elixir server keeps a list of every active user in every Zoom room by listening for events from Zoom”s webhook API. Whenever Zoom notifies us of a change, the updated list of participants is instantly broadcasted to every connected browser. To keep everything sane, West Arete occasionally polls Zoom’s REST API for the canonical copy of the current state, and saves it accordingly – kind of like keyframes and interframes in video compression.

Because of the way Elixir and Erlang programs are written as a collection of small independent processes that communicate through messaging, West Arete can do all of this without a database, message queuing system, background jobs, or cron. This makes them ideally suited for realtime web applications with many simultaneous users, where scalability, responsiveness, and reliability are important.

All of the software for this app is open source. West Arete is thrilled that you can use or adapt this software for your conferences and gatherings. Please reach out if you would like West Arete to customize and host this social tool for a future event.


CAMPfire Articles & Interviews

Seriously Scalable, Resilient, Accessible, and Fun! West Arete’s Scott Woods on Developing the CAMPfire Social App

InCommon Blog
By Amber Rasche, Nov. 4, 2022
The open-source “CAMPfire” app combines a fun and fully accessible interface with a scalable and resilient back end for hosting virtual social hours during CAMP Week.

Read more

Cultivator Profile: Fostering Inclusion through Community Technology

Cultivator Blog
By Lisa Barroca, May 6, 2022
This is the story of how Netta collaborated with CAMP sponsor and community champion company, West Arete, to create the CAMPfire app...

Read more


Project Started: 2020
Support: Ongoing
Link: Private to conference participants

Demos available upon request. Repository available on GitHub.

  • GitHub Repository Code and technical information

    This is an app that listens to a collection of Zoom rooms and displays a live-updating list of all participants in those rooms. It allows virtual conferences the means to offer a "social hour" where attendees can find each other and talk.

    View on GitHub

BaseCAMP Virtual Conference


Trusted Access for Education and Research
InCommon provides integrated service and software solutions to address these needs: single sign-on (SSO), access to cloud and local services, and seamless global collaboration for students, faculty, staff, and researchers.

West Arete is not affiliated with or endorsed by Zoom Video Communications.

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