Forum OpenACS Q&A: Re: Call for Volunteers: Redesign inside and out

Hi All,

Pleased to hear there's some discussion on this, but before we go any further can I say...


Lets not get ahead of ourselves, already talking about logo's etc (easily the least important aspect of the site).

We (TCB) agree that the site could do with a re-org and we'd be happy to help on the content/positioning side. However, for the exercise to be worthwhile there would have to be significant improvement on what we’ve got already. If that’s not going to be the case then I think we’re far better off just applying minor tweaks only.

But lets assume that a major improvement is the goal, to my mind there are a whole range of questions and issues that should be tackled first. Answers to these will help create a vision of what the site should be. I don’t want to dampen any spirits but I don’t think that well meant enthusiasm alone is the way to go about this.

There are a lot of commercial organisations who use this toolkit (they may even be the majority) and I think we need to consider their (our) needs primarily, simply because the site itself can have a + or – EV on revenue.

The non-commercial/casual users, I would argue, have far less to gain or lose from how the site appears than we do. For them getting access to good information and help is probably more important, and of course would be part of any good site.

    Before we start

This is by no means a definitive list, but as a starter I think we need to answer some of these questions.

  • Who are the primary stakeholders in the website (this is distinct from ‘users’ of the site)?
  • What message are we trying to communicate?
  • Who are our competitors/rivals/partners?
  • What is our ‘market’ position.
  • What metrics can we apply to measure other successful communities by?
  • What resources/finances do we really need. i.e. can this really be done on a shoestring, and if not where are those resources to come from?
  • What structure should the community take? Do we retain the ‘educated amateur’ feel, or do we pitch at the professional enterprise (or both, if that’s possible).
  • What services do our members need most?
  • What technology do we need to provide? (I am assuming that it is a given that the entire thing will be a OACS deployment and therefore exemplar).

    I’m sure you get the idea.

      Some comments
    I’d like to put forward a few observations on some of the comments already made.

    The name OpenACS. I personally find the ‘Open’ redundant and dated. Can we not simply return to ACS?. Any other shift of name is likely to lose us what exposure we already have. Rebranding is a big undertaking and for it to be successful requires time and energy in getting out the message. The idea that a new name by itself will bring in lots of new users is ‘optimistic’ at best. Unless there’s some serious commitment (commercially) I say stay closer to home. BTW, if there is a big push for a change then I’d like to at least suggest we go for a verb rather than a noun (think Hibernate or Spring). These names imply action and have very successful communities.

    The Logo. This for me is a candidate to spend money. I personally think logo’s are overrated. We’re not McDonalds. We don’t need to be spotted on the high street. The technology and the content are our best image, lets keep the logo professional and minimal. My vote here would be to pay a professional organisation to produce something for approval. It will be far easier for us all to be critical and remove the emotion from the decision if its done this way. (I’ll come on to funding shortly).

      Eat your own Dirt
    A popular phrase where I’m working :). Basically the site must be an exemplar of the use of the OpenACS. Any commercial organisation should be able to point to the community website itself as a reference site. This is definitely not the case at the moment. I am suggesting we think in terms of doing the maximum rather than the minimum. We are guilty of having a site that espouses virtually non of the principles originally conceived for it. i.e. Collaboration = We have a forum…. Not really that impressive is it. Personalisation = I have a name and a picture… and so on

      Some strategic suggestions

    I already alluded to things like finance and strategy. I think this needs to be considered more seriously. I’d like to suggest the following:

  • A smaller subset of the community be appointed to deal with creating the new site. This should be made up largely (but not exclusively) of commercial organisations and should report to and be answerable to the community as a whole. This exercise needs a small, highly focused group, not a large, loose affiliation.
  • Some financing should be sought. I’m not talking a massive spend here, but enough working capital such that we don’t have to grub around for everything. How this is managed is a more nutty issue, perhaps we form a non-profit company and appoint directors. Quite apart from anything else this gives out the right message about how seriously this community takes itself. Lets suppose each commercial organisation contributed £1,000 (not sure what this is in dollars). I think this would give us enough working capital (you can’t even buy a decent laptop for that these days).
  • Get in some experts. There are many successful OS communities out there (Apache for example). Lets try and get some key players from those communities to advise/consult and how we can improve. This isn’t about competition, there’s room for us all.
  • We produce a plan. A proper, concrete expression of where we are going and what we hope to achieve. Make that plan public!
  • We adopt an approach to building a new site that can be documented and cited as a case study. I.e. lets gain big PR by demonstrating how effective an OS community can really be. Lets demonstrate the commercial and technical power of OS as way to get things done.

    Ok, I suspect that for some this will seem like a *lot* of work and a lot of it pretty dry too. Well, no apologies there, that’s exactly what I propose. It’s the kind of activity that I suspect will need commercial companies to get it to fly. However, there is quid pro quo. If we do this right, there is payback to be had. I want to do more ACS business. I see an exemplar community as an important part of that.

    We should be aiming to create a proper industry-strength community that can put itself forward as a serious contender for peoples attention.

    From our pov, we can contribute in the following ways:

  • Planning and management.
  • Strategy and commercial arrangements.
  • Finance (we’ll chip in if others will).
  • Development.
  • Content.

    Where we can’t really contribute is

  • Art and Design.
  • Hosting.
  • Support/operations


    In my opinion the next generation of OS communities can and will be viable alternatives to traditional organisations (apologies if I’m coming over all Holonic). They can be commercially astute whilst retaining their core values and most importantly they can be innovative in ways which are beyond the traditional software company. This is a great time to take a lead. ACS could become a de-facto standard for how OS communities should be, and the website is the external expression of that.

    After all, isn’t that exactly where this all came from in the first place, an OS community underpinned by a commercial organisation.