Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Houses and clouds

The Government Digital Service blog is essential reading. Two recent posts well worth a look:

What is that beautiful house?

The phrase “not a CMS” has become a bit of a joke around the GovUK office (to the point where more than a few people were humming Once In A Lifetime), but it’s a key part of our approach. The Single Domain will include several components that enable publishing on the web but they’re part of a much broader ecosystem of tools wired together using APIs and designed to be constantly iterated to focus on user need. As we began to unpack what that means it became clear that we were going to need custom software.

Dr. Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, attends seminar at No. 10 Downing Street

Dr. Vogels defined cloud computing as “a style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’ across the Internet to multiple external customers”. Calling on his experience from across the globe he outlined how the flexibility and resilience offered by clouds has helped to transform some government instances via the idea of software as a service and the advent of reactive charging models. He gave the example of Recovery.gov in the US as just one of over 100 Government sites using cloud hosting.

Bookmarks for April 30th through May 14th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • Should the Public Sector pay for Content Management Systems? « Carl’s Notepad – [with open source] "You will still need to consider the integration aspects but open source products are far more likely to integrate (openness is key) then the big supplier products (no motivation to integrate)."
  • Office 2010: the SharePoint factor – "The simple conclusion then is that to make sense of Office 2010 you need SharePoint 2010. The snag is that SharePoint is not something to roll out casually. Although it has a huge number of interesting features, it is also complex and easy to break. "
  • No Overall Control – a Future State of ICT – "To really address the gap between people in ICT and people who work in the Business (people outside of ICT) you actually need to start moving the competencies that IT Professionals have into the Business."
  • The Fate of the Semantic Web – "While many survey participants noted that current and emerging technologies are being leveraged toward positive web evolution in regard to linking data, there was no consensus on the technical mechanisms and human actions that might lead to the next wave of improvements – nor how extensive the changes might be."
  • tecosystems » I Love WordPress But… – "the reasons we self-host our WordPress instances are being eliminated at an accelerating rate"
  • Meatball Wiki – "Meatball is a community of active practitioners striving to teach each other how to organize people using online tools."
  • Amazon Pursues The Feds and the Potential Billions in Cloud Computing Services – ReadWriteCloud – "Amazon is quietly pursuing the multi-billion dollar federal cloud computing market, intensifying an already fast accelerating sales and marketing effort by Google, Microsoft and a host of others."
  • What’s Wrong With CSS – "Most of all, what I've learned from this exercise in site theming is that CSS is kind of painful. I fully support CSS as a (mostly) functional user interface Model-View-Controller. But even if you have extreme HTML hygiene and Austrian levels of discipline, CSS has some serious limitations in practice."
  • WordPress-to-lead for Salesforce CRM – "People can enter a contact form on your site, and the lead goes straight into Salesforce CRM: no more copy pasting lead info, no more missing leads: each and every one of them is in Salesforce.com for you to follow up."
  • A Collection of 50+ Enterprise 2.0 Case Studies and Examples – Nice resource. Some great examples in here.
  • Headshift Projects: Projects by Sector – Nice collection of social software case studies.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Online social media surgery

I love the social media surgery concept, which was pioneered by Pete Ashton in Birmingham, used by me at UK Youth Online and then turned into something amazing by Pete, Nick and others in Birmingham.

I think there is a lot of value in having an online equivalent, just a place where people can ask questions about this stuff and hopefully get some answers from anyone who is browsing at the time. So I have started to build something.

It’s is very much early days, but the prototype site is at socialmediasurgery.com. It’s (obviously) built in Drupal, and as far as I have got so far is repurposing the blog function to act as questions, and comments as answers. Sophisticated it ain’t.

You can add a profile with some details of who you are in it, which might help you get the answers you need, or decide whether you trust the people providing them. There is also a simple rating system in place for answers, so if a response has one star it might well be worth taking with a pinch of social media salt.

Beyond changing a few colours, I haven’t got near to theming the site, I thought it far better to get the features in first. So if it looks like the default Drupal theme, it is. I will get round to changing it at some point.

Other stuff I want to get in:

  • Make the voting system more sophisticated for answers, so the top rated ones float to the top, say, or at least are displayed in a sidebar somewhere
  • Have some kind of karma system, so people who provide well rated answers get some kind of authority rating
  • Ability for users to mark a question as something they are also having problems with

…and probably loads of other stuff too.

So that’s it really. Please let me have any feedback or suggestions, but otherwise, let people who might benefit from the site know about it, and of course do register yourselves in case you can help someone, or get some help yourself…

Working together

I really like the idea of using the web to bring people together and work on problems out in the open, rather like David Wilcox and Simon Berry did in their bid for the Innovation Exchange project.

They used Drupal, a group blogging platform that does tonnes of other stuff, which is great for enabling people to throw ideas out and let the community respond to them. It’s got pretty low barriers to entry as pretty much anyone can hit the ‘create content’ button and dump their brains onto the screen. There’s an immediacy about this approach that I like a lot.

But I am also a fan of the wiki as a form of collaborative working, and wikis do have advantages over something like Drupal in terms of getting a ‘product’ finalised. What it doesn’t have is that immediate ability for people to be able to chuck thoughts out to gauge a reaction as to how useful they are. Editing a wiki page has a seriousness that writing a blog post doesn’t have.

I suppose what I am after is a decent wiki for Drupal, so that all the good stuff in the blog posts and comments can be moulded together. Google Sites could do this perfectly, as its ‘Announcements’ page template is effectively a blog. But there are too many limits of public involvement in Sites at the moment for it to become usable in this context.

If anyone has any suggestions for something I am missing, I would love to hear about it!

Building Online Communities with Drupal

Drupal

Drupal is an open source content management system which is fully extensible through a huge range of community developed modules. It’s the system which powers the demo site I put together for The Information Authority last year, and it is as happy providing a platform for personal blogs as it is multi-user social networks. I will be focusing here on how it can be used to create a social media based community, allowing the sharing of various types of media including text, audio, video and images.

The open source nature of the platform means that not only is it cost free, but you also have carte blanche to edit the source code however you see fit, as long as you are willing to make the changes available to anyone else who might want them. So, if Drupal doesn’t do what you want, all you have to do is edit it so that it does – or get someone else to.

Some well known uses of Drupal include The Onion and Spread Firefox.

Basic Functionality

Drupal comes with a number of functions which are operational without having to track down additional modules. They include:

  • Stories – the ability to post short news items to the site
  • Pages – static pages with content that won’t change much
  • Blogs – every user on a Drupal has their own blog, which can be viewed separately or aggregated together
  • Forums – built in forum system allows for discussions on different topics
  • Books – collaboratively author online collections of pages
  • News Aggregator – built in aggregator which pulls together RSS feeds under various categories, making the latest news available to users
  • Polls – simple polls on which users can vote
  • Tagging – the powerful taxonomy feature allows all content to be tagged and presented as a tag cloud
  • Profiles – you can specify fields for users to complete to build up a profile on the site
  • Document uploads – all types of content (blogs, stories, pages, forum entries) can have file attachments added

On top of this there is a comprehensive user rights management system to ensure that only certain members can produce or view certain types of content, ensuring that your community is as secure as you need it to be.

There is, therefore, quite enough functionality available out of the box to get a community up and running very quickly.

Extra Modules

There is more that Drupal can do though, and all you need is to find the right modules to do it. Here are some of the ones I’ve picked out as being useful for community building:

  • Photo gallery – whilst photos stored on public services like Flickr can easily be added to site posts, having your own photo gallery can be useful for privacy purposes
  • Video – as with photos above. If a video isn’t on YouTube, they can upload it to your community site instead
  • Audio – as above!
  • Organic Groups – create groups within the community. Members can make posts visible only within groups or site-wide. Groups can be created by any user or just administrators
  • Buddy lists – allow users to mark others as their buddies to help track their content etc
  • Invite friends – allow users to send invites to friends not already registered
  • Interests – tracks the tags employed by users to display other users with similar interests, as well as potentially interesting content
  • TinyMCE – adds a wysiwyg editor to make creating content a little easier – no need for HTML tags!
  • Links – create a social link directory with weblinks identified, described and tagged so others can find them

Themes

You can also change the look of your community with the freely downloadable themes from the Drupal website. Those included by default are all pretty good, especially Garland, but if you want to have a more individual looking site it might be better to find a less well known theme and customise it. Some good looking themes include:

Note that some themes require certain modules, or ‘theme engines’ installed to work properly.

What’s Missing

Drupal lacks a proper wiki module, which is a shame. The one that does exist is Liquid, which allows you to make any content as a wiki – in other words, making it available to edit by other users. However, this is a confusing solution and not one that is recommended at this stage. The only other option is to use the books module to collaboratively author content, but again this isn’t really perfect.

Drupal is also rather confusing to administer, and the learning curve is pretty steep. The best option is to play around with it first, and take your time. Once you become used to the way of doing things will Drupal, you’ll be amazed at the power and versatility of the system.

Conclusion

Drupal is a free out of the box solution to creating online communities that will have you up and running in no time. The learning curve is relatively steep, but it is worth it for the power and flexibility of the system.

This post has been shamelessly regurgitated from my old blog, FEConnect 😉