Blog-based project groups and Drupal

This week, Paul Benson posted an interesting diary at OpenLeft about supporting project groups on progressive blogs.  The basic idea is fairly simple: quite often, progressive blog readers want to get together to collaborate on a project.  Projects can range in nature and scope widely, and they can have a fixed goal (like producing a catching YouTube video) or an ongoing set of goals (like promoting progressive legislation).  But they all seem to share on common characteristic: they are poorly served by the recommended diary section of most progressive blogs.  Paul lists only two examples of projects that were successfully organized via diaries - YearlyKos and the Gannon investigation.  There are probably a few more we could add to the pile, especially if we reached into the archives of local and statewide blogs, but I think the point stands.  Blogs are a great way to share news and opinions and to incite activism; they are not a great way to organize activism.

Paul sketches out a quick-and-dirty example of what a progressive project organizing platform might look like, and I think it's a reasonable first start.  There are certainly other online project management tools available, ranging from dotProject to 37 Signals's Basecamp.  I would also add that Paul's critique only underscores a point I've been making here in recent weeks: that the progressive blogosphere could be exceptionally well-served by an open-source platform, especially one like Drupal.

There are a couple of Drupal modules which are particularly well-suited to the sort of project management Paul is referring to: Organic Groups and Project.  The former allows any Drupal site to be subdivided into a number of workspaces for interest groups.  The form of a workspace can itself be flexible - it can be a wiki, a blog, a document-sharing space, or a combination of all of these.  The Project module is used to keep track of projects, subdivide them into tasks, and monitor the progress on each task, using a lightweight project-management paradigm.  Project was written to support bug tracking for Drupal modules and themes, but it can also be adapted for other purposes. While I have not yet had the chance to incorporate them into the Drupal-based blogging platform I wrote about last week, it's clear that the ability to add these modules easily to any Drupal site is a major advantage to using Drupal to power a progressive blog.

There is also, I think, a larger point to be made about the use of open source software to power the progressive movement.  There are many similarities between the progressive movement and most open source software project.  They are both decentralized, made up of many independent actors with similar goals.  It's no accident that they are both likely to run up against the same kind of collaborative challenges, which is, I think, yet another reason that the progressive movement should build upon the progress made by Drupal.

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First release of Drupal progressive blogging platform

Last week I posted a prospective roadmap for a Drupal-based progressive community blogging platform.  I've begun working on that platform, and have a very rough draft of the platform ready to go.  If you are interested in helping out, email me at work (ssachs at lightbulbfirst dot com) or leave a note in the comments, and I can send you more details.  I'm not quite yet ready to post a link to the software itself, but I hope to be ready for that within a week or two.

Below, I've written some details about the functionality available to date, as well as some of the upcoming high-level technical challenges.  If you are a Drupal developer who'd like to lend your suggestions or expertise, or if you are a blog reader/writer and have some thoughts about how comment voting and recommendations can be improved, feel free to drop a note in the comments.  Finally, if you have some thoughts about a good name for this platform, I'm all ears!

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Roadmap for a Drupal-based progressive community blog platform

Last week I wrote a brief series on developing a Drupal-based progressive community blog platform.  As a bit of background, Drupal is a leading open source content management system; at work, most of the websites I build use Drupal.  In light of the vulnerabilities of the Soapblox platform, which hosts many local and some nationwide progressive blogs, it's become apparent that an open-source software packages, specifically tuned to the needs of progressive bloggers, would be a valuable asset.

The initial series last weekend got a fair amount of interest, but there was one theme that was fairly strong among the comments: Drupal is a great platform, but it's not user-friendly enough for most bloggers.  There is, to be sure, some kernel of truth in that critique - Drupal is not that easy to use out-of-the-box.  On the other hand, a savvy developer can turn Drupal into one of the most easy-to-use, powerful platforms for blogging around.  If you have any doubts, I'd suggest you visit OnSugar and create a free account - the system is a hosted, Drupal-based blogging platform, and in my opinion it is at least as user-friendly as Wordpress, if not more so.

While I don't know if I'll ever be able to put together something as nice as OnSugar, I'd like to give it a shot.  In the next few weeks, I hope to release a simple Drupal-based community blogging platform, which will include some (but not quite all) of the features many of us are already familiar with in most progressive community blogs.  The platform will be released on drupal.org under the GNU General Public License, like all other Drupal contributions, so that others can download it and try it out.  The hope is that this platform will improve over time, with the help of other progressive Drupal developers, progressive bloggers, readers, and anyone else who is interested.  Below, I've outlined a prospective, best-case-scenario roadmap for this platform.  I'd love to get feedback on this, so if you have critiques for the roadmap, if you'd like to help out - or if you're already working on a similar Drupal-based platform - please let me know!

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A Drupal-based DailyKos


Yesterday's post on the next steps forward, in light of Soapblox's near-meltdown, generated some very interesting suggestions and questions, and even a bit of a good old-fashioned programming language holy war, in the comment thread.  Alert reader Jon Pincus also pointed me to Pam Spaulding's very insightful thoughts about Soapblox.  Pam gets right to the heart of the matter in pointing out that the issue underlying this meltdown is money, or lack thereof.  Progressive bloggers aren't wealthy, and some of them failed to pay even Soapblox's reasonable monthly fees.


I do not think there will ever be a single, ideal blogging platform for all progressive bloggers, for the simple reason that each blogger will make her own decisions about where and when to post.  Soapblox may grow and thrive for a long time to come; I hope it does.  But I would also like to see the development of an alternative system that is every bit as easy to work with, and every bit as cheap, as Soapblox, but with a stronger technological foundation.  Ideally, I would like to see an alternative system that is more feature-rich, and capable of supporting the next wave of progressive organizing that is already beginning.

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SoapBlox meltdown and Drupal


This week Soapblox, the content management system and hosting platform of choice for many, many local progressive blogs, had a serious meltdown due to a massive hacker attack, and nearly collapsed. The attack on Soapblox immediately took down a huge chunk of the progressive blogosphere's infrastructure, and threatened catastrophe for the progressive movement, just as a new session of Congress and a new administration was getting started. The story was already covered ably at DailyKos, Open Left, and many other progressive blogs.  The consensus that appears to have emerged after a fairly short but very wide-ranging discussion is: it may make sense to transition to another system eventually; for now there is no readily available alternative; Soapblox is a shoestring operation run by a good progressive; so progressives should chip in to save Soapblox.

More on the meltdown, and how we can use this crisis as an opportunity, across the flip!

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Diaries

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