January 2018 forum evaluation
Lets review our community forum
So, the forum is enshrined in our by-laws as our official means of communication of our membership, and seems to be the unwritten (or perhaps written—but just poorly indexed) depository of information on you-name-it.
As we discussed at the visioning meeting, there are a few things that we should probably get sorted out by committees before going into the AGM. I think this seems like the logical place to do a lot of it. In the next few days, lets discuss the forum in this thread, as far as what is working, and what is not right now.
Lets break out the strengths and weaknesses around this communication tool, and consider the opportunities to effectively complete Kamloops Makerspace business here by making some tweaks, and the potential threats that could affect the picture.
In particular, lets focus on how the forum could best be used as an open and transparent avenue for carrying out the business of committees, and store information about the space in the easiest way possible to find and access it.
I think the forum needs moderators. When a discussion wanders off topic someone sometimes starts a new thread to continue the discussion. Unfortunately, that leaves the original post with irrelevant information and the new topic is fragmented across two separate posts. Someone needs to be empowered to cut and paste.
Some comments need to be deleted. We could start a thread on window latches that devolves into an argument over whether the bottom pane should slide up or the top pane should slide down. Eventually, a fight breaks out over whether left-handed people are superior or whether “lefty’s” is a derogatory term.
It may feel important at the time to argue back but in 6 months time when someone wants to look at the history of the window latch debate, they don’t want to fondly relive the off topic pissing match.
Some comments need to be deleted. We could start a thread on window latches that devolves
into an argument over whether the bottom pane should slide up or the top pane should slide
down. Eventually, a fight breaks out over whether left-handed people are superior or whether
“lefty’s” is a derogatory term.
I prefer “sinister”.
Being involved in EdTech (Educational Technology) at TRU (my employer), I would like to briefly add some pros and cons to the discussion around using the Forum.
I would also like to recommend some open source software (Free as in beer) that can compliment the forum in ways that will address the “cons”.
-Forums are excellent mediums for discussion. Threads keep a discussion together.
-Easily maintains visibility of current issues/discussions
-Time based interactions get lost over time (loss of visibility).
-Most “modern” web based forums only have ONE level of threads. The old usergroups (NNTP) supported endless nested threads.
-Truly TERRIBLE for archiving documents
-Ineffective for sharing documents (lost within the thread, lost within time)
-Not effective for shared document creation
The primary “cons” that need to be addressed are:
-Visibility (to overcome deep discussions and length of time)
-Community/Shared document creation
There are two open source (free) systems that I would like to recommend:
In brief, NextCloud is a file sharing and sync server that is also a web app platform. New apps are always being added to the “store” for free and can be installed with a few clicks. Collabora, the web version of LibreOffice, can be installed into NexCloud. NextCloud is a well funded and very actively developed open source project.
in brief, SandStorm is a web app platform that has at least 58 web apps in its “store”, all for free. Any app can be installed with just a few clicks. Any document that has been created can be securely shared with anyone, even if they do not have an account on the system. In such a case that person would ONLY have access to that ONE document. SandStorm was designed with the intent of being a Google Doc replacement. It is extremely flexible and really has to be seen to be believed. The primary two developers work for CloudFlare and the core technology of SandStorm is used by CloudFlare. This corporate backing ensures SandStorm’s long-term development.
I have personally setup SandStorm on my own server (Toshiba laptop from 2007, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD) for my own personal “stuff” and I use it everyday. I did a fresh install of Ubuntu (not really a Unix guy), installed sandstorm, screwed up my settings, manually removed sandstorm, reinstalled it and was up and running in Less than One Hour
I have also recommended it to the university and through that, TRU has implemented SandStorm. The Director of Innovation has said that SandStorm “…is the most exciting EdTech he has seen in over 10 years”! This is because of it’s instantly deployable services for educators and it’s long list of available web apps that can be instantly “installed”.
I would be happy to do a demo of SandStorm. Just let me know when would be a good time.
One last item of note:
I feel, the LAST thing we should be doing is paying for software or services when there are multiple excellent open source options available to us. There is a long list of things that real Money should go to rather than software.
It seems like @Grant-Fraser is highlighting issues around the implementation of the tool (many of which could be solved with some documentation IMO), while @JasonH is evaluating the suitability of the tool compared to other alternatives. This is great! If we are going to spend the time developing the documentation, we should be sure that we want to keep using the tool. This type of review is exactly what I would like to happen here.
I will spend some time putting together a post on this myself, I have thoughts/comments on a few different levels. I’ll try to get to it this week, I have a couple other things I owe @Grant-Fraser and the rest of the board to get sorted first. Any more feedback/conversation in the mean time would be great!
@JasonH, I agree that we can stick with a free/open source solution for this. The current forum is an example of this (it is an implementation of NodeBB). I see there is an argument to be made for switching things up, but there are some counterarguments as well (mostly around the continuity of historical/future data, and around the idea most users will resist changes of any kind, especially if the benefits of changing are not obvious and/or good training isn’t available for the newly implemented solution). I’m not choosing a side, just trying to weigh out the pros and cons myself.
More to come…
Just one more note of clarification; my recommendations of SandStorm or NextCloud do not need or require the removal of the existing NodeBB forum. Both could exist just dandy alongside of it. In fact, it might be best to do just that. NodeBB open to the public and SandStorm/NextCloud available to members only. Just one possibility.
Also, NodeBB is one of the web apps available within SandStorm.