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Using Community Websites to Help Deliver Complex Projects

The use of weblogs (blogs) and content management systems (CMS) can greatly enhance the communication within complex projects or where individuals connected with those projects are geographically dispersed. This paper examines some of the options available and the benefits that can be achieved. {mosadsense4joomla ad_layout="A"ad_align=""}It would be difficult to ignore the phenomenal growth in the use of weblogs and CMS systems on the web over the last couple of years. Some companies use similar products to drive their employee portal systems, offering personnel info, company news and contact info. But the benefits of such systems have not generally yet filtered down to the project level, and as such have been largely overlooked by the majority of teams working on commercial projects that require a high degree of collaboration.

Hopefully this paper will go some way towards encouraging people to explore and consider the potential of these tools and the massive benefits that they can give in today's pressurised work environment.

It's true to say that many teams rely too heavily on e-mails in order to provide general project info and progress. This over reliance can offer some serious drawbacks when looking at their effectiveness.

Firstly in sending out an e-mail you need to know your audience. This might seem obvious but being able to identify ALL of the people who need to know this information is not always possible. Widening the audience can lead to a spamming effect which isn't going to endear you within your company, whilst restricting the audience could lead to a lack of communication that can have serious consequences to the effectiveness of the team.

Secondly, another issue with e-mails is down to the targeted nature. If someone joins the team or becomes interested in what's happening on your project they have no means of effectively receiving these historical updates.

Weblogs and CMS systems provide an ultra easy means of fostering a community via a website. This might be a group of people interested in a sports team, a collection of students interested in a particular subject OR more importantly for this paper a Team interested in delivering a projects for their company.

Posting updates onto a community website allows anyone who is interested in a project to have access to this information. It also allows for an effective search mechanism so that old postings can be easily found. Many products also allow you to target your information more efficiently by using news topics. This means that it's easy to subscribe to the type of information that YOU need rather than being bombarded by absolutely everything that is happening.

For example if I'm an end user interested in a project that has the following news topics: - Release Info, Coding Standards, Demos, People News. I can select just to see the Release info news items in order to keep up-to date with how things are progressing. I can also change the preferences, if at a later stage I want to start seeing Demo news items as well. The fact that I can configure what I see is a key benefit that means that one site can be many things to many people. This flexibility can provide a massive benefit, especially for large teams working on complex projects.

Some common capabilities:

  • Posting of news items from members of the community
  • Ability to post events and add links to other websites
  • Ability of each user to configure which news topics they see when they log-in
  • News Categories can be created to target information
  • Search facilities to find important information
  • Statistics are available in order to gauge what areas of a site are most used
  • Ability to post comments to new items and within discussion forums
  • Setting up and running Polls to ask questions of the community

General Benefits

  • It works - is a well established and proven means of fostering a community on the web
  • Ultra low cost of ownership when using the Open Source Tools available (Geeklog, PHPNuke etc)
  • Little if any training required to use
  • Flexible
    • Configuration
    • Look and Feel
    • Adding Users/Groups
  • Security built in to restrict access and privileges
  • Lots of help available via on-line forums

Freely available (Open Source) examples

There are quite a few examples of these products that can be used at virtually no cost to the end user. Some of the most popular and well known examples include :-

PostNuke www.postnuke.com

PHPNuke www.phpnuke.org

Geeklog www.geeklog.net Nukes (new addition from the JBOSS.org)


Its easy enough to gauge how useful and popular these tools are by taking a look yourself, but two examples will hopefully illustrate the point :-

Logging on to the Geeklog site we can use the Statistics facility to see how active the site is. The following is a small part of the statistics available.

  • Total Hits to the System 5221447
  • Stories(Comments) in the System 617 (2553)
  • Polls(Answers) in the System 28 (13096)
  • Links(Clicks) in the System 311 (75353)
  • Events in the System 37
  • Static Pages 20

Having a site that has over 5 Million hits is quite impressive in its own right. When I last logged onto the JBOSS site (running on Nukes), there were 594 guests and 40 members online

Hopefully this whistle stop tour of weblog and CMS systems has highlighted the benefits that can be gained within a project environment and provides a starting point for your own investigation.

2004 © Dean Margerison. All rights reserved.

About the author Dean Margerison is an independent consultant with over 15 years experience managing and working on software development projects. You can find other articles by Dean and links relating to process improvement at www.dekam.net

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