Forum OpenACS Q&A: Mission Statement for OpenACS

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Posted by Caroline Meeks on
I am working with a program planning and evaluation tool created by Innovation Network (  The next generation of the tool will be built with OpenACS and I thought I'd get to know it better by using it to help us with our planning.

The very first question is "What is your Mission Statement?"

We have had some very good descussions on vision and direction for OpenACS. Can we use this thread to boil it down into a concise Mission Statement?

Some starting points..

Posted by Bruce Spear on
Hi Caroline!

I REALLY like how you guys worked out the mission statement last night on the IRC channel, which I had a chance to read this morning.  I especially like the way how you and SchemaThings brought it back from some wonderful abstractions about the technology to the far more concrete, and I think more powerful, community orientation.  I'm hoping you might post your draft thus far on this thread so some of us might dwell on it a bit.  Thanks!


Posted by Tom Jackson on

Bruce, you bring up a good point, I think IRC discussions can be great for brainstorming, meetings and getting quick and dirty answers, however, anything as important as a mission statement for OpenACS needs discussion in this forum, and then probably a TIP, so the entire governing body can comment and vote. I personally don't have an opinion on what the mission statement should say, but if it shows up somewhere as "The OpenACS Mission", something more official needs to take place first.

Posted by Caroline Meeks on
Hi Guys,

I am definitely interested in having people disucss this on the forum. (Note I posted 2 days prior to disucssing it on IRC!).

Here is my current draft.  I was hoping to get the grammer cleaned up before I posted it in the forums but I have been too busy today and you guys are very correct to be pressing me to post.

Mission Statement

OpenACS is a vibrant and supportive global community that cooperatively develops and implements free and open source software for creating dynamic web sites.  We believe:

•    The web can be used to enhance collaboration, communication, community and knowledge transfer
•    Powerful, customized dynamic websites and the code to create them should be universally and internationally accessible.
•    Web sites should be created with advanced, elegant engineering, scalability and reusable components.
•    These reusable components should be assembled and customized into powerful vertical applications.

Alfred's Text:

Subject: What is OpenACS ?

OpenAcs is an international community of developers who develop and
maintain a toolkit for building websites. Tracing back to its origins at
MIT, the toolkit incorporates advanced web engineering concepts, suitable
for high traffic websites. Because the toolkit is always installed with a
fully relational database, there is a high degree of integration with
databases, with a clean, easy-to-understand API for generating websites
from the database. In addition, an object system resides on top of the
database, permitting site developers to create complex applications using
the object API - examples include an object level permissions system,
audit trails, ability to relate one object to another.

The system contains features seldom found in web servers - automated
testing, component package system for easy installation, upgrade paths for
code and database schemas, and full internationalization. The system also
has a fully functional content repository and content management system.
These features have been used in a variety of production websites, and
have led to the community adding to and growing the OpenACS core by
contributing software back to the project.

This vibrant community stays active by collaborating on new features for
the core, maintaining contributed software, and at times acknowledges its
academic roots and incorporates cutting edge or theoretical techniques.


Posted by Caroline Meeks on

Yes, if we can come to a reasonable consensus on a Mission Statement I will move it into the TIP Process.  The goal is to hash things out in the discussion  forums not in the TIP Forum.

I hope we can take some of Alfred's text and combine it with the existing What is OpenACS page. I believe the OCT has decided we don't need a TIP for every text change to the website and its under ETP so we can always revert if we need to. I will announce any changes here on this thread.

I'd love help writng/editing on both the Mission Statement and the What is OpenACS page.


Posted by Don Baccus on
Is TIP the right place?  Votes from folks like Talli who are't OCT members yet long-term active community members are very important for metastuff like a mission statement ...
Posted by Caroline Meeks on
Last weekend I attended a pair of nonprofit technology conferences in Philadelphia.  There was tremendous interest in Open Source.

The attendees at the conferences spoke of open source software sharing values with nonprofits. I'd like our Mission Statement to be accessible to nonprogrammers and help them understand the degree to which their values are aligned with OpenACS.

Primarily the nonprofits look to Open Source to give to them. They want free code, they want features, they want usability.  They don't think about what they can give back to us.  But once they understand our community model and the idea occurs to them that they could give back, they seem very receptive to participating in a community.

OpenACS is making huge progress technically.  I think we are more ready then ever to benefit from non-programmer volunteers and leaders.

A mission statement is just one step towards goals such as increasing nonprofit users and sites; nonprogrammer volunteers and perhaps becoming a nonprofit ourselves and getting grants directly.

With that background, please comment on the actual content of the Mission Statement. Our code is good because everyone thinks about the underlying processes of how things are done. It’s the way great programmers think.  I've noticed great marketing and publicity people don't seem to think that way. ;)

Posted by Jun Yamog on

I think this does not need a TIP since its not technical.  Its a step forward to what we got, I like the text, etc.  Its better than what we got or not have currently.  I hope that this goes into the openacs site and does not get buried on the forums.

+1 vote from a community member.

I don't agree with Don, Talli should stay away from important things like this.  :)

Posted by Joel Aufrecht on
Brainstorming ...

We are (a global community | an (open | inclusive | transparent community)) of developers, and users, from individuals to small businesses to institutions, that cooperatively (develops and implements | builds, maintains, and supports | develops | provides | produces) the OpenACS platform of free and open source software for dynamic web sites.

We believe:
•    The Internet enhances collaboration, communication, community and knowledge transfer

•    Powerful websites and the means to create them should be universally available and accessible.

•    A free web development platform comprising a community-oriented base and reusable modules is the best way to provide this.

•    OpenACS can and should be the best available example of this approach

wrestling with one more bullet point along the lines of
- developers and users should contribute back to the community (except that the inability to contribute back should never prevent anyone from using OpenACS ...)

- It should be possible to make a living from OpenACS development while supporting this mission and contributing code back

Posted by Don Baccus on
A couple of nits ...

"OpenAcs is an international community of developers who develop and
maintain a toolkit for building websites."

No, OpenACS is a piece of software, you're describing our community/project.  Let's not confuse newcomers with the first thing they read about us, our mission statement! :)

Joel ... good thoughts other than the fact that I hate the word "powerful" in the software context, so overused that it's become a mere noise word!

Jun ... I stand corrected regarding Talli! :)

I won't be able to follow this conversation regularly since I'm on the road but do like the direction it is taking.

Posted by Torben Brosten on
Nice starting drafts. Here's inspiration for a re-work. =)

What audience would read, understand (and retain) it?

Mission statements are like ethics code, administrative procedures or most any bureaucratic device written to affect behavior. Unless we are very careful, the act of discussing it may be more useful than the resultant document.

We need something practical, inclusive and directed... And the focus statement should be short. Think Monty Python's "seeking the Holly Grail", a mantra, battle cry etc.

Here is a suggestion distilled (and inspired) from the above drafts:

Mission Statement:

collaboratively develop scalable, re-usable, extendible database-driven applications

Then define what is meant by using these words. The description should be increasing in detail (and technical jargon).

A. collaboratively design, implement, and support the OpenACS system

B. build for scaling, re-using, and extending

What are the requirements of re-usable, extendible applications that scale?

1. ACID compliant database (link to doc about what this means, why it's important, what Openacs uses and why those DBs are chosen)

2. customizable (tcl code) (link to doc about this, why it's important..)

3. web server that's well connected to the database (aolserver) (link to what this means...)

4 ...


Posted by Tom Jackson on

I thought a Mission Statement was more of a statement of what you wish to achieve, something which is actually a goal which can be measured. If it is worded as a statement of fact, which might require a true believer to to accept, it is much less powerful. A mission implies movement, momentum, but a statement of what we think we are, or how we wish to be perceived is like a cheap suit to the casual observer.

In other words it is much more believable when you say you want to achieve some end, rather than claiming you have already achieved it. A mission is something which allows you to measure any action done by the community. Will the action bring you closer to the goal? We do this informally every day, but usually each person has their own idea of what the goal should be.

I think it is great this discussion is taking place. A good result will have a positive impact on the activities of the community. So what should the mission(s) of this community be. Without much thought, I would offer simple goals:

  • Stability--at some point a stable core has to be produced where changes do not distract the community from working on other missions, right now stability is more a result of hand produced upgrade scripts. This might be phrased as a guarantee of investment.
  • Out-of-the-box application functionality--if applications are provided, they need to work. Tiny, easy to fix bugs, caused by frequent updates of related packages, leads new users to abandon the toolkit before they have discovered why they should be using it.
  • Enterprise level development environment--address the needs of organizations who need to satisfy growing demands without re-engineering for every new level of complexity or expansion.
  • Incentives for open development--an environment where academics, hackers and professional developers benefit from participation in the community and giving back what they can.

Posted by Torben Brosten on
Yes, you're right, Tom. A mission statement is often a goal, something to be reached or to reach for. Yet..

Sometimes the journey is the destination! =)

Some previous threads about the discussion of OpenACS clearly show that there is a diverse set of actors:

  stake-holders etc.

and their goals from using OpenACS:

  enterprise toolkit
  specific vertical implementations
  school project
  personal blog
  custom web app
  management information services system
  workgroup support
  hobby etc.

We have the journey in common. Many decisions have been influenced by the values associated with how we collaborate and develop the basic building blocks of the system.

The mission statement should invite and motivate regardless of how any actor views their participation or (to a resonable extent) how actors want to use the tools.

Posted by Torben Brosten on
From another perspective, you can see a mission statement as a  plan to reach a goal.

the plan is "to collaboratively develop [the goal of] a scalable .." toolkit or system

Posted by Joel Aufrecht on
Mission, vision, goal, whatever - to me, the absolute essence of my personal participation in OpenACS is:
1) The internet can be a positive medium
2) Those of us fortunate to have the means to use the internet should pass these means on better than we found them
3) OpenACS codifies one approach to using the internet, and I choose to focus my contributions there

The next piece is, what is special or unique about OpenACS vs other software, and we have several threads ongoing on that topic.

The piece after that is, what are the tasks and features that the OpenACS community should undertake next to better fulfill our mission; primarily, marketing it so that more people use it and hence benefit from it; improving its shortcomings (in my opinion, usability, quality, performance) so that using it leads more consistently to benefits; and adding functionality that is consistent with OpenACS's unique advantages.

Posted by Tom Jackson on

I think I'm the wrong person to say what the overall mission of this community should be. My above comments were more about the language that needs to be used. Just googling for mission statement brought up a short piece on the basics of a mission statement.

Posted by Torben Brosten on
Joel, my own personal motivations are not too different from yours. Mine is based in selfless service in creating a tool that benefits the human condition and helps to solve existing problems facing humanity.  I think bug hunting and code development are mundane [sometimes hellish] aspects of the electric world that can help spirits in a material world. To really serve others, we must start by not rejecting others from their perspective. This means respecting others ie. not imposing beliefs or values on others, who may not completely share them. The mission statement needs to avoid defining we and our ultimate goals which are quite diverse, see the lengthy Greenpeace awards thread[6] for example.

More mission statement examples and thoughts

The mission statement[3] is too wordy, but a section of it does represent one relevant example: exists to assist those who use and develop for Gentoo Linux by providing relevant, up-to-date information about Gentoo Linux and Linux in general, focusing on topics related to Gentoo Linux installation, use, administration, and development. As the central hub for all things Gentoo..

In the context of high-performance software, these next two examples suggest some standardized terminology.

"IBM advanced computing technology center ..has High Performance Computing (HPC) as its focus and provides customers with solutions for porting and optimizing applications on IBM hardware[2]".

"The original mission statement of the LTC.. was to contribute technology to Linux with the specific objective of addressing enterprise functionality. [in essence] help make Linux better, specifically for enterprise applications, workloads, and hardware"[5]

The mission statement should also be viewed in the context of internationalization and localization efforts[4]. A survey about how NGOs and TransNational Corps (TNC) can work together includes a section on how mission statements are viewed and used around the world. page 55 starts a list of NGO mission statements[1]. I would imagine this would be addressed in the regional translations. Avoiding slang should help in translating it.







Posted by Torben Brosten on's MySQL A/B "mission is to make superior data management available and affordable for all. We contribute to building the mission-critical, high-volume systems and products worldwide."[7]


19: RE: Mission Statement (response to 1)
Posted by Bruce Spear on
Great thread guys!  I REALLY like the divergence of interest and opinion here and wonder if our task might be simpler if, following Torben, we write different mission statements for our different audiences and constituencies (say, three), if each had a short and long version, and if we kept in mind their purpose, as I understand it: inviting people (including ourselves) to join the enterprise. That is, as Caroline describes nicely, the technology is tied to a community and a business model.  When discussing .lrn to a propective university person two weeks ago, I quickly wished I had a list of talking points that went beyond the feature list to what getting involved with this technology and community might be about.  For instance, I get the impression that an open source solution works well in a university setting where the administration respects and supports a strong in-house developer team and that it works less well with those who want to out-source everything, buy a one-size-for-all solution, and prefer to pay more for a license than pay less to support their own people. That is, with Dotlrn I don't get to call a help desk and demand an answer in 24 hours, but instead, must be far more resourceful, including, rtfm, making sure the people around me want to help me as I try to help them, cultivating friendships in our community, learning how to write forum postings that might get answers, taking on clients willing to be flexible, etc.  I think the strength of my understanding and implementation has been greatly improved because of it.  Thus, I think the peculiar features of the developer community and business model are of one piece with the technology, and so I'd think it best to write one mission statement for the dotlrn group, another for the non-profits, and so forth, and each based on an honest appraisal of the what is needed to make it work and the qualitative benefits of solving the problem this way.
20: Re: Mission Statement (response to 19)
Posted by Ben Koot on
The folks over at Bascecamp put some interesting issues on the table. "Immerse yourself in the hectic process of concepting, designing, developing, marketing, supporting, and maintaining a web-app used by thousands of people worldwide."


Posted by C. R. Oldham on
Primarily the nonprofits look to Open Source to give to them. They want free code, they want features, they want usability. They don't think about what they can give back to us.


Speaking as the IT director for one of the larger (I think) nonprofits using OpenACS, let me state how important it has been to me for us to give back. I think our record here in the community speaks for itself there. However, I will agree that most nonprofits are not as fortunate as we are to have an "IT department", and it's only when there is an IT department or a savvy consultant involved that any return to the community can take place. Otherwise (and in many ways rightfully so) the nonprofit just doesn't have time to focus on the tools underlying their core business. They would much rather go buy an off-the-shelf solution that meets 60-70% of their needs and live without the unmet 30-40%.

Posted by Alfred Werner on
I agree - the non-profits have been instrumental in the survival of OpenACS. I know I for one have also been adding 'contribute back to open source' clauses in my recent commercial contracts as well - nobody seems to be balking at it - they realize they are getting a tremendous value in software primarily because others have done the same in the past. A sign of maturity? I hope so ...
Posted by Torben Brosten on
Trying to measure "give back" is inappropriate for a project like this. The reasons are lengthy and deserving of a separate thread (if necessary). Anyone who *expects* direct return from contributing (and collaborating with others) here needs to find a sponsor of some kind, so that they can find satisfaction in measures of their own situation by their own standards.

now to the topic at hand..

These projects do not appear to have mission statements. (Openacs has been compared to them at times).

Bruce's idea (of creating multiple statements) works for Apache. Their mission statement may be the closest existing mission statement to something for the OpenACS core project:

    The mission of the APR project is to create and maintain software
    libraries that provide a predictable and consistent interface to
    underlying platform-specific implementations.  The primary goal is
    to provide an API to which software developers may code and be
    assured of predictable if not identical behaviour regardless of
    the platform on which their software is built, relieving them of
    the need to code special-case conditions to work around or take
    advantage of platform-specific deficiencies or features.[1]

As Apache API is to OpenACS, so maybe Apache projects are to OpenACS packages or vertical apps, such as dotLRN, Project Manager, dotWrk. Apache projects are required to have their own mission statement (among other things) for support on the apache website.[2]



Posted by Torben Brosten on
I agree with Alfred and CRO. Commercial clients gladly go the open source way when offered 2 proposals, where the other is for using proprietary software and full disclosure of license costs. Heck, some clients look for programmers to hack into proprietary software to get it to do things that the original software vendor won't support. =)
Posted by Mohan Pakkurti on
hi all!

Why do we need a mission statement?

Is this going to help us as a marketing tool? Or, is it for us to tell ourselves what are doing and help in keeping focus?

If we can come up with a paragraph stating the vision, then maybe we could  target the vision statement for different uses - marketing, development etc.

I guess that is what his discussion is about :)  but I feel we need to figure out why we want a mission statement "now" - because we don't have one? or a more compelling reason...

Posted by Lars Pind on
I would like the mission statement to relate to what's happening in the world of IT, software, what's happening in the world at large, and decribe the role of OpenACS in facilitating that change.

A small selection of data points:

- Hardware has long been a commodity, like electricity and transportation; now, with open source, software is becoming a commodity as well, which is the natural consequence of the cost structure (high development costs, zero duplication/distribution costs)

- New competitive advantage to be gained not from the software itself, but from innovation in software, such as clever use of open source software, like Amazon, Google. (Tim O'Reilly, the Open Source paradigm shift,

- "The Internet was the first new tool to help convene group conversations since the invention of the table" (Clay Shirky,

- The current trend in social software is just a direct extension of a long string of killer apps: The telephone, email, cell phones, text messaging (SMS), groupware, blogs, dating, social networking -- it's not the information society, it's the network society ... network of people, human beings. It's about the people, not the technology.

I'd love to see a mission statement that embraces these trends, and explains how OpenACS fits in this picture.


Posted by Caroline Meeks on
Based on the wonderfull inspiration above I have a new draft.

Mission Statement

We are a vibrant and supportive global community that cooperatively develops and implements the OpenACS platform of free and open source software for dynamic web sites.

We believe innovative use of the internet can enhances collaboration, communication, community and knowledge transfer on a planetary scale. Thus we are collaboratively creating a community-oriented, localizable base of reusable modules and a scalable and stable core that are freely available under the GPL.

We see OpenACS as a foundation for innovation and thus support subprojects that are specialized by market or functionally.

Posted by Benjamin Bytheway on
I don't know how others feel, but I can hardly get through that proposed mission statement without going overbudget on my buzzword allowance for the month.

I would much rather see such marketing-speak reserved for companies that sell openacs services.  The guiding mission statement I would envision for openacs would be much more community centric, to define how we operate as a community and what those goals are.  Maybe something more like the debian social contract.

Posted by Dave Bauer on
I wanted to make it a little more clear, with less buzzwords. I didn't take them all out.

Dave's Draft
Mission Statement

We are a vibrant and supportive global community that cooperatively develops and implements the OpenACS platform of free and open source software for dynamic web sites.

We build software that can be used enhance collaboration, communication, community and knowledge transfer. We are collaboratively creating a community-oriented, internationalized base of reusable modules and a scalable and stable core that are freely available under the GPL.

Not sure what to do with this:

We see OpenACS as a foundation for innovation and thus support subprojects that are specialized by market or functionally.

I think the phrase "We build software" is important.

Posted by Bruce Spear on
Maybe it is because I saw the Wizard of Oz over the weekend, or maybe it is because I am old enough to remember being called a nattering nabob of negativism and a pusilannimous pussyfooter, but I thought I might try to address and charm those who prefer a simpler formulation.  Enjoy!  Bruce

OpenAcs is an open source web technology and community.

The OpenACS toolkit features a localizable base of reusable modules.  It is scalable, stable, secure, and freely available under the GPL.

The OpenACS community is a vibrant and supportive global community. We support innovative uses of the internet to further collaboration, communication, community and knowledge transfer on a planetary scale.

We eagerly support innovative development to serve new and specialized uses and markets.

Posted by Bart Teeuwisse on

Chipping away at Dave's version some more:

The OpenACS project is a vibrant and supportive open source community cooperatively developing the OpenArchitecture Community System for the creation of dynamic web sites. We build software to enhance collaboration, communication, and knowledge transfer.

OpenACS is a community-oriented, localized, secure and scalable toolkit of reusable modules around a stable core. OpenACS is freely distributed under the GPL.


Posted by Tom Jackson on

This is an interesting, if difficult job. Above I stated that a mission was more like a goal. Then I read some of the links I provided. Seems there is some basic agreement in the non-profit area at least. A mission seems to be made up of three things:

  • What is the purpose of the community/organization?
  • How is the purpose to be achieved?
  • What are the community/organization values?
  • The first is really the goal or goals. The second offers a roadmap to achieve the goals. The third sets some guidelines, possibly the reason for the goal, or parameters under which the goals must be achieved.

    For instance one goal of the OpenACS community could be to produce a high quality web toolkit.

    One way to achive the goal is to write and improve code and improve performance, modularize, refactor, set and enforce standards, etc.

    The associated values are to offer advice and direction when asked, to encourage participation by users, to encourage collaboration among developers and users, and to encourage funded developers to consider giving back useful code.

    An overall value might be to use the internet and the OpenACS toolkit as a positive force for solving diverse communication needs.

Posted by Caroline Meeks on
Here is my synthesis of Dave, Bart and Bruce's rewrites. Thanks. I definitely agree my last draft had way too many buzz words.
OpenACS Community Mission Statement We are a vibrant and supportive global community that cooperatively builds OpenArchitecture Community System, free and open source software for dynamic web sites.

The OpenACS toolkit is a localizable base of reusable modules with an emphasis enhancing collaboration, communication and knowledge transfer. It is scalable, stable, secure, and freely available under the GPL

We eagerly support subprojects with innovative development that serve new and specialized uses and markets.

Tom, I think your comments are good but perhaps we need to address those questions in a larger document. It seems like to much for a mission statement. I'm going to ask my nonprofit community friends for thier opinions too.

Thanks all