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OpenACS Proposal - Sample

OpenACS – Open Source Software Initiative

OpenACS has a proven suite of collaboration tools that are in current use by nonprofits, educational institutions and commercial companies worldwide.  Internationalization (I18n) is currently being completed by Heidelberg University.  Building on the strength of OpenACS, this project can focus on making the tools work effectively for NGOs rather than tool creation.  New features or feature enhancement will be developed when needed, but emphasis will be placed on using existing code and resources.

This project will customize the user interface and information architecture of existing OpenACS functionality to support multi-national grassroots communication.  It will also create an easy to install version of OpenACS based on these customizations.  Combined with enhanced and specific documentation it will make a very sophisticated multi-lingual community system available and accessible to XXX and other NGOs alike.  Finally, the project will also create educational marketing material aimed at multi-national grassroots NGOs to make them aware of this new resource.


Unified Toolset

On-line collaboration typically uses a variety of tools.  A well-constructed application uses them efficiently.  The figure below was created for marketing purpose to educational institutions; nonetheless it is a good image for understanding existing and planned OpenACS functionalities.



Modularity is wonderful for quickly assembling exactly the application you need.  Maintainability is enhanced in OpenACS when similar modules share the same basic functionality.  Thus, from a more technical perspective OpenACS is a layered architecture with many packages that provide diverse functionality to end users; it relies on common underlying structural packages such as the content repository, notifications, date-time space, authentication, and context search.  This structured approach allows the easy creation  of specialized, yet unified, new functionality with a minimum of separate and new code. 

Mature Broad Based Developer Community

OpenACS traces its roots back to Philip Greenspun, a Computer Science Professor at MIT, and his work on starting in 1995 and Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Publishing in 1998.  The code base has always emphasized collaboration and management of geographically diverse online communities.  The underlying engineering was supported by millions of dollars of venture capital spent on hiring PhDs in Computer Science from MIT, CalTech and other major universities across the Atlantic.

OpenACS has proven its durability and utility by surviving the death of its parent company (ArsDigita) to grow into a vibrant grassroots collection of independent consultants and small companies implementing diverse and complex web solutions around the globe for fun, philanthropy, and profit.

Example OpenACS Implementation - dotLRN

dotLRN is an application built on top of OpenACS specifically targeted for universities.  A consortium lead by the Sloan School of Management at MIT and Heidelberg University has significantly improved enhanced OpenACS.  In many ways this project will be philosophically modeled after dotLRN.  It will create an application built on top of OpenACS that is specifically targeted to NGOs needing web based community tools in a multi-lingual environment.

This project will also build directly upon functionality implemented by dotLRN. Especially important for this project is the strong emphasis on groups, subgroups and distributed administration.  In Learning Management Systems (LMS) it is very important that instructors have extensive control over membership, content and presentation.  Designated XXX leaders will reuse this functionality extensively to allow the project to have self-managing geographically diverse and common-interest groups and subgroups that can be managed locally without extensive time commitment from the parent organization.

One goal of this project is to deliver a code base that has significant overlap with dotLRN.  This is desirable from a sustainability and maintenance point of view because enhancements and bug fixes made to the dotLRN community will be available to the NGO community as well.  OpenACS’ layered package system is designed to support this type of code reuse and make it possible to have specialized code easily segregated from customized code for enhanced maintainability.

Case studies on dotLRN can be found at:


Active Development

OpenACS is continually being improved, often in ways that will be useful to nonprofits and NGOs. Currently there is active development of the following features.

  • E-Commerce G2
  • Xowiki
  • dotLrn

Although many of these features will not be immediately used in the XXX site, they will be vital for the future sustainability and expandability of this project, giving the project the ability to be quickly extended to meet the needs of a multitude of NGOs.

Service Providers Available Globally

The product produced will be a custom installation of OpenACS that any OpenACS company or developer would be able to support.  Currently, there are consultants and companies that provide support for OpenACS in the following countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada Denmark, Finland, Germany, Guatemala, India, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, US,.

Standards Compliance and Interoperability

OpenACS has strong and continuing support of standards that will enable this project and future extensions to share content and interoperate with other systems.

The Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) web services – a way to create widely distributed, complex applications that run over the Internet, has already been incorporated into some OpenACS packages and research is underway at the University of Sydney into further uses of Web Services.

OpenACS also includes a RSS Support Design Module to support the RDF Site Summary (RSS), an XML-based, lightweight multipurpose extensible metadata description and syndication format.  RSS support positions OpenACS for future functionality requiring accepting and distributing syndicated news feeds and other RSS-compliant content.

The OpenACS WAP module supports the wireless access protocol (WAP), thus allowing easy deliver of content to WAP-enabled devices such as cell phones, PDAs, etc., as well as regular desktop browsers.  In fact, the simplicity of the OpenACS interface means it is well suited for use on mobile clients. 

OpenACS and its dotLRN consortium are committed to implementing the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), Instructional Management System (IMS) and Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI) standards, all among the most widely used standards for learning object interoperability.


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