Forum OpenACS Q&A: Bboard for OpenACS non-techies?

Posted by Reuven Lerner on
I'm starting to work with a fair number of graphics designers who have
been assigned to work on OpenACS sites.

While I'm delighted to be introducing people to the wonders of
OpenACS, many of these folks are feeling lost and a bit overwhelmed by
the amount of technical information they need to learn in order to
create ADPs.  No longer is it enough to tell them, "Ignore the stuff
between <%= and %> tags"; now they need to know about masters, default
masters, parameters, <if> tags, @variables@, and the like.

Is there any interest in starting a bboard for non-techie OpenACS
users, such as graphic designers.  The designer I'm working with most
closely right now would very much like to be in touch with her peers.

I'll gladly be in charge of the forum, if such supervision is really

Posted by Ben Adida on

I like the general idea. Should we make it a bit more precise
than "OpenACS for non-techies"? What is the exact intended
audience? Graphic Designers mainly?

Posted by Reuven Lerner on
Hi, Ben.

Yeah, I was basically thinking along the lines of, "OpenACS graphic designers' forum," or perhaps, "ADP users' forum."  I'm not sure which is really more precise.

We could also call it the "Please don't make me learn Tcl" forum...

Posted by Ben Adida on
I think somethign along the lines of "OpenACS Graphic/UI
Designers" would be a great focus. Anyone else have ideas as
to how to focus this? Let's open this up to other comments for
24-48 hours, and then let's create the forum.
Posted by Torben Brosten on
This forum would likely be helpful in my work on Beginner's Documentation also.
Posted by Don Baccus on
Yes, I think this would be good, too ... I think we might get some participation by Greenpeace designers, too, there are a couple there who've worked quite extensively with the templates that make up their system.
Posted by Ben Koot on
It would also fit in nicely with my guide for administrators, marketeers & end-users, and just in time because of my latest project, an acs demo for ICTP. I look forward to it
Posted by Bruno Mattarollo on
Sounds really good. Getting more people to understand the potential of the templating and also more ideas on how to improve it would be very good.

I think there are many functionalities in OpenACS that are "hidden" by the lack of documentation and this would really help a lot!

Posted by xx xx on

Yes I would be interested in a new forum.

However, I would not restrict the forum to designers only. I think the central idea of a new forum should be, to cover OpenACS as a 'PROGRAM out of the box'. 

Why? Most 'guru-people' seem to be working with an adapted version (built upon other systems and/or OpenACS 3.x and older). I'm afraid that is the reason that basic UI's (ef group admin) are not optimal functioning. To be honest, I think I didn't meet anybody at the OpenACS social we had recently (It was fun to be there! Thanks Greenpeace!).who had a complete OpenACS 4.5 site up-and-running (probably my mistake). This made me wonder whether OpenACS is a solution as a 'program' or a development environment; especially when I see practical questions (Out-of-the-box, or new package?) being deferred to dotLRN. 

So yes, let's have a forum that is UI oriented. This would help designers and programmers that use the UI as an interface to understand OpenACS as a 'program'. Probably the community could grow faster. Furthermore, an UI oriented forum would be an alternative way to write practical documentation (!). Let us struggle together with the basic pages/UI that are provided by the standard OpenACS 4 tarball (including adp, tcl, xql, html, vuh files etc) and let's exchange examples. 

My proposal would be to have forum questions TAGGED with OpenACS version-number and UI-names. This approach might help to find 'basic' and 'fundamental'questions at the UI-LEVEL (and the code that is underneath). It will also be easier to find out which features are there and which are not. If we would have a real installation of the latest OpenACS release (, with a Bboard widget included on every page, that would even be better. Each widget should be a part of the central bboard, but with UI specific information. Is this realistic ?

Posted by Reuven Lerner on

I agree that it would be nice to have a forum for using OpenACS as a program, rather than as a software toolkit.  But most of the designers I'm working with are responsible for turning their ideas into working sites.  They don't know (and don't want to know) about how to install or use the applications; they are more interested in hearing how to create HTML forms, use data sources, and create conditional text using this new and strange technology known as OpenACS.

I'm all in favor of a separate new "OpenACS newbies" forum that would help people who want to use the existing OpenACS applications.  And I definitely see some overlap between the two needs.  But the two forums serve different purposes, so far as I can tell.

Posted by Scott Mc Williams on
I agree with Reuven, two separate forums would work better. I'm a graphic designer who, by neccessity, learned a bunch of TCL commands. I think the OpenACS project as a whole would greatly benefit from the input of graphic designers and other non-techie types. The "tech types" are the ones who make it work, but it's generally the graphic designer types who add the sizzle that sells the steak.

I'm not just talking about pretty pictures, but also addressing the glaring usability issues that crop up with OpenACS on an everyday basis. Allowing graphic designers to get together and speak with OUR jargon can only help the project as a whole.

Posted by xx xx on
Okay, I understand.
I am or at least was a non-techie myself, when I started to dig into HTML etcetera 2 years ago. Now I'm (trying to be) an admin.

However, being an admin, you run into package-developers questions and core-developers questions where I have no experience (attributes and columns).

My level would be 'Admin' at 'OpenACS 4.5' 'from scratch' 'under construction'. Being a registered user doesn't mean you have to be a core-hacker anymore.
Maybe, we can have a poll/spam to find out what levels of community members we have and in what way they are using OpenACS. So we can speak with other community members at our own level. Especially since it seems a new website is underway.
Posted by Don Baccus on
Two forums are a possibility.  Why not, it's just another row in the database!  I like the idea of having a forum for designers that won't be cluttered with tech talk about OpenACS innards.

As far as graphics designers contributing to UI discussions ... usability issues for the toolkit at large really belong in our 4.x design forum.  I welcome input from everyone on usability (the fact that there are issues in this area is no secret) but such discussion needs to be in a place where people, both techie and others, will expect it and a "templating for designers" forum won't be where those who will actually implement usability improvements will expect it.

Posted by xx xx on
Two forums are a possibility.
Great! If you mean one (extra) for graphics designers and one for admins. 

But could we have the application usability and program installation questions in the admins forum? I was thinking about a forum at 'scripters' level. I my mind the design forum would be 'developers' level for core, kernel and hierarchical questions and the artistic forum at 'webdesigners' level would be about templating. Just a thought.

Posted by Michael Feldstein on
One of the drawbacks of having too many forums is excessive fragmentation. It's good to have a certain amount of cross-fertilization. Besides, if you narrow the forums too much, people don't post as often, and then eventually people don't post because they don't see others posting either. It's a viscious cycle.

One thing that we're missing from that seemed to work at least passably well on web/db is the ability to assign different categories to threads in the same bboard. That way people could look in one unified place for recent activity but could also narrow their searches for existing threads to those that are likely to be relevant. if the new 4.5-based site will restore this capability, then perhaps we want to wait and consider which topics need their own boards and which ones simply need their own categories within a larger bboard.

Posted by Brian Fenton on
One thing that I think would be an excellent improvement in the bboards is the ability to search by last-posting date or creation date. How many times have you done a search for something and found loads of out-dated threads when the answer you wanted was quite recent?
Posted by Ben Koot on
Isn't setting up categery a simple default setting that you activate in the BBoard admin function. At least that's how use it on our 3.25 bboard. or am I missing something?

Here's the explanation

After a Q&A forum has collected a few thousand messages, it becomes tough for users to find archived threads, even when the software is running on a server with a full-text search engine. Categorization lets you support browsing as well as searching. As the administrator, you are always able to recategorize messages and define new categories. If you want less work and don't mind a little chaos, then you can allow users to categorize their own questions (they get a select menu when they post a new question). If you don't mind a lot of chaos, you can allow users to define new categories.

Present Categorized?  Yes  No

Ask User to Categorize?  Yes  No

Allow Users to Add New Categories?  Yes  No

Posted by Reuven Lerner on
Categories are indeed a great thing; I love the fact that 4.5 bboards integrate them so nicely.

But I can tell you from experience that when I send a non-programmer to, they aren't sure where to begin to figure out what's happening.  I send them to the bboards, where they can ask any question (as I tell them), and they're confused by all of the technobabble.

While I think that there's room to improve the marketing of OpenACS and its image to the decision-makers, part of my role as a consultant is to explain things to my clients, and to tell them why one solution is better than another one for their particular needs.  So yes, it would be nice to have a more manager-friendly site in many ways (see vs. for a clever way of dealing with this) -- but it doesn't disturb me terribly that such a thing doesn't exist, because it gives me a chance to explain things in person to clients.

But this attitude breaks down when non-programmers are actually using OpenACS in their work and have questions.  They could turn to me for answers, but (a) that gets expensive, (b) it doesn't help the community, and (c) they have to actually catch me when I'm not working on another project, which is a rarity nowadays.  Besides, I keep touting the fact that OpenACS makes them independent of any particular software company, emphasizing that they can learn and develop without being dependent on me.

The bottom line, then, is that I would like to see a forum for the people who are forced to use OpenACS, but who don't have the time, inclination, or training to learn SQL, Unix, or even Emacs.  The graphic designers I work with are very creative and clever, and do more with Photoshop and DreamWeaver than I ever could.  But they're scared of programming, and don't want to have to wade through postings about Tcl, CVS, and the like just to find out how to change the background color in a default master for a subsite.

As for fragmentation, I'm not sure how much we need to worry about that, given how much the community is growing.  Five forums for 10 people is kinda dumb, but five forums for several thousand users isn't bad at all.  And when you prominently offer full-text search through all of the bboards, that strikes me as pretty reasonable.

Posted by Ben Adida on
Okay, it seems this has drifted into adding a bunch of new
topics. Let's review the current scheme and see how we can
improve it:

- OpenACS forum: all OpenACS questions, some categorization

- OpenACS 4 Design forum: OpenACS 4 experienced developer

- OpenACS 4 Testing: for testers

- OpenACS CMS: for CMS (not really all that used right now)

- dotLRN: for all dotLRN issues right now

I agree with Michael that we want cross-pollination. We can also
learn from the OpenACS CMS forum that a forum topic that is too
specific will not work.

Here are the needs we're trying to address:

- forum for newbies

- forum for graphic designers

- forum for OpenACS users/administrators (not programmers).

How can these be grouped? Can we use existing forums and
better categorization to make some of this work? Some initial
ideas on my end:

- a forum for beginners is a good idea to help people become
part of the community

- a forum for non-developer but techno-savvy folks is useful, too
(graphic designers, business analysts, etc...)

- a forum for advanced developers is important. It's probably time
to stop differentiating between 3.x and 4.x at the forum level...

Posted by Don Baccus on
Having the newbies and graphics forums be separate makes sense because both those groups of folks will appreciate not having to wade through gobblygook geek threads trying to figure out what is interesting to them, and what isn't.

We can probably retire the CMS forum for now, at least.  It hasn't flourished because the CMS forum is out to pasture and probably will stay there until someone has time to vastly revamp the user interface.  How many times can one post "the UI sucks" in the same forum without repeating onself? :)

Posted by Torben Brosten on
I like Ben Adida's suggestion of 3 forums, because it reflects the  categorization of documentation, making it easier to develop documentation from ongoing discussions. It also helps writers to adjust to using appropriate jargon etc. for readers.
Posted by Talli Somekh on
I think that more forums is a nice idea, but it's not necessarily true that more forums == better use. We have a bunch of forums already and there's a lot of overlap in the information posted to the OpenACS forum, the OpenACS 4.0 design forum and the OpenACS 4.0 Testing forum. So much that trying to remember where a certain post was is almost useless.

Since we are building a new site with new forums, perhaps we can use the opportunity to engineer a better way of communicating here. I think Michael's suggestion is best - we should use categories rather than more forums. I don't know how this can be implemented, though.

So with nothing more to add, I'll just shut up now. I need a nap.


Posted by Torben Brosten on
Okay, now that Talli is sleeping I'll add some more thoughts.

First, self-categorization by each poster within each forum (as Talli suggests), is important for increasing the value of targeting searching.

Second, given that OpenACS docs are notorious for needing improvement, a forum or communication structure needs to be developed that:

1. indicates when documentation fails,

2. helps create new documentation.

3. verifies improved documentation (by showing a lack of "new-history" to use the forum for a previously documented item).

The forums are a perfect resource for documentation development -Think of treating documentation in the same process as any other project: observe, plan, implement (write), verify.

Context of notes are important when creating docs. Does a specific note belong in the beginner doc or the admin doc etc? Right now, I'm sitting with over 400 notes (linked to the various developer-oriented forum discussions) that need to be tracked to documentation somewhere, and if not found, then added. Also, it's not clear to me if certain issues are admin, developer or beginner issues because the context of jargon is unknown --is CM customer management, content management etc.

I have a strong urge to post a question to each noted discussion, asking 1. "has X been added to documentation", and 2. "where?"  But 400+ emails would be obnoxious spamming even if it were to benefit the docs. Who would read and respond to them? So, I'm left with having to assume that most are not documented (likely), and posting to the documentation project --hoping its not redundant.

If the communication about documentation is not directly addressed in the structure of forums, then extra communication is burdened to the community and specificly document writers. Asking similar questions to different noted discussions gets old fast for everyone.

We need:

1. One forum for beginners (definition: if you don't know what classification you are in, use "beginner" [end-users]).

2. One forum for admins (those managing OpenACS [such as html, graphics designers, installers, sysadmins etc],

3. One or more forums for developers. Why not keep the current developer-centric forums for developers?

This structure solves many problems. Including a self-categorizing topic for each poster, as Talli and others recommend, would add to the value of this arrangement.

Posted by xx xx on
Yes, separate beginners from the geeks (ahem).
I think all newbies/beginners should start as code-USERS. When they are comfortable with the program they might grow into code-MAKERS, but many will become just Experienced Users.

My proposal is based on that thought:

1. OpenACS Webinterface forum - covering templating code ONLY and related issues like integrating graphics and other media or DHTML.
2. OpenACS Install-and-Admin forum - covering all code that is useful when installing or structuring the program or preparing variables for adp-files.

3. OpenACS Design forum - improving and extending code, bug fixes and brainstorms on future development.
4. OpenASC Testing forum - new code development and evaluation of extensive changes.

5. dotLRN
6. ...

Code-users would deal with questions like How can I achieve this..?, Where can I find the code to..?, Why doesn't it work..? questions.
The Code-USERS forum should NEVER address questions on HOW code should be changed, ONLY WHETHER it works or not.
Newbies should enter at their own level of interest and knowledge, not in a separate forum.

About cross-pollination: This structure is somewhat hierarchical. If problems are detected in one forum it could be posted in the next.

UI orientation of the forums or categorisation of threads could be ways to focus, but full text search is of great help now.
Posted by Torben Brosten on
Aldert Nooitgedagt, you must be a code maker, yes?

The thoughts in your post seem to reflect some of the current developer-centric forums (code-maker, code-comparer), and putting everyone else in a beginner's forum. There is nothing wrong with those thoughts for starters, but it is incomplete. The forums need to reflect the documentation for optimization purposes. If marketing documentation will be separate from beginner docs, then there should likely be a forum (or at least a categorization) for marketing as well.

Posted by xx xx on
Torben, I am a code-User, trying to get 'the program' to work.

The OpenACS code-Makers did such a good job that even people like me can work with it. I need a forum with Users just like me, that use existing code to get things done efficiently. But where do I find what code..? How do I decide what groups to make and how to assign permissions to what object..? For personal use, some code addition is also likely.

I wouldn't put all 'Beginners'in one forum. Eventually, I don't know what information we would find there, since we have beginners in designing, admin, programming, marketing etc.

In my proposal designers and admins (code Users) would have different forums, since they have different user functions and needs as Reuven stated. Both forums would create User specific documentation. Many beginners will start as Users. Therefore, I think we will find more beginners in the code-Users forums than in the code-Maker forums.

A marketing forum would be something different. OpenACS is all about code development, isn't it? What do you have in mind with marketing? Isn't code-comparing what you are after (information on how openACS compares to other code in the market)?
Remember this is just my brainstorm. I am not to decide.
Posted by Talli Somekh on
Albert, one of the reasons that the OpenACS is easier to use is becuase Code-Makers are also Code-Users. If these are two separate distinctions and the two are not *forced* to speak with one another, the result is what the OpenACS inherited - a reasonably strong foundation but a real terror to use.

Personally, I subscribe to all the bboards even though I don't understand the highly technical posts. The reason is that its important to pay attention to all of the discussions to at least be peripherally aware of the important projects.

If we had various bboards, we might end up saying a lot of "this is the wrong place for that question, try it over there." The problem is that even the most hardcore of developers could learn something important about improving the system from the most softcore of artists.

That's why I would propose a single bboard with categories. That can be messy, so I'm open to separating them. But I think even Reuven's graphic artists could post to the most technical of bboards and get a good answer.


Posted by Reuven Lerner on

I think even Reuven's graphic artists could post to the most technical of bboards and get a good answer.

Could the graphic artists post on the current OpenACS bboards and get a good answer? You betcha. But from my experience, they're going to be a bit intimidated and/or embarrassed.

I agree that it's great that everyone in the current OpenACS community can read through, use, repair, and contribute to the code. But as OpenACS becomes a more widespread technology, many people who aren't able to or interested in modifying the code will be joining. Making them feel welcome, and trying not to intimidate them, will go a long way toward helping spread the OpenACS gospel.

Posted by Torben Brosten on
"Torben, I am a code-User, trying to get 'the program' to work."  Okay, Aldert, I missed on that guess =(. As a code-user, I understand you perform "admin" or administrative functions, configuring, managing, and otherwise operating the system.  You write "I need a forum with Users just like me"... I agree, and refer to it as an "admin" group --for those who want to use the existing system to its fullest. That means perhaps also creating little bits of code within the scope of configuring, customizing, and operating the system.

You ask, "isn't all about code development?" Partly code development, more specifically (from the homepage):

"OpenACS (Open Architecture Community System) is an advanced toolkit for building scalable, community-oriented web applications. If you're thinking of building an enterprise-level web application, OpenACS is a solid, proven foundation that will give you a 3-6 month headstart."

To me, is an example [hopefully flagship] site using the OpenACS technology. As an example site, has an opportunity (and I believe a requirement) to use the tools it creates. If an organization doesn't use the tools it promotes (when appropriate), how effective can the tools be?  This is a primary question that most any decision-maker would ask before considering investing in a system like OpenACS.

Marketing is about identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the system for others to "compare" or analyze according to the opportunities and "threats" [competing strengths] posed by other systems.  A given situation is analyzed in order to find the best solution(s). The comparison of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats helps to identify when OpenACS is an appropriate technology to use.  Creating documentation about the strengths and weaknesses of OpenACS helps lower the barrier of including OpenACS in pool of technologies under consideration --for example when an MBA has limited time and resources to apply to the decision. Or, when someone likes the system and needs a few words to competently state "why".

Now to address the one forum for all scenario:

Like, Talli, I also subscribe to all the boards, though I do not [yet] understand everything. In addition to Talli's reasons for subscribing to all, I am training to develop the system. I swear that half of my problem is based in deciphering the jargon --so many acronyms have multiple meanings --I have difficulty realizing the context. For example, which acronyms are system specific (or have OpenACS specific implications), and which are general to the technology.  Assuming forum categories were detailed enough, I might be able gain more understanding of context from them. So, I fully agree that the forum(s) should support categories.

However, categories have their own problem: sometimes (frequently?) a discussion or message includes multiple categories. Marking checkboxes (instead of a drop-down menu) would alleviate this concern.

Would users be able to choose notification of board messages based on selected categories?

Even though Talli and I like all the messages in the mailbox, I'm certain that many others will prefer to be notified of messages relating to only some categories.

Reuven's point about having to create a forum that cater's to the less initiated is important for three reasons. 1. OpenACS needs to get as much feedback from externals as possible, to further it's individual-community serving goals for the technology. A separate forum with a link from the homepage (or an introduction page) may help to this end. 2. The feedback needs to be appropriate and useful. 3. The feedback and recorded dialog become great first drafts for improving documentation.

Each website using OpenACS probably should have their own end-user feedback forum of sorts to help end-users adjust to the system. Yet, think of how much effort addressing these issues would have to be duplicated from site to site. An OpenACS forum dedicated to end-users and their problems with the system would help create documentation, verify the documentation is working, and identify weakpoints in the user interface and end-user expectations for developers. Developers will know where to go to find the feedback without having to depend on secondary accounts and administration-centric analysis.

In the current forums, Reading The Fine Manual (TRTFM) is expected [which it should be for developers and admins], but end-users should have their questions answered regardless. They shouldn't have to read a manual or do much more than browse a list or table of contents... and then post a question if their answer is not found within a minute or so.  Right now, I know lots of people who are curiously interested in, but their eyes gloss over when get to because it does not have a place oriented to people who might not understand or be aware of the open-source culture, the technology used by OpenACS etc. Yet, these are the target end-users who will promote the technology when they eventually use it and come to like how it works. As Reuven states, they "will go a long way toward helping spread the OpenACS gospel." We need to support them in it.

Posted by Ben Koot on
Make OpenACS self explanatory...
The question we are trying to answer maybe the wrong start. Bulletinboard for non techies. The solution to the issues raised have nothing to do with do we want another Bboard. This the technical approach to a more complex issue. How can we educate new users, and their suport team to use openACS, and at the same time make it user friendely for everybody. Bulletinboard is only 1 of 70 modules that could be used to answer the questions, we don't even know poeple may ask. Effectively the toolkit as a whole is the key to sollution. Here's what I have done in an attempt to make it clear wat ACS can do for the average user that is unfamiliar with the functionality.

Here's how I set up my own user guide...
1.Set up a group TimedDesk userguide as a grouptype in Usergroup Intranet.

2.Through add module in admin I added Addressbook, Chat, FAQ, News, at group level.

3.I left out content, custom sections and general comments as they untill today are a mystery to me. ( it would be helpfull however if all of the ACS modules could be added from this level, not just the 7 that are outthere now).

4.Because the base of my system is intranet, every user registred as employee has a workspace, with additional links to:

- Bboard.
- Member Directory.
- Project management.
- HR management.
- Personal adminstrative functions like log out, update homepage, personal profile etc.
- Photodb.
- Events.
- Ticket tracker.
- Time management.

5. By adding basic content to a number of the packages, I have eliminated the need for newbies to find out why certain modules don't work, so that reduces the number of questions by end-users. However I am sure a number of these issues could solved by releatively simple alterations in the design.

5. In general I think, and additional "starter module", based on the Intranet, Called "OpenACS starter kit", so without references to employee status etc, would help clear a great deal of the confusion.
This could also form an interesting fundament for a user bulletionboard, where people could refer to the functionality they see in the starter kit, and relate to the various modules. Incase questions involve "coder"issues, the ticket tracker, in which the "OpenACS coders" would be listed as people to whom issues can be delegated, would receive questions, and have a format to respond. That would be great help to speed up the process im improving the code, based on user questions and suggestions, and reduce the clutter on the uncategorised bulletin boards.

Just my thoughts on a grey Sunday afternoon. I am discussing this concept, and others, with Maltes' colleague, Venky, in Holland coming Friday. If anybody is interested, you'r more than welcome to join in the discussion.

Posted by xx xx on
Do we agree that categories/forums should be organized by 'who you write it to/for'? Which usually implies a certain direction of the question and a certain function in code development, but AT LEAST THE LEVEL of writing.

Is Ben's suggestion ('a user bulletinboard, where people could refer to the functionality they see') an option for user-forums (end-user, designers, admins)?

Posted by Torben Brosten on
I'm not certain about all available functions of the board. Can a user screen/"be notified" of messages based on this kind of catagory? I'm not aware of that function, and therefore suggest forums revolving around this user-type so that each can screen or be notified by a minimum set of relevant messages.  For example, an admin can screen by admin-related messages.
Posted by Ben Koot on
Torben, I just build what you are suggesting (I think)this set up over the weekend, using the default categorisation function of bboard in Openacs 3.2.5 It will do just this. Maybe I don't see the problem you are describing. Any way, for the time beeing, newbies would be very happy to have an environment like this on the curent openacs site. What I described above can be set up in about 1 hour. It's not rocket science, but it works fine. Cheers
Posted by Ben Koot on
On a more general note I would like to share my ( personal) working method. Newbies don't think in technological achievements. I have great respect for all you wizzkids that understand how to hack together a toolkit like this, but I have a feeling some issues beeing discussed on this threat are made more complicated than nescessary because of different viewpoints. Even if the current modules do not offer what I need in the end, a little creativity helps me to make OpenACS do what I need, however I achieve my goal by using the toolkit diferently than the builders originaly thought it should be used. Maybe it's a quick and dirty approach, but if it
works, why not give it a try. What I have been doing is to make the best use of what's avialable in way I understand what I am doing, hopefully ending up with a short shopping list of ultimate improvements.

I am sure if we would combine the experiences of other newbies and exhange ideas on each others challenges we will end up with the best toolkit around.

Posted by Torben Brosten on
Hi Ben,

I reviewed the link and service you setup.  It does not show what I described, but that is my fault for not describing well. My last message was created when I was in a meditative state... Trying to understand it may be hazardous while operating heavy machinery --could make readers drowsy! =)

I'll restate:

Using the board system, a user can choose to be notified of any activity in a forum or message thread.

What if the person only wants to view messages most directly relevant to their current user-type tasks (end-user, admin, developer)?

Case1: If there is only one forum (and multiple categories), then...

there is no easy way to limit message threads to those most directly relevant to the user. For example, if an admin only wants to track admin related discussions, the person must subscribe to all forum discussions and then turn-off alerts relating to discussions of no interest, or using the search function, regularly find admin-related discussions and set alerts "to be notified of new messages on this thread". This case is burdonsome for anyone who wants to limit message notification to the most relevant (directly connected) to their situation.

Case2: If one forum for each user-type: end-user, admin, developer, then..

A person sets alerts (subscribes) to the forum of their user-type. By setting the alerts at the forum level, they will be notified of all ongoing discussion (and new threads) within the forum automatically. No additional work needs to be done by the user. An admin will be alerted when admin-related issues develop in the forum. An end-user will be alerted when other end-users have problems (and can help describe how to solve problem in language other end-users understand [few jargon]. A developer can focus on developer-related issues when immersed in coding a package without distractions from other discussions.

Anyone can always subscribe to all forums. In case 2, the ones who want to have only directly relevant messages will be catered to also. There is no burden on users to limit messages to the most relevant ones.

Let me know if this is unclear.

Again, 3 forums, with multiple categories per message/discussion thread, should cater to most everyone's needs.

Posted by Ben Koot on
Thanks for enlightening me . On the subject of categorisng information, here's another interesting thread bookmarks module
Posted by Tapiwa Sibanda on
Slightly off topic, but my dream for the next major version of openACS is possibly implementing sitewide categorisation. I think being able to categorise objects (articles, bboards, individual postings, calender items) would allow openACS to function more as a knowledge management system. At the moment, it seems categories are specific to individual boards.

One of the goals of the APLAWS project seems to have been to allow such categorisation of content based on a single meta-data standard for ALL local authorities in the UK. Sharing a single metadata standard allows for easier sharing of information.

More important than sharing a single metadata standard, is the ability to categorise all the information on a site. One of the bad thing about most organisations' websites is that they reflect more the internal structure of the organisation, instead of providing information in the way that users would look for it.

I see similarities on this board. We are looking to seperate users by skill ... advanced/intermediate/beginner, or by job description ... developer/designer/analyst. Whichever way we seperate the boards will be inadequate for a "site-virgin" looking for information because a thread started in one board will invariably interest an audience in another. Additionally, information exists in other areas as well, from wimpy points, to uploaded files. I know you can crosspost, but can we rely on someone doing this regularly?

Rather, I propose being able to implement categorise information based on one metadata set for the entire site. In this way, information (be it articles, news items, entire forums, individual bboard posts) can be tagged by target audience (designers, analysts), their competency (advanced, beginners) and the category (page design, advocacy, kernel hacking).

Information tagged in this way means users are able to search for it in a way that makes sense to them, which may or may not be the way this group sees things. As an example, I might search for all beginner level information relating to hacking the openACS kernel. Alternatively, I might search for advanced templating information.

Posted by Ben Koot on
Because I have the time at the moment, I am scanning the bboards for unresolved questions that might help create a Newbie service. Here's allready an interesting problem. I found this posting on the design testing bboard. Having a newbie board for starters, however basic, will help newbies asking quetions at the proper place. I guess individual users will even interpret categorisation differently. seems the same problem as site navigation, no designer will able to predicty how human beeings will use what's developped. Theoratically a discussion about a bboard can go on for ages, and we will never find the ultimate solution. One thing' seems simple however, if I see "Newbie", and I know I am one, that's very likely going to be my first port of call.
Posted by Dave Bauer on
Re: Site-Wide Categorization

There is already a plan to add this feature with a site-wide category tree that can be mapped to package specific category trees.

See this thread:

Someone just needs to finish the data model anad work on a interface so packages can take advantage of the service.

Posted by Ken Mayer on

My human factors antennae are twitching:

Bifurcation and structured taxonomies are engineering approaches. They are not something that non-engineers typically use for everyday tasks.

More importantly, who is going to answer the newbie questions on the newbie board? Gurus? Well, some of us might lurk every now and then, but we've got other work to do as well. A board who's membership is entirely newbie will not get their questions answered. Participatin in the main discussion will introduce newcomers to the gurus who can help them up and over the learning curve hump.

Creating "getting started" content elsewhere on the site is probably more effective and encourages contributions from the entire community (and feedback from consumers like non-tech or newbies).

Posted by Ben Koot on
Hi Ken,

You are right. I just spend the last 5 hours filling my FAQ module with issues based on recurring questions on the BBoards, categorized per subject. I assume it will take me another 2 days to have categorized all serious questions. That will give me a reasonable insight in where problems are encountred,a nd how hackers have managed so solve them. I am nontechie, but after using OpenACS for 14 months, have a pretty good idea what people are asking. Many of the problems have been my nightmare too.

From what I can tell now, manny problems have allready been solved in new releases, ie. the current bboards could do with a cleanup. I gusee all it takes is activate the archive fucntion in admin section, because that will allow to set a time for display of active subjects based on date. (so old topics are still available).

Once the onetime cleanup is done, maintaining the bboard and follow up on important issues is not realy that difficult to monitor. atleast using the datefuction in admin will be a great help.

Effectively all it takes is one volonteer to keep track of issues. I guess that's the basic problem we are running into with the current bboard.

Posted by Torben Brosten on
Hi Ken and Ben K.,

This statement is unlikely and not accurate:

1."A board who's membership is entirely newbie will not
get their questions answered."

Newbies answer other newbies' questions (when they  overcome something another newbie has just expressed a problem with).  Importantly, less jargon is often used --sometimes resulting in clearer expressions. It is also the interest of those responsible for documentation to monitor and answer newbie questions.  ACS began with everyone as newbies in one sense or another --when the most communication explaining the system occurred.

Another inaccurate statement:

2. "Participation in the main discussion will introduce newcomers to the gurus who can help them up and over the learning curve hump."

The gurus are just as busy --or more busy-- than the newbies. They don't have time to answer the simpler questions --especially without using jargon or referring to existing docs.  Explanations in existing docs may be inadequate for them.

A newbie may give-up getting involved in a project when there is too much effort to get answers to their questions. Alternately, they may "stagnate" (not learn fast enough) to make the project valuable to them in a practical way. Importantly (from a marketing perspective), they might also view the project as expert or developer-centric, meaning that the project is created and controlled by a group of egomaniacs or show-offs who want to toot their own horns but who lack adequate interest in their groupie-newbie needs.  Professional  business-types recognize the costs of trying to use these kinds of projects centered around engineering feats --based on genius and hard work-- and therefore avoid them for "more mature projects or technologies" if lessor costing and marginally adequate alternatives exist elsewhere. [I have heard these comments made by Fortune 100 company reps about Open
ACS and other "engineering-centric" projects].

When there are fewer gurus than newbies in a community, the most efficient use of human resources involves using an expert hierarchical approach. A person may progress within the hierarchy of expertise, or starting immediately at an advanced level if the person has adequate expertise to do so.

The sooner a newbie board and an admin focused board exists, the faster OpenACS will become an open-source standard.

43: Newbies != non-techies (response to 1)
Posted by Reuven Lerner on

As much as I like the ideas that have been tossed around regarding how to make life easier for newbies, we've strayed far from my original suggestion.

I'm asking for a place where people who have no interest in programming can learn to use OpenACS templates (and applications, I guess). These people are new to OpenACS, but they're not new to the Web or to computers.

Lumping these people together with newcomers to OpenACS is inaccurate: Newbies want to learn the data model, the user-defined functions, the Tcl API, and so forth. Designers don't know and don't care about such things. They just want to get their designs up and running as quickly and intelligently as possible.

Aldert's suggestion about a "code users" forum, separated into categories as necessary, sounds like the closest to what I was originally talking about.

Again: I'm totally in favor of making OpenACS more accessible to new hackers. But if we want OpenACS to move forward, we've got to provide support, and preferably community support, for people who hear the phrase "data model" and imagine a well-dressed computer on a fashion runway in Paris.

Posted by Ben Koot on
Okay, now we have discussed the basics, and a FAQ of common starter issues is being created how do we continue...

1. Open a new bboard, including categorisation on with multiple administrators to help maintain the site?

2. Install a fully functional demo site. (other than my playground, so without the current errors)?

3. Start with feedback from the folks at Greenpeace (or others'that care to share their experiences) that worked as newbies with templatting?

4. What other issues need to be discussed?

5. Get in touch with newbie designers and try to answer their quuestions. I assume this is one of the most pressing issues. Like Reuven, I have the same problems, and nobody to turn to. Especially in my efforts to create a large userbase for my sollutions I realy need a simple way to give my ACS pages a professional, pleasing look and feel, so the system sells itselve.

After all I have seen I can't immagine this is rocket science, and there must be a simple way to tell design professionals what to do, as that's I feel is what's lacking right now. Any thoughts for a 10 points cheat sheet that explanes the basics, and could be used to get into presentation/design issues more deeply?


Posted by Torben Brosten on

I'm part to blame for the confusion between using "newbie" and "non-techie". To clarify, for my usage, "newbie" refers to anyone who is a non-techie, including those graphics designers who want to create content for an OpenACS system. Newbie does not necessarily (but can) refer to someone who has little internet experience.

I also mentioned how a "newbie" (new-person to OpenACS) with appropriate developer expertise (or OpenACS admin related expertise) could start directly in the technically advanced forums.

Graphics designers who also have interests in UI may want to participate in an admin forum as well as (or instead of) the "newbie" forum.

The choice is individual, but the options need to be there for everyone to get the more effective use of the OpenACS community --the the OpenACS community the most affective use of them.

Posted by Janine Ohmer on
I agree with Ken.  Although newbies *do* answer other newbie's questions, their answers are not always accurate (I'm not thinking of any particular person or answer, this is a general comment).  And although it's true that gurus are busy no matter where the questions are posted, they are a lot more likely to answer questions that are posted to a forum they are reading anyway, for their own needs.

I think that detailed documentation, with lots of examples, for non-technical graphic designers is going to help more in the long run than a separate discussion bboard.  The worst thing we can do, IMHO, is set up bboards for newbies where questions then languish unanswered.

Posted by Torben Brosten on
Janine Sisk,

If developers are concerned about unanswered or inadequately answered questions, they are free to participate in the forums for nontechies and admins also. These are not exclusive forums. As a developer-in-training, I would subscribe to all of the forums. The forums become a direct resource for helping to track inadequate documentation --and updating it, as well as the obvious service to nontechies and admins.

48: Action Item (response to 1)
Posted by Ben Adida on
Okay, so I'm guilty of having tried to generalize a bit too much on
Reuven's request. I think the newbie issue is interesting - and
difficult. Let's think about it some more.

However, there is a clear need to discuss issues that are
somewhat technical but not related to Tcl/SQL hacking. Things
like graphic/UI design and use of the templating system. Things
like the general possibility of integrating OpenACS into external
authentication schemes (just came up with that example).

On the categorization vs. forum thing. It seems like we have to
strike a balance. Certainly, 5-6 forums seems like a good
number. 1 seems too small because the volume would become
unbearable for casual observers. more than 10 seems out of
line and would kill cross-pollination. Thus, for something as
important as what Reuven brings up, a new forum is probably a
good idea.

Can we agree that a new forum for these tech-savvy but non-
OACS developers is necessary and useful?

Posted by Jade Rubick on
I think we're going to have some difficulty coming to agreement on these things.

With regard to the newbie forum, think of it this way: if you're a newbie, and you really want to get a question answered, would you ask in the newbie section, or in the experienced developer section? I'd go for the experienced developer section any day.

I also don't like the division it creates in the developers. I think we need to see the cross-fertilization going on.

That said, I do see a need for something better than what we have now.

I put together a mockup of how my ideal version of the bboards and the documenation. It's in this thread: a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=0004wL&topic_id=OpenACS&topic= 11 Make sure you click on the "navigation" link at some point, and follow the * to see the valid links.

What I liked about this particular way of viewing the bboards is that you could set up email alerts for only the types of messages you were interested in (make sure you see the "navigation" page.

I think we should focus on creating better documentation for new users, and focus on making it as easy as possible for them to be expert users. I would rather see some very easy intro guides for users than a separate forum.

The reason this doesn't seem like such a great idea to me, though, is that is reminds me of the problem set forums of old. Those forums were maybe helpful for a few people, but it seems like the real questions had to be asked on web/db to get an answer.

Posted by Ben Koot on
Maybe we should drop the term "problem set", and replace it wikth solutions. Sound more friendly to new users IMHO.
Posted by xx xx on
My conclusion from this 'new-forum' thread would be:
- create a new designer AND a new admin user-forum. Remember designers and admins have completely different questions (and coding level)

There are some objections against a newbies forum. Categorisation of messages and UI orientation of the Bboard are preferred by some, but this needs new code and/or code adjustments. Suggestion for the future?

My comparers-forum (july 12), other's evangelism-forum, marketeers-forum or dotLRN-forum could serve questions that are not related to the development of code or the use of code.

If new forums are added, please document the purpose of the forums (and the level of the audience).