Forum OpenACS Q&A: Response to OpenACS review: How might we improve this site? How can we support our community?

It's been fascinating reading these discussions recently.  I hope that good answers are found.  I shall now diverge for a minute on the ideal solution to the documentation and general site-management problem that has been discussed.

What's missing from the toolkit/site?  The concept of "content", separate from the concept of "bboard post" or "faq question" or "faq answer".  In short, the (Open)ACS 3.x workflow generally allows creation (of comments, faqs, bboard posts) but little beyond that; there is very little moderation, editing, and no promotion/relocating.  It has been pointed out before that the great thing about the ACS is that it is user-centered; principally what ties all of the modules together is a common notion of user-id, the wonder of "single sign-on" across different modules.  This is great.  But it doesn't go far enough.  Content, once created, never migrates, is never re-used, and that's the problem.

Why should content migrate?  So that it can be saved, relocated, or expanded upon.  We have seen lots of great discussion here recently.  Why?  Because everybody is empowered to discuss.  It's easy.  There's this nice "Submit" button just begging you to talk.

A lot of the discussion has asked for better documentation.  We have seen a bit of that, but less.  Why?  Because fewer people feel empowered to create new pages.  You can send something to Ben.  But there's no nice "edit this page" link (essentially what Jerry is asking for w/ a WIKI), no clear way to go from "wow, that's a really great answer to that question" to "now there's a new page on the site making it easy to find that great discussion when browsing".  People can (and often do) write up what would make great webpages right here in bboard.  But it's a bboard post, not "content", so it eventually gets lost.

FAQs are asked and answered, only to be asked again later because the answer has become buried.  Because the question and answer in bboard can't be migrated to a FAQ list somewhere.  Because it's a bboard post, not "content", so it eventually gets lost.

What's needed?  Some system for promoting/reassigning/relocating/reusing content.  If I ask "What is OpenACS good for?" and Ben writes the best answer ever, a moderator reading the post should be able to click on a link to move the Q & A from bboard into a FAQ.  A group of FAQ maintainers should be able to refine the content appropriately (perhaps asking the original author for permission, or perhaps just crediting his original comment w/ a link back to the bboard).  If the FAQ answers just the question Ben needs answered when he's putting together an "about OpenACS" page, he should be able to include that content into an article at /about/openacs too.

In short, it's not presently easy for somebody who has something to say to do more than write a bboard post.  If it was possible to promote that bboard post to some more permanent status (FAQ, manual, news, whatever) with moderation/review/editing, it would be a lot easier to do more than just talk about what's needed; talking about OpenACS could be transformed into creating business-level documentation via a bit of moderation and editing.

I believe CMS and the content repository are attempting to solve this problem.  It's a tough problem.  You don't need a steering committee nearly as much as you need content moderators; unfortunately, the software must first develop excellent support for such moderation, so perhaps a steering committee will do in the meantime.  But, if you have some free time, it would be great to work towards making the notion of "content" as instilled in the system as the notion of a "user" (or party) is.  There's a base there now in 4.0, but I think it needs some more work to really empower easy shared website creation and maintenance, and it would be a great direction to take OpenACS in.

Nothing here is new.  WIKIs tend to ignore the concept of a user in favor of the concept of content; it's not easily relocated, but it is easily collaboratively edited and linked to (I dislike the lack of structure and control, but still find quite useful). does a pretty good job, since "messages" can be featured as "stories" or anchored w/ human-readable URLs.  Unfortunately both systems are essentially single modules; I'd love some examples where content has been treated well across an entire system, where I can go hit a website and write something that somebody else can decide to use elsewhere on the site.

And finally, I apologize for being all talk - I have the time for a bboard post now and then, but little more.  Happily, aD is once again taking up most of my time.  :)