Forum OpenACS Q&A: How long can the OpenACS community get away with being an island?

I'm always amazed to find just how efficiently Google is able to answer my questions on just about any topic. This time I searched for "open source collaboration software" and gained a number of new insights into the competitive field of OpenACS. I remember how when I was working for ArsDigita a lot of people would wonder "So the ACS is very cool, but does anybody know what alternatives are out there?". I remember being slightly disturbed by the fact that nobody could give a satisfactory answer to the question. Well, maybe two years ago competition was scarce, but apparently today the world is different.

In the Communications Category at SourceForge there is no shortage of Collaboration software. Here is a small sample (mostly from the two first pages out of 45 with the most active projects) of software with functional overlap with the OpenACS:

The list clearly suggests that in the Open Source Groupware realm the PHP and MySQL technologies reign supreme. It seems to me most of those PHP based collaboration software projects tend to be more focused (less comprehensive) than the OpenACS, some are on hold, but others are flourishing. A for OpenACS very encouraging conclusion that I draw though is that a clear leader has yet to emerge in the Open Source groupware field. I find that amazing if you think about how long such software has been around now.

My Google search also brought me to The Open Source Groupware Category at the Open Directory ( Needless to say the OpenACS was missing from this category, and in fact was missing from any category at the Open Directory so I submitted it to a number of suitable categories.

Another intersting finding was collection of article and software that Grant Bowman - the editor of the dmoz category mentionied above - is maintaining. I sent him an email informing him about the OpenACS and dotLRN and I am curious to see what his reaction will be.

It seems to me Philip Greenspun and ArsDigita suffered from a technical hubris that led us to not only neglect marketing but also neglect software developed outside the company. We were mislead by premises along the lines of: 1) We have world-class developers and are technically superior to the rest of the industry, and 2) Our technical supremacy will sooner or later be apparent to the rest of the world, so we don't need to market ourselves, people will come to us. During the IT hype Philip was able to get away with this approach, and yes, Philip was a great evangelist and had a amazing talent for attracting highly skilled developers. Unfortunately technical hubris can come with a high price tag. ArsDigita failed to market itself in the corporate world and also failed at building up an Open Source community.

Eventhough this was a very small investigation, and eventhough I am very tired now that I am writing this, I will venture to draw some tentative conclusions. First of all I firmly belive that OpenACS is a *very* sophisticated and comprehensive platform that holds great promise and still stands up well to the competition. The recent push of dotLRN is very welcome and has helped raise the quality significantly of many of our most important applications. But, there are a lot of similar open source software brewing out there and I do *not* think that the OpenACS can maintain its lead unless we drastically start expanding our community of developers and clients. Such an expansion is not likely to happen as long as the rest of the world doesn't even know that the OpenACS exists. So then the non-trivial question beckons: which channels do we use to expose ourselves to the world, and who will have the time and energy to make this happen? I alone cannot answer this question but I hope that this posting will provoke some ideas and help stimulate the improvements that the OpenACS project needs if it is to thrive well into the future.

Peter has raised a very valid point here which requires a serious attention from all the community members.

Is it possible to have a joint marketing efforts from the community members to market OACS?

Collaboration in marketing occurrs with open source projects --think linux, perl etc.

I think we need to be careful to differentiate between and OpenACS (the system/platform). needs to market the OpenACS system (and its community) in a more coordinated fashion. Some coordination is overdue for addressing nondeveloper issues that hinder the growth of OpenACS' use. For example, needs to serve a larger community of nontechies and professionals (marketing) as well as continuing the existing developer services. See regarding a discussion about this. This discussion also was touched on in January .

I'll be glad to volunteer with moderating the new forum(s) (with anyone else who wants to help).

I hope we can improve.  As 2 years ago ACS was like alone and supreme.  Has anybody seen eZ Publish?  How about Jahia?  Did this guys try out ACS and implemented the ideas on their own?

Anyway I am always trying to get people to try OpenACS but its not very easy.  I will volunteer to maintain Newbie Technical forum.  I am really sorry but its probably the best thing I could do now aside from trying plug OpenACS to any web discussion that I have.

We need more Newbie Technical people in order to get the platform growing.  Also maybe we can agree on the future direction of the platform.  I hope people that could meet would sit down and discuss about it, far better than email and bboard.  Then just post what they have discussed to get more feedback from the community.

We really need to start with some marketing initiatives...

I have been talking to some *IT* execs lateley here in Germany and it's no real news that they are pretty much focused on buzzwords, nicely and graphically presented functionality as well as "best practices" of former clients. What we need to manage in my opinion is the following:

1. Get a *professionally styled* new website out.

Maybe somebody knows a professional graphic designer that could start making the existing logo (I like Philip's dog on it) look a little bit more professional... Further we need some professional "powered by" logos. After that we need some nice layout suggestions for the new site.

2. We need a bunch of "best practices" that explains how the system is being used with *screenshots* etc. We have a lot of prominent examples like:

Education ~ Sloan, Berklee

Knowledge Management ~ Siemens ShareNet

Non-Profit ~ Greenpeace, Urban Parks

And maybe some statements/testimonies of prominent people from these companies!

3. A description of what the core can do in terms of scalability, security, modularity.

4. A short description of all existing modules and at least one *screenshot* to every module.

5. A Powerpoint presentation that basically is a summary of 2-4. Further a pdf version of that presentation... Rafael Calvo already came up with a nice pdf document using a lot of screenshots!

6. We need to place within press releases for newly launched sites like the upcoming dotLRN.


Our company is willing to donate graphics artist hours for the new site.  DaveB are still doing the new site?  What is the best way to coordinate the IRC channel?  Or just chat with Tally?

Thanks Peter for bringing this up. Now I think I get the context of the chat I stumbled apon last night 😊.

Do we need marketing for the Product OpenACS: YES, but why ?

  • We need to raise the awareness for OpenACS. If people talk about Groupware, Knowledge Management, Collaboration or E-Commerce they should talk about OpenACS (at least in the OpenSource realm).
  • If more people are aware of OpenACS they will come to the site to check it out, searching for:
    • What is OpenACS
    • Where can I get it (Am I the only one thinking about putting RPMs up for RedHat and SuSE to include in their distributions ?).
    • What do I need to do to install it (already there, though it is still to time consuming)
    • How can I put it into use (Use cases, might be fictious, might be case studies)
    • Who is using it (case studies)
    • If I use it, will I be left (numbers of companies, downloads, installations, see seperate thread) dead in the water soon.
  • Awareness raises the number of installations. Together with good training material it will raise the number of developers, which in turn will raise the number of available developers for the companies, which allows them to take on new clients.
  • Giving speeches at conferences, publishing articles in magazines, getting the OpenACS book out will raise awareness also in decision making IT folks. And it is easier to sell, if your potential client already has heard of OpenACS
  • Teaching material would make it also easier to adopt a curriculum for OpenACS in universities. After all that still is the cheapest way to get trained new developers.
Some steps I suggest:
  • If having marketing material and case studies at prooves to be too much of a headache for the community, use for this (if Ben is willing to provide the domain for that use to other companies as well)
  • Write up case studies with your clients. It is the best marketing you can hope for.
  • Write use cases for the toolkit (we are on it)
  • Get the new openacs site up and running. If the community (museatech in particular, thanks a lot for working on the new site) lacks graphic design ressources, I can ask our designer to come up with some ideas. But we should first agree on a structure for the site.
  • Think about fairs where it would be useful to have an OpenACS booth. Let companies interested jointly use that booth. (I propose Leantec 2003 as one option)
  • Go to your local university and ask them to teach a course about OpenACS for free (and / or sell a dotLRN installation to them 😊).
  • Write up at least one article each how to use OpenACS for the hot topics out there in the market (for KM I have one version which needs to be revamped to focus more on OACS at Furthermore I have a german version for groupware (published in a Linux magazine))
  • Issue press releases about great news (e.g. the release of dotLRN).
Now, who is going to do it? Well, obviously myself as well as Venkatesh are working on a bunch of marketing stuff at the moment for S&R {which, at the moment, means nothing else but marketing for OpenACS}. But if the community wants to drive a joined effort we are more than willing to participate and even coordinate. And I think coordination is crucial at the current (non existing) state of marketing so we don't do double work.
As an afterthought: Use the ideas of other Open Source projects to fuel innovation and code extension into OpenACS. If we write up what could be done, it is easier to sell this to clients for payment (active selling of features the client might need). The competition section in the ACS design guides would be a good place as well as the outlook for the future.
Jun, that sounds great! Why don't we start with some suggestions for the logo and organizational colors? Keep in mind that T-shirts with the Samoyed would look great!

In more detail I am thinking of a little revamp of the samoyed part of our existing logo and secondly a more modern font and color (organizational identity 😊 for "openACS" or "openacs" don't know...

Basically I am also willing to coordinate the Marketing effort!

Glad to see this has been raised again.. I seem to remember banging on about marketing a while ago..

Count us (OpenMSG) in.... we've got a talented marketing resource (i.e me) and I'll be happy to contribute to any kind of strategy.

However folks, its worth remembering that there's no substitute for the personal touch. Each of the companies here has client lists, contacts and industry-friends.  A good PR step is to get touch with them, let them know about OpenACS and highlight some its 'commercial' benefits..

I personally think we need a common set of good marketing collateral. There really is no substitute for nice touchy-feely glossies... sounds simple, but sooo effective.

And then, how about a demo are.. we need great exemplars of what the ACS can do, available to play with, for any interested party.

We also need to get a bit more savvy with the buzz-word culture.. Whether you like it or not TCL don't sell systems, things like XML do... its all a game, but we have to play it.

So who's taking charge of this? Let me know, and then give me something to do. I have the time right now so use me 😉


Actually what I think we *really* need is a big corporate sponsor. Someone to take on the OpenACS internally and lend it their 'weight'.

I'm actually working on this now, but these things take time. However in marketing terms its the holy grail. Get a big name behind it (i.e. Oracle/Vodafone/IBM size) and we're sorted 😉

C'mon folks, someone out there plays tennis with the head of products at Oracle surely ??

12: You asked for it (response to 1)
Posted by Malte Sussdorff on
Hi Simon,
let me take you by your word. Things I imagine which would be useful for us at the moment:
<li>Look around for conferences where the OpenACS crew might be a present as a big fish in a small pond.
<li>Gather the marketing material you can from old ArsDigita (e.g. ASJ and whitepapers) and other companies and put it online somewhere so we have a repository to work from.
<li>Gather ideas for Use cases covering fictious or real websites and how they put OpenACS into good use.
<li>Look at the marketing TCL and AOLserver is doing. After all, we are still depending on them, so we might make some use of their buzzwords.
<li>Write of a buzzword compliant two pager about OpenACS (enterprise class toolkit with pre integrated modules covering a vast majority of collaborative web service scenarios using cutting edge technology where it is need (SOAP, XML) and rely on trusted, widly used and easy to pick up things (TCL)). You get the picture. If you want, I'm more than willing to cooperate there (after all, it was my job at AD for half a year 😊).
13: Big brand sponsor (response to 1)
Posted by Malte Sussdorff on
Well, we have MIT, which is already a good name. Then there is Siemens with their Sharenet (though they might not be too keen to help us out...). Is worldbank using ACS 4.2 or 4.6 (we should not only take those clients that use OpenACS but ACS 4 as well).

AIESEC is also a minor brand which carries a lot of recognition in business circles. And what about working with consulting companies [I admit, I did loose on or two teeth at the doors slamming into my face so far, but hey, we can try it again].

As for playing golf. If you want to get in bed with Oracle, you might want to start sailing 😊.

maybe of topic because it's not open source, but this the latest Amazon concept. We may find some interesting angles here if it comes to explaining what ACS can be used for to newbies:" wants to see Web services work. We believe they are important to the future of the Internet. To help stimulate Web service innovation, we now offer software developers the opportunity to integrate features and content directly into other web sites using either SOAP or XML over HTTP. Partner with the leader in e-commerce and join the Web services revolution today! Participation is Easy and Free

Agree with those points, obviously and will begin on some of them.

I think however we have a few more fundemental items to address before plunging into marketing activities.

Principally I'm thinking of:

a) Who are our targets/market? How do we profile potential users/clients. Is there indeed a profile and if not do we need to decide on one. I don't think its wise to pursue the 'its everyhting to everyone' approach.

b) Identify *exactly* the OpenACS is. To be blunt an 'open source toolkit for developing collaborative systems' is about as airy and unquantifiable as you can get. Effective marketing comes from an easily communicable, simple product description. I've had direct experience of this whereby customers can't get a 'handle' on exactly what OpenACS is or isn't.

c) Open Source. Ok, this is going to be contentious, but... we have to think very carefully about how open source is presented from a marketing perspective. Unfortunately I beleive AD made a mistake in that it got a little ' evangelical' about open source. If you push it too much then the customers can't see past it. We need to think about what in open source, the customer is realy interested in. I' aware of all the academic strengths of open source, but realistically its not a fully proven approach in business, and therefore we have a virtual 'education' exercise for potential users. Beleive me we don't need that to contend with. So how do we describe it. Lower captial investment... less supplier dependence... transparent delivery.. tricky.

d) We also need to think international. Many of the users here are European based. In particular (and no offense in intended) AD's previous marketing 'tone' was whey too gung-ho, we're great, this is fantastic, we know better etc... probably all true, but not necessarily a good style for European business.

e) Do we indeed highlight the past relationship with AD? There are benefits, but/... not all their customers were quite as happy as perhaps was made out, not all their deliveries were really all that good, they did have a bad rep for poor quality and of course they went bump... none of these things are good PR.

f) Who are our 'sponsors' i.e. which individuals within each company are we targetting? Is it product managers, developers, sales, marketing.. its vital to understand this. I'm guessing we're primarily appealing to the development sector at present... but is it they who have the purchasing power etc..

and so on....

Let me have a think about some of these issues and perhaps we could start with some kind of discussion doc... something to get us going..

I'll put together some thoughts, lets knock it around and hopefully we'll have a good start point.

Oh... and just a personal experience/opinion... conferences and stands are usually a pretty big waste of time.. lets face it most people only attend them to get out of the office and it usually turns into competitors nattering to each other..


Thanks, Peter, for bringing this up ...

We definitely need to make OpenACS more popular. The question is, though, whether it's just a question of attracting more attention, or whether we need to make the product more edible.

What I'm afraid is that if we do manage to attract a lot of attention, a lot of people are going to check out the software and then turn away. Those people are going to be hard to convince to come back and check it out later, when it's improved.

I know that I'm certainly very impatient when I check out other software products. If I have to work too hard, or I can't see what value I get right away, I leave. Is it just a question of explaining the value better, or do we also need to raise the level of quality? I'm afraid we need to raise the level of quality.

I usually tell people that what the OpenACS has most of is really potential. It's got the potential to be a really productive platform for building collaboration-based applications, but it's not quite there yet.

What I'm talking about is the fact that there are too many half-finished things pointing in different directions, half of which are deprecated, and you have to know the history of the toolkit, and you have to be able to debug and understand the templating system and the request processor in order to develop for the system. And it generally looks like shit out of the box.

What I want to work towards is cleaning up the system: Nicer graphic design, more usable interfaces, a limited set of supported, bug-free, feature-complete applications, cleaner APIs, removing the crud. In short, establishing a base line level of quality and completeness that we can be happy enough with to be able to document it and go out and tell people "here's how you use and develop for this platform."

How urgent is this? Very. As in end of this year. Can this be done? Don't know.

The problem right now is that it takes too long to get to know the system enough to be able to move it forward in a solid direction. We need to get to a situation where the direction, the focus, and the documentation is good enough that we can have people get up to speed in days or weeks, not months.

Can we spec out the road map in enough detail and with enough consensus that we can start recruiting people and have them productively contributing in a week or two? And can we put up a demo site that clearly illustrates what value this brings? And can we explain in simple terms what makes this platform superior to what other products under what conditions? Then attracting more people becomes very interesting.


Lars is definitely right, but I think that comparing the level of professionality concerning design/marketing *really* lacks behind the level of code quality etc.!!! We should put some effort (more results, less talk) in design/marketing as we go along techincally.

Therefore people with most insight into 4.5 should develop a real roadmap for a "marketable version". We should also give the baby a name... maybe 5.0?

I will most probably start developing an intranet for a German broker in August and would really like to develop with a clear roadmap in mind, so that I can cover some of its ToDos with my work...

I started a thread on the new openacs site here:

Anyone who has ideas or can help please post there!

Yes, and to add to that....

Being too tech focussed is not a good idea... If we leave it to the technical people to get the product to a state where their entirely happy then we'll be waiting forever! Developers are largely perfectionists by nature.

The commercial env, does not demand perfection, it demands good marketing, good support, good potential and good ROI... I *know* the OpenACS is already able to meet those demands, therefore it is definately time to begin banging the drum a bit more..

Also, if we're not shouting loudly, that in itself becomes an indictment of the software. i.e. if they're not selling it up it can't be that good..

Have some faith folks, this really is an excellent toolkit (warts and all) and we shouldn;t be frightened of saying so, albeit in a balanced manner.


Anyway Dave I am not the graphics artists. Please patch up with Rob at he will then allocate for the artists. The artist will treat this as any client based project.

Anyway we may not be able to contribute heavily on this marketing effort but here is so far we can offer

  • if a Technical Newbie forum is to be made then I will be happy to maintain it.
  • Graphics artists care of infiniteinfo
  • When I have the opportunity to talk about web I will plug in OpenACS

I also think before any Marketing effort we already have a good vision for the future. I hope people that could meet personally will meet. Maybe form up a core committee like DonB, Ben, etc. Someone or a small group has to lead.

Well.. I think Malte's volunteered, I'll also include myself in that cabal, and I;m sure we could persuade Don to get involved, mainly from a roadmap/product plan point of view..

If get a good vision going forward, I can sell it 😉

However, worth mentioning that if we begin down this road, it will also involve a few cultural changes at everyone needs to understand that marketing is a part of every activity. Every site yo write, ever call you make and every conversation you have is a chance to market the platform.

I and others will be happy to provide the strategy and material, but it needs everyone to spread the word..

Lars, I totally agree that people will turn away if it's too much work involved in understanding what the system can do. What does too much work mean? Well, when I was checking out those PHP groupware systems I would leave within a few minutes if I couldn't find a public demo system that shows how usable their UI is, and which applications and features you get out of the box.

So what I am suggesting then is that we set up a demo system and I propose that we use dotLRN. There is no doubt in my mind that dotLRN is the flagship that the community needs to rally around and I believe that a dotLRN demo system would offer quite a compelling selling pitch. This demo system should have a very prominent link both on the and the homepages. Is it realistic to have such a demo system up by middle of August at least?

The other concrete thing that I want to propose is that we use dotLRN / OpenACS to manage our own subprojects. For example, the OpenACS 4.6 launch should have its own homepage, with its own discussion forum, task manager (ticket tracker) and members (the equivalent of a class in dotLRN). After all, it's exactly this kind of groupware we are trying to sell, so we should be using it to do our own work. That will help us not only gain credibility but also find new ways of improving the software for the compelling reason of easing our own daily routines.

I agree with Lars that many impatient people might take a look at the toolkit and then go away again, as it is too difficult to use. My thoughts here:
  • Make an RPM that would get you to the point where you add your personal details for the site. Make another RPM for dotLRN.
  • Write up a document how to change the look of your site easily (master template aso.).
  • Write a step by step guide for installing packages. Add install options like "collaboration site" or "e-commerce site" that would install a predefined set of packages to get you rolling (like RH or SuSE are doing for their distributions). Write use cases for these options (so people get to know what this is capable of).
  • Have training material for future developers ready. This training materials should take them slowly through the process of learning OpenACS while giving people the freedom to try them out on their own problem. Please answer this at the new thread
The earlier comment regarding dotLRN.

Yes I agree its something of a flagship.. but...

Its not all OpenACS can do, its is primarily US-Learning oriented and (in the kindest way) it ain't quite finished yet..

I think a better demo would be a range of differing services that highlight the range of possibilities.

We could easily donate a couple of simple mobile-based apps, I'm sure other companies must have things they;ve built that they could provide a 'demo' version of....

This would be the best approach.

Holy shit, I go away to read the New York Times and get wired on coffee and look what happens! A wonderful thread!

AFAICT Malte and Simon are now officially on the hook. I'll have to read this thread with more care before I can say I perfectly understand what they're on the hook for ... but they're nailed.

By this I mean those who step forward and volunteer get to lead. I think it's wonderful. My middle name is delegation. Or perhaps it is better to consider the (for lack of a better word) marketing aspect a separate project with its own leadership. I don't care how we look at it as a community - it needs doing, it needs leadership, it needs energy. Let's go!

Lars's point about the toolkit being more sizzle than steak, more promise than delivery at this point is true. Yes, many of us have built real sites on top of OpenACS 4 but ... it's still weaker in some regards than OpenACS 3. There's a lot of confusion within packages, some of which truly suck, most of which don't really make proper use o f the core tools (due mostly to a lack of guidance and communication between the core team and package implementors when parallel development was happening at a very rapid pace).

So, Simon, this isn't really a matter of the mania of developers for perfection. There are serious issues to be addressed. For instance last week I spent a day contracting with Sloan to help out with scalability issues uncovered by dotLRN. We've got lots o' stuff like this to deal with in the core.

That doesn't mean that it is unusable or that we need to hold off trying to attract attention to ourselves until all such things are fixed. Not at all. A roadmap that identifies brokenness and who might fix individual things and when would be a big help. It's also the kind of thing that will help keep new developer types around. If a new hacker stumbles across something that's strangely whacked out and broken in psychotic ways, but sees that it has been identified and is on a list of things to be fixed with a name attached to it, the hacker's less likely to decide we're stupid and our toolkit worse.

I've been talking for a couple of weeks now with a potential delgatee who is interested in taking over the task of managing the nuts-and-bolts of organizing the building of things like roadmaps, package ownership and status docs, etc etc. More later, perhaps in the next couple of days, by next week latest. This would be a great help to the project and a great help to me (because I don't currently have time to do the basic mechanics needed to communicate these basic items to the OpenACS 4 world, and haven't for months as has been obvious to all).

Building the roadmap needs to be a collaborative event among those who know the core well and presumably have been thinking about it. Lars and myself are two who've participated in this thread who have already discussed some of the issues both in person and via e-mail (and Peter was with us when we talked in person). There are others.

Having a parallel effort on the other end, led by the likes of Malte and Simon, would be fantastic ...

Peter's comments about technical hubris are well-taken. I would hope that we, as a community, don't suffer from that. We aren't the only smart kids on the block. We just have more fun :)

Hi folks, Great to see all this action in just 24 hours. Trying to get things in focus for the development of my own consultancy operation, I am currently playing around with this. I know, it looks Frontpagie shit, but it helps me getting things into perspective. We have 4938 registered OACS users, and it could be a suggestion to send out a spam to these folks, 90 % of whom we never hear, to try and find out what they are thinking about OACS. This could help to create the proper marketing message Just a thought
As far as the website goes, there is already a pretty decent design (if I do say so myself) of the new openacs site at

I'll post a bit more when I get back from a meeting...


Lars's point about the toolkit being more sizzle than steak, more promise than delivery at this point is true. Yes, many of us have built real sites on top of OpenACS 4 but ... it's still weaker in some regards than OpenACS 3. There's a lot of confusion within packages, some of which truly suck, most of which don't really make proper use o f the core tools (due mostly to a lack of guidance and communication between the core team and package implementors when parallel development was happening at a very rapid pace). </i>
This is pretty much the point, why I am a bit confused about the way to a coherent and stable version...
Disclaimer: My following suggestion might be *unrealistic*...
What about getting some cash together from the community to hire a 4.5 insider who tackles these problems full time? How long would it take him?
Wow...good idea gang. Not to say I told you so, but I think I've been saying this for the past x years.

As far as the logo goes, it WAS designed by a professional graphics designer. The only direction given was that it should include Alex. Designing a logo for an open source project is much different than designing one for a private corporation. It was meant to have a fun feeling to it.

Talli, I agree that your site is MUCH nicer and cleaner than the out of the box OpenACS. Why are we not using it already?! There was a flurry of energy about it, and then it kind of vanished (the flurry, not the site).

The sad truth is this...while OpenACS is great, and has been used for some great projects, it is lacking on some of it's promises. Instead of re-re-rebuilding the marketing/design/graphics wheel I would suggest going with the Musea site and then concentrate on hammering out the bugs of the current system! I know that's what the whole dotLRN and 4.x push is about. But until it's a stable solid system that can handle ecommerce, it's not going to get a huge amount of exposure.

I would also concentrate on some of the key modules such as bboard or ecommerce to the exclusion of the others. Get those FULLY decked out and working PERFECTLY. Make them user-friendly and very customizable and people will flock to them. THEN you can "sell" them on the whole system, which will be being built at the same time.

Don't take this as an attack, I've been a MAJOR evangelist of OpenACS through the years (,,, are a handful of OpenACS sites I've built) but even I have been looking at PHP solutions lately.

Let's get things GOING!

30: Bite-size pieces (response to 1)
Posted by Ben Adida on
Great discussion, thanks Peter.

A handful of thoughts:

- Technology and Marketing are two different things. Marketers
are usually bad technologists, and technologists are usually bad

- Most open-source projects focus on technology, while the
companies that sell services around these projects focus on

- OpenACS is too fat.

The first two points I've mentioned before. Yes, OpenACS needs
more marketing, but I suspect most of the marketing should
come from the companies that sell OpenACS services, not from
a centralized OpenACS developer effort. Talli might organize a
booth at LinuxWorld, for example, and get other companies to
help out. But the driver there is Talli of Musea Tech. Malte might
organize a LearningTech booth for OpenACS, but the driver there
is Malte from Sussdorff & Roy.

Marketing materials? Let's pick a market first. Developers? Okay,
let's do developer marketing by writing position papers,
documentation, etc... I did a couple of those a while ago, and
maybe it's time to write a few more position papers. A demo
server is probably good for developers too (but we need some
volunteers to help run it!).

Marketing for business folks? I continue to believe that this
remains the job of the various OpenACS companies, not of or the developer community.

Technology: I'm more optimistic than Don and Lars about the
state of OpenACS 4. I *do* agree that many of the modules are
trash and need to be rewritten. In fact, OpenForce has done that
via the dotLRN effort (FAQ, bboard, calendar to some degree, file
storage improvements). I want more <b>decentralization</b>.
OpenACS should be distributed as a core with very little
functionality, and each package should be distributed
independently. Bundlings of functionality can be maintained
(dotLRN, dotX, dotY, etc...) by those who have a specific interest
in it. But until photobook is actively maintained by someone, let's
trash it.

So what can *you* do?

- we need to clean up some packages. Do you have
development time?

- we need to run a demo server for OpenACS. Do you have time
to help run it?

- we need a couple more forums (the nature of which are being
decided in that other forum thread). Do you have time to help
answer questions and maintain it?

- we need more documentation and more coordination with the
outside world (Freshmeat, dmoz, etc...). Do you have time to be
the pointperson for this?

- we need some more real-life examples of OpenACS in use. Do
you implement OpenACS commercially? Can you write case

There's more to do, but those are a few immediate things that
can be worked on. I like the grand ideas, and some of these
ideas are great, but I also like *bit-size* pieces that we can
attack immediately.

Ben Adida,

You're right about this:" Marketing for business folks? I continue to believe that this remains the job of the various OpenACS companies, not of or the developer community."

..but they need information about OpenACS for the presentations etc. for example: capabilities, limitations, strengths, weaknesses.  The community knows these answers best, and should have them presented (honestly, accurately) in a kind of marketing-situation-analysis in the beginner docs.

If info on competing systems is unavailable, then OpenACS is in an even better position. Business types don't like risks associated with unknowns.

I have decided after reading this post to put all of my notes,docs etc onto my server. These are in various states of disrepair but hopefully will be useful and force me to update/complete them.

They live at

John, thank you for publishing the notes... it's all helpful!
Our artists is on the job to make the new site design better.  He is
using as his basis.  We will also try to offer
a couple of logo or something.
I do agree with Ben to leave the business marketing to the
I think we should market OpenACS not to business people on but to new developers.  Let the companies handle the
business aspect as each company has it own niche and uses for
OpenACS.  But of course should link to this materials.
I don't think we should make a lot of marketing materials I think
the priority to get openacs be attractive to new individual
developers and developing companies.
How many of us got into OpenACS because of the site?  I am sure I
was not.  If it wasn't for the prior exposure of infiniteinfo on
aolserver ver 2.  It is unlikely infiniteinfo will be using OpenACS
now or even knowing about it.
We need marketing to get new developers and we need to follow
through with the code.
For starters the new site should make
more visible instead of a link at the front page.  Dedicate a whole
section to what OpenACS can do.  Also maybe we can classify the
sites.  Our company will be happy to give a longer description to
our sites I am sure others will to.  Maybe we can make similar to
this of course minus the
marketing.  I propose a section on the new site that lists all
OpenACS and ACS Tcl sites that is classified according to nich.
Clicking on a site will bring a 1 pager about the site.  Main
Sorry Ben, but I do have to disagree. I don't see lots on uncoordinated marketing of service companies as a particularly effective way or raising the OpenACS' profile.

Maybe if one of these companies was an Oracle or a Sun... but realistically we aren't..

Even clients like Sloan, whilst I'm sure have some weight in your part of the world, count for very little over here. In fact a direct quote from a product manager in one of the largest cable operators over here was...

'Sloan... Academic types, well thats hardly a good recommendation'

Not that I'm defending such ignorance, but I'm afraid its somehting of a truism. Business folk are often sceptical about anything outside of the pure commercial arena.

Just to push that example a little further, one of the previous problems we had in getting classic ACS into my previous company was the 'Academic Evangelism' that AD pushed so vehemently. It just doesn't sit well with the business community.

So, in order that OpenACS does not disappear down that road (i.e. serving charities, education, amateurs and little else, although I accept they are important) we absolutely must give thought and effort to its commercial marketing.

My ex boss had a saying.. 'If it looks professional it might well be, or it might not.. but if it don't it almost certainly isn't'


However I can see the difficulties in trying to merge a commerial and a technical entity into one. And with that in mind I would certainly suggest a two pronged approach. An OpenACS.ORG and an OpenACS.COM as it were..

But, it still requires the leading lights from the former, to actively contribute and assist the latter..

And of course in comparision to development, marketing is cheap! Anyone in this community can help, anyone can make calls, anyone can produce collateral and so forth.. by effectively marketing this community so the technical arm benefits...

Would you not agree with this?

I take back my comment above.  I think Simon's idea is much better. for developer and for business people.

If it can be possible I would wish for 2 sites.  Of course I doubt I could contribute anything to since I am more technically inclined.  But I think we should separate and also cater for business people.

Check out this presentation/case study entitled Why search is not a technology problem by some guy who works for the BBC.

The presentation has a lot of interesting snippets on categorisation, UI, search, keywords etc.

Quite an interesting presentation, and probably belongs in the design forum, but again highlights the fact that making information accessible to users will take more than a couple of new bulletin boards, and logo

I agree with Simon and others that catering to managers and other decision makers is important. I do not quite buy the idea of setting up unless OpenACS is then also a company though. I think there should be one and only one entry point to information about OpenACS. That entry point has been, and I think should remain, - there is absolutely nothing wrong with that domain.

There can be a developers corner on, for example However, the distinction between "business people" and developers is being overemphasized in this discussion. A lot of people (like us) are both, or should be both. In small companies you need to be both. There is no dichotomy here.

Also note that some of the key selling points for the OpenACS - a prominent demo system, case studies and references, an overview document like the one Rafael wrote up - cater to developers as well as business people and decision makers and others. Also, business oriented papers could be linked from the homepage ( without this scaring away developers as long as those papers are clearly marked being business papers.

Let's get the slick new homepage that Tali posted up!


We already have the URL. We already have a willing volunteer to put it together (ooops that'd be me) so if we have some space/location for an openacs install... we're away...

Although a site in itself won't help, but it will be a gateway to progress. If there's some agreement (and space) then I'll put together my thoughts/vision for what it might be and pass it around for consultation.

To give you a flavour, imagine if you will a portal for the 'business of web development' a gateway of information for commercial e-development with OpenACS as it basis...

However... one or two is not enough... I'd like to see a few more volunteers on the commercial side.. gotta be some talented marketeers, sales and industry savvy folks out there....

How do we feel about 'becoming the de-facto technology for e-development' ?


What I meant was a commerce-focussed view of OpenACS and e-development. already covers off the technology side, would be a gateway of information, resources, contacts, discussion around e-business. This will bring the business community to the openacs.... mixing it up with software downloads, developer communities and discussions about releases,bugs and code will only serve to obfuscate..

And there is no reason a .com should represent a company... I think that particular notion got well and truly violated some years ago now...

Talking about contribution, we can host (or or whatever), if thats what people envision. I don't feel the need to seperate .org and .com, but if some have a strong opinion that marketing (which does in fact include marketing to companies) should not be part of the .org site, well, so be it 😊.
I don't think its entirely two seprate entities, but two sides of the same coin.

What I'm getting at is a commercial centric view of the same thing..

I think it would be ok for a .com since people are volunteering for it.  And even for hosting.  Why don't we give these people a break and lets have a marketing oriented site.
Or better yet make use of acs-subsites and host node mapping.  That way we can really show of what OpenACS is capable of.

1 user base and 2 sites.

Yes.. of course... silly me ;)

Thats gotta be the best solution... after all two sets of users.. what a pain.

I think Simon's ideas are great and get even better since he's willing to do them!

I think leveraging is a great idea. Whether that be creating a business centric page or just redirecting it to is kind of secondary to providing a link into the project from what is traditionally a more "commercial" entry point.

That being said, when we were developing the first iteration of the next, I for one tried to push a more marketing savvy perspective into the functionality.

Namely, a place where feature articles about companies, projects, developers, ideas could be rotated on a random basis to keep the homepage fresh and to advertise the diversity of the community.

Another way we could do this is to introduce a kind of (and I'm hesitant to use this term in such a high quality community) slashdot blog. Since we are looking for new ideas, competition and other interesting items, it might be cool to have a section where people can submit article or ideas for community review.

For instance, article concerning elearning could be dissected and put into to the context of dotlrn, or vice versa. Articles about the latest in web/db. Specs that people have written for new OpenACS modules. etc.

This way we have a more systematic way of discussing things that could provide insights into ways the community could improve itself or the code. Also, it would provide another way of allowing non-developers to participate.

It also gives business people and other developers a sense of the vibrance of the community apart from what is often obtuse technical discussion or things that are very specific to OACS.

I don't want to see to devolve to /. or to a PHPNuke site, but this might be a nice community feature beyond the community of developers. It could also keep us from having our blinders on too tight.


I am sorry, but when I see something like this:

"How do we feel about 'becoming the de-facto technology for e-development' ?"

I know that I do not want marketing of this type associated with OpenACS. If an individual company wants to advertise it's services this way, no problem, but I don't feel it is appropriate to assocaite this type of message with the community.

That is, if a half-dozen or so OpenACS consulting companies want to collaborate and create a "vision" for the marketing of OpenACS, I don't want it to conflict with the goals of the community.

So, information about the technical benefites of OpenACS, and how it can make it easier to develop web applications using OpenACS is just fine. I just don't want to see dot-com style "branding" of OpenACS going on. Recall the various stages of the ArsDigita home page.

BTW, the discussions about various articles is the kind of thing the participants in the #openacs channel on IRC do all the time. Mostly thanks to Dave Bauer. But it helps a lot in getting perspective on what can often be an insular focus on the OACS and its community.


I haven't made up my mind on two seperate sites, but I truely believe that we need to go ahead with business oriented, professional marketing... A .com site might be valueable for that! and could be an example, although obviously doesn't really tell their visitors much about .org, which has to change with and

Some time ago we have also been talking about a new name. Maybe we can have a new name with the old Alex logo! We've had *MANY* suggestions, so we don't really need to start all over... I mean dotLRN isn't called openacs-learning either!!!

I also disagree with Ben that marketing should be to the consultant... It looks way more professional and has way more synergy effects to have an organizational marketing strategy and material. Maybe these materials can be modular so that every consultant can put them together for his specific needs (education, knowledge mangement etc.)

It's funny to see that the European guys are so keen on marketing. I thought it was an american stronghold 😊 ... and I will be on the business marketing / .com team!

David, is a company totally independent of There are also serious issues between the two because of that. So unfortunately that example kind of proves the danger in building a completely separate business-oriented website.



I understand you point,but... I don;t see my comments as conflicting with the 'goal of the community'

As far as I was aware the 'goal' was to effectively serve all its members.. that includes commercial organisations.

If you don't want OpenACS to become a leading light in this area, then may I ask exactly what you do envision?

Commercial organisations need to feel confident about the product and the goals... hence the slight separation of tech from commerce.. whether you like statements like that or not, it happens t be part and parcel of what it takes to promote products...


what is so bad about "dot-com style branding"???

I mean if we had a subsite to openacs called that is lead by community members that like "branding" and another subsite called that is lead by members that like "developing"... A marketing guy wouldn't have to visit .org neither would a developer have to visit .com!!! Both would peacefully coexist and be driven by the visions of their members...


What I meant was what is "e-development"? How does that tell people what OpenACS can do for them. I am all for promoting the strengths of the OpenACS platform.

What area do you see OpenACS as a "leading light" in? I would like to promote OpenACS for many different uses. But as Ben said we need focused messages to these various markets.

So I support a marketing effort, I just want to make sure it is focused and actually explains what OpenACS is.

Dave and Simon,

I think there's an underlying philosophic tension that we need to be very careful in dealing with. That is the difference between an open source developer who enjoys participating in the development of the system as a hobby and the company or independent developer who is trying to use the system to generate revenue.

Without the volunteers and hobbyists, the community would be a boring place. Without the companies the system wouldn't get pushed as hard as it is.

Both perspectives are valid and both have a place in the openacs community. And neither should be trampled upon in the name of one or the other's survival.

I don't have much else to pontificate about regarding this topic, but I wanted to make sure that these two perspectives are recognized and that were sensitive to the requirements of each.


Posted by John Sequeira on
I would recommend looking at the split between and  [Aside: OI is a perl-apache based framework that overlaps in mission and functionality w/OpenACS, but it's pretty young and doesn't yet have a community around it].

I think it's a great example of the split between a site focused on toolkit developers/users and one focused on prospective decision makers.


okay jabber is a tricky example, but there wouldn't be such a thing as "OpenACS the company"!

That's why I believe that both sides need to transport the idea of one community from two perspectives...

Maybe I still don't get it. My intention of concentrating marketing efforts and coordinating these with other people was mainly driven to have something to show for people who come to visit the site. So I talk about "USE" cases instead of "show/marketing" cases. I talk about user friendly documentation. I talk about demo website for the use cases we talked about. New functionality which will make it easier to use the site. Material for press agencies to post in the papers. Some business papers detailing the strength of OpenACS to the non techie business person (if every company wants to make their own version and none will be put up at OpenACS, thats fine, but results in loss of drive we get from the articles, fairs or congresses).

My experience, coming from the business world, was as follows: I read something interesting in an article. I go to their site. I look at some screenshots. I read the about article, maybe go on to the functionality overview. Look around for some hints how this might be USED in my organization. Leave.

If I find an answer how I can use the tool for my organization I'd have someone check it out (or I'd do it myself), and when I really thing thats the way to go, hire some of the active members or companies of that community.

Up so far, no information in that direction can be found on Is this commercial marketing? Not necessarily.

From what I gathered so far there is a tension between the need for using buzzword driven marketing for executives and other bypassers while containing enough fun and freedom of expression for the rest of the community. For now I'd just leave the buzzwords out and start with the direly needed marketing towards a greater recognition of the toolkit (like I described above).

Well, last but not least, taking in account how many people want to actively participate in marketing shows that we also have a potential for this within the community, people who want to give something though their are not the most experienced developers. And from what I have gathered so far, developers tend to be very lazy when it comes down to user documentation or materials praising their work.

It's not going to be like in a busines situation where the marketing/sales guys grossly overstate what the product is capable of doing and the developers just have to eat it.

So instead of killing the flower right in the beginning, let us start and if the material we produce is too much out of the way for to host, we still can come up with a subsite for This is taking for granted that Ben would be willing to lend the domain for that purpose.


Excellent point. This needs to be addressed in all these areas. Besides marketing level information, we also need better techinical and user documentation and examples of what openacs can do.

Great point, Malte.

I think we also need to give thought to why most of us are here in
the first place. I think one of the best points Philip Greenspun
ever made was that magnet content is what drives the success
of most websites.

CONTENT is what drove most of us to to ACS. Philip's book, the
ASJ articles, the great discussions on web/db.

I think what's happened is that we've reached a size that we're
pretty comfortable with. We have "enough" developers, we have
"enough" business. We're doing fine.

But we're not effectively reaching out towards

1) bringing new developers into the "fold". Malte and many of the
previous comments address this very well.

2) making new developers successfully grow into expert
developers. I think besides working on documentation, we also
need to make it as easy as possible for people to plug into
openacs as developers. We need documents that really explain
how to become a good developer, how to set up CVS and use it,
how to contribute to an open source project, how to make
patches, how to make bug reports, how to how to how to.

For us to concretely make a difference on these two issues, it's
going to take some work and time. I'm very encouraged to see
people stepping forward to help out on this.

I'll have a lot more time to devote to this once we eventually move
our ACS 3.4 based system to OpenACS (I'm thinking about
doing that at the beginning of next year).

Realistically, unless we change how we're doing things,
openacs will never be anything other than a fringe product.

Some questions new people are going to bring when they come
to the website is:

- what does this toolkit do?

- why is it better than competing products?

- why is it worth my time to learn such a diverse body of new
things: Aolserver, Tcl, Postgres or Oracle? What does this buy

- does this product have a future? What does it look like?

As the sum total of the marketing material at the moment is ZERO, how about we leave the creation of a world-leading e-development dot-biz site until the material exists and outgrows it's home on the site we already have, espescially considering the new version of this site has been in production for about a year and we still haven't collectively found the time to get it finnished.

Also, before we go out into the world and convert the unwashed unto the ways of ACS, we might consider getting our own house in order by coming to some agreement about what exactly we're doing here, why it benefits us, where we're going etc.  Without the existing community in consensus what kind of coherent message are we going to give?  Lets walk first, folks.

I think Stephen and Malte puts this very well and I totally agree that we should come up with the basic material first (demo site, case studies, a few general documents), and only when our material cannot fit onto our current site should we contemplate setting up other sites. Let's start by properly maintaining the site that we have. The .org and .com split is by means conventional. What is conventional for a project like this though is to be hosted on sourceforge. Look at for example. They are top 5 at Sourceforge with 200,000+ downloads per month but they also have a homepage with some docs and presentation of the team etc. I am sure that OpenACS would get more exposure if we were also hosted at Sourceforge.

Stephen, in the best of worlds, or no, rather in a quite dull world, consensus would be possible, but in this life - we will never have one. We still need to decine on a roadmap though with action items and deadlines. However, I think a lot of us have our own agenda and we cannot really afford to wait for the overall roadmap to emerge before we contribute.

Out of pure curiosity: Who is opposed to host OpenACS at sourceforge as well? If someone (e.g. Peter) is willing to do the grunt work of setting this up and linking to our homepage, keeping news in sync, you name it, it should not be so hard to get higher exposure (because we are a very active community after all). We could probably write a tool which would insert messages posted on the bboards here to the bboards at Sourceforge. And though SDM might be our preferred method for bug reporting, we might as well just subscribe to the bugs at sourceforge.
I agree we have some early things to decide, like what exactly is OpenACS, how do we describe it and so on...

I don't want folks to think I'm going to suddenly slap up a website with nothing on it and start spouting Mar-Speak..

I'm merely saying that the balance at the moment is wrong.. i.e. all developer, zero commercial..

Ok, I read this to mean there is general agreement on having a more commercial focussed effort and therefore I'm going to proceed with that remit.

I'll start by getting a plan/roadmap/discussion thinumy out there, and we'll move on from there.


Just to correct something that Peter said - OpenACS has been listed on since April 2001 in Computers/Software/Internet/Servers/Discussion (along with and slash). is the basis for Google's directory (an example of the connection is that currently every page has a green ball in the bottom right that links to the equivalent category on Google). OpenACS is also listed in Computers/Software/Databases/Oracle/Tools/ (since Feb 2002). I originally submitted OpenACS for inclusion in Dec 2000 - I am ODP editor, I originally joined to see a large scale community site in action.
Disclaimer: I am a newbie to openacs (have not even deliverd it) but have deployed ACS 4.5 with lots of custom packages (

Further expanding on Ben Adida's comments :-

I would be willing to QA and improve the quality of existing packages but what is sorely lacking here is quality CORE documentation as touched on by Don Baccus.

A Basic breakdown of this is how messaging should be handled session persistance and other bits and bobs, other wise you end up with the ACS plague of 10 peoples version of a core routine rather than using core functionality.

As well if the core functionality is 95% there rather than re-invention, some corespondence with the core maintainers could possibly evolve the function so that it can do what you require without become a branched version.

If memory serves ACS Templating was a classic example of this.

So if a bit of time was spent saying these are the core api's and this sort of issue should use this api etc etc, some of you package problems would dissapear

I apologise if this doc exists and I have not found it, I am looking to convert our site to openACS soon so hopefully will become a more informed and active member soon.