The OpenACS Community

by Jade Rubick

The first thing to realize about OpenACS is that it is not just a technology, it is a vibrant open-source community. The operative word here is community. You are coming into this community as a newbie, or a new person. The OpenACS folks are extremely helpful, more so than any other technical group I've seen. However, you should think about what your resources are for getting information most effectively.

The way communities work is very similar to the way a bank account works. You make deposits by doing things that are beneficial to the community, and you make withdrawals by doing things that take the time and energy of the community. The more helpful you are, the more people are going to be willing to help you out. If you have a pattern of being demanding and unhelpful, people aren't going to help you out as much. This isn't malicious, it's just the way people work in general.

What you have to offer?

First of all, let's look at what you have to offer the community. You're new, so you can't offer much in the way of technical knowledge. However, you do have things to offer you can trade for detailed technical help from more knowledgeable individuals:

  1. If there is no documentation for what you're trying to do, then the single most helpful thing you can do is write documentation as you learn. Use documentation to both keep track of what you’ve learned, and as a way of sharing that knowledge with others. It is also something you can trade for the time of more experienced developers. They know that if they help you out, you'll write up documentation for it, and they might not have to answer that question again.
  2. As you find bugs, you can file them in the OpenACS bug-tracker.
  3. If you have a particular project in mind, or something you're planning on creating, then building that project and sharing it with the community is good incentive for people to help you. They may be interested in what you're building.
  4. When a newer newbie asks a question you know the answer to, answer it! Many OpenACS developers budget out a certain amount of time a day to help the general community. This builds goodwill, strengthen the platform you're using, and helps those users become more knowledgeable so they can contribute to the community.
  5. As a newcomer, you have a unique perspective to OpenACS. You can often see deficiencies and areas to improve that old-timers might not even notice. Feel free to bring them up as suggestions. Remember that the OpenACS community is a community, not a company. It isn't their responsibility to fix things for you, or make them better. But it is often in their self-interest to improve things, and they will. Flames won't get you anywhere, but thoughtful suggestions will.
  6. Even though you aren't proficient with OpenACS (yet), you may have other skills that are useful. For example, some people have UI design skills, others may have Linux administration skills, or a security background.
I write this not because you're going to have trouble getting help. On the contrary, I've seen people in the OpenACS community help out people that are being very demanding and troublesome. My main hope in writing this is to give newbies a guide to how to most effectively get information.