REALNEO: Virtually Unlimited Collaboration

Submitted by Ted Takacs on Wed, 12/15/2004 - 09:17.

1. What is REALNEO?

1.1. What is a "Virtual Community"?

"Virtual community" is a term used to describe a wide variety of computer-mediated communication, particularly long-term, textually mediated conversations among large groups. Such groups are comprised of people who may or may not meet one another face-to-face, and who exchange words and ideas through the mediation of computer networks and a variety of web formats, such as blogs and bulletin boards.

The range of available activities is immense. People chat, collaborate, exchange physical and intellectual property, and bring new information to their respective groups. They do everything people do when they meet face-to-face. Electronic interactions in which people don't know each other provide opportunities for new kinds of communities.

Existing technologies provide for the creation of virtually communities structured to serve a wide array of social, business, and professional groups in a secure computing. Each group is moderated by a group leader who can regulate group membership, decide on the collaboration tools available to group members, and moderate postings and discussions among group members.

1.2. REALNEO: Why is it needed?

Case Weatherhead School of Management organizational behavior professor David Cooperrider, developer of the appreciative inquiry management theory, thus sums up the need for REALNEO as follows.

  • For better human cooperation, the most advanced economic development organizations and leaders in Northeast Ohio use new forms of global interaction. REI's Ed Morrison publishes a globally read blog, http://www.edpro.blogspot.com/. REI has a wiki, rooted at http://www.smartmeetingdesign.com/rei/. A group of area wind power industry proponents have a blog on that subject at http://makingchange.typepad.com/neowind/. Thus, there is clear evidence that smart local economic development leaders consider social networking necessary. The examples above illustrate three different solution providers.
  • In Northeast Ohio there are approximately 600+ economic development related organizations comprised of hundreds of thousands of stakeholders. Thus, there exist 1,000s of social, business, and project networks that conduct 1,000s of related meetings, seminars and lectures per year. Most of these organizations rely on virtualized management and content, and none of them interact or leverage any synergies.
  • By organizing all the related contacts, content, communications, and schedules of the Northeast Ohio organizations in one virtual space, we will be obtain the ability to leverage economies of scale and synergies, develop a centralized, optimized site for all, while providing control for every group over their section of the virtual community.
  • A virtual community environment will result that will provide a strong visibility for all participating groups along with a unique, powerful environment for collaboration among the members of these groups in a secure environment.

1.3. Don't we already have virtual communities?

A number of social, business, and project networks currently maintain web sites that serve their membership. The tools available for online networking, the dissemination of news and articles, the exchange of information among subject matter experts, event planning, and ad hoc collaboration vary widely among these groups. The costs associated with developing an effective web presence significantly inhibit the capabilities that many of these groups are able to provide to their membership.

Thus, while many area network groups have established a web presence, they are often limited in the collaborative services they can offer their memberships due to fiscal constraints. They are further limited in their ability to interact or leverage synergy with other groups. For example, the co-hosting of events can reduce the cost of sponsorship substantially for participating organizations while significantly increasing attendance.

1.4. What is different about REALNEO?

REALNEO is developing a uniquely world-class open source content management system, by adding to the Drupal project and helping drive and fund further optimal development.

2. The Drupal Project

Drupal is the product of an open source project devoted to the development of a dynamic web site platform. A community of developers works to constantly update and revise the project. This platform allows an individual or community of users to publish, manage, and organize a variety of content and information. This ability to manage information makes Drupal a content management system (CMS). Users utilize Drupal's browser-based interface to communicate openly with one another. This enhances the revision process of documents or projects on the site because of the centralized location.

Drupal is designed to be flexible and powerful enough to meet a broad range of web technology needs, from simple informational postings to large organizational sites and collaborative projects. The focus of the Drupal Project is on the development of a platform providing virtual communities and collaboration.

2.1. Drupal Mission

"Building on and realizing relevant standards and open source technologies, Drupal supports and enhances the potential of the Internet as a medium where diverse and geographically-separated individuals and groups can come together and collectively produce and share rich bases of information and expression."

2.2. Drupal's Collaborative Capabilities

User Management: One of the most vital functions, of any content management system, is its ability to manage its users. Drupal allows individual users to ["register" Drupal user registration and personal account information] and authenticate locally or by using an external authentication source. By requiring users to register, Drupal allows for ["private messaging" Private Messaging & Notification] and other forms of private communication with other registered users.REALNEO Virtual Community.

Weblog: One commonly used feature on Drupal is the weblog. A single installation can be configured to create a website with multiple individual weblogs. Weblogs allow communication between members of the community. As opposed to e-mail or private notification, weblogs allow the entire community to view and respond with their own thoughts, ["comments" Creating and editing nodes and comments], and ideas. Drupal employs Blogger API support, content syndication, ["a news aggregator" Drupal News Aggregator and RSS Documentation], and permalinks to assist in managing a weblog.

Discussion Based Community: The primary advantage of Drupal comes from its ability to allow users and members of the community to reply to weblogs or posts made by other users. This ability can also be expanded to include comments and possible revisions for information stored in the content management system. By allowing users to utilize the Forums Module to create discussion boards, Drupal empowers individuals and gives them a unique voice.

Another advantage, to having an online discussion based community, is that the postings allow for the whole revision process of projects and information to be shown. This means that users can become involved in a project at any given time throughout the revision process. The environment remains controlled by administrator(s) so that comments and updates are constructive and relevant to the task at hand. Administrators also have the ability to let the community moderate the content management system.

Collaboration: Enabling collaboration is a primary feature of Drupal. Many features and functions of the Drupal are focused on user and community interaction towards a common goal. Through the use of the weblogs and the discussion based community, information and thoughts from individual users are focused on single or multiple projects. This input helps to dramatically improve the quality of any collaborative project. By providing a centralized online location, Drupal breaks down geographical barriers between people.

2.3. Community News Portal

Drupal can be configured as a Community News Portal where the stories are provided by the audience. Incoming stories are automatically voted upon by the audience and the best stories bubble up to the home page. Bad stories and comments are automatically hidden after enough negative votes.

2.4. News Aggregator

Thousands of web sites, especially news sites, trade publications, and weblogs, syndicate their most recent site content for others to display. The syndicated content always includes titles, also known as headlines, for the newest published stories. Each headline acts as a direct link to the stories on the remote site.

Drupal has a news aggregator built in as a standard feature. With it, you can subscribe to feeds from other sites and display their content for your site users. You can define categories in the news aggregator to enable the assignment of categories to news stories. This provides users with the option of viewing news stories based on category or news source.

2.5. Drupal Security

Drupal has a strong focus on security. Drupal allows the administrator to control the flow of information into the content management system through the use of content approval. User accountability is also taken into consideration by tracking user login history and creating an audit trail. This results in a moderated public forum that encourages the free exchange of ideas while maintaining user privacy and accountability.

3. REALNEO: Professional Benefits

3.1. Multiple Modes of Content and Contact

The Drupal site content hierarchy is based on nodes. A node begins as content on a page, which can take on various forms such as books pages, articles, forums, and personal blogs. Drupal sites have an option that allows users to be emailed when new comments are posted to a topic that interests them. Other administrative options allow users to view comments, have total control over comments, have the option to rate comments, and post comments without approval. The permissions that you have will vary depending on the Drupal site and what the administrator chooses to do.

3.2. Blogs

Drupal's blog module allows all registered users to maintain a personal weblog on site. Blogs can be used as an online journal or diary, where users post daily thoughts, poetry, valuable experiences, writing experiments, critics on current facts, fresh insights, and chronicles for public consumption. From a more practical standpoint, blogs can be seen as a means of personal knowledge publishing, a place for researchers or enthusiasts to build and share knowledge about their interests. In project oriented sites, Blogs can serve as a workspace for project members to post ideas for commenting by others in a group.

3.3. Collaborative Book or Documentation Writing

"Books" organize Drupal site content into a nested hierarchical structure. It is particularly good for manuals, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and the like, allowing you to have chapters, sections, etc.

A book is simply a collection of nodes that have been linked together. These nodes are usually of type book page, but you can insert nodes of any type into a book outline. Every node in the book has a parent node which "contains" it. At any given level in the hierarchy, a book can contain many nodes. All these sibling nodes are sorted according to the weight that you give them.

Book pages contain a log message field which helps your users understand the motivation behind an edit of a book page. Each edited version of a book page is stored as a new revision of a node. This capability makes it easy to revert to an old version of a page, should that be desirable.

Like other node types, book submissions and edits may be subject to moderation, depending on your configuration. Similarly, books use permissions to determine who may read and write to them. Only administrators are allowed to create new books.

4. Successful Drupal-Based Virtual Communities

MacMegasite - Macintosh news from a developer's point of view. The latest Macintosh news, tips, and rumors from a developer's point of view.

burngreave.net - Developing Community IT tools. Ensuring that all the residents of Burngreave benefit from the opportunities ICT brings.

Arizona Legislative Watch - Helping citizens shape Arizona legislative policy. Arizona Legislative Watch (AZLW) is an educational, privately funded organization, which provides information regarding the legislative activity of Arizona elected representatives. AZLW also educates citizens about important issues within the framework of a strong committment to God, Family, and Country. We hold intellectual honesty to be the most important indicator of that committment.

Carmel Center Indiana - Your community connection to the internet. Carmel Center is central Indiana's connection to the internet. Our community begins in Carmel Indiana and extends throughout the greater Indianapolis area and all of Indiana. Our extended community includes Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and the rest of the world.

Synfibers - Synthetic Fibers: IT Consulting, Web Design & Hosting. Synfibers.com provides high quality, low-cost web design and hosting services, including hosting of MySQL databases and PHP scripts. We currently host several sites that use version 4.3.2 of the Drupal content management system.

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Explain Economic Motive behind server

Thanks for posting the helpful details. This site has certainly broadened my understanding of web usability.

To flush out this story, it helps to know about the "reseller" aspect of the server's service. Drupal is "free" to bring traffic to the server. The server is motivated to load up clients - and maybe clog itself with $20 buck a month per catagory traffic. Is that accurate? I have talked with 3 different RN users who have been blocked from the site for an hour or two at different times - due to ?

Also, in Neo, I suggest that we use our names, so that we can follow up on ideas face to face at gatherings, and not be limited to anonymity. What's the point of remaining anonymous? When you register for RN you have to provide your telephone number, so let's just put it out there

Server business model and making User ID truthful

Thanks for the write-up, Ted, and further insight, Jeff.

 

Because we have not yet pursued any funding for REALNEO, it is a charity to
this community from everyone helping out, including the folks at Case, Ted, and
community leaders like yourself. It is also important to realize we are a
charity of a great group of Drupal developers in Vancouver, BC - the Bryght
guys who have launched and host our site - and of the global open source
community in general. To all of them/you, NEO owes a debt of gratitude. Moving
forward, the business model is for the development of as many similar sites as
are needed by individuals and organizations in the community - could end up
being 100s or 1,000s, as every entrepreneurs, non-profit, special interest
group, and class in the region would be well served to make optimal use of this
optimal capability.

 

Bryght proposes to host and support such sites for $20/month each, which is
reasonable, but the originators of the REALNEO framework will develop
alternative financial relationships, and other individuals and organizations
are always free to download and use the same software as REALNEO for free -
this is Drupal 4.5, open source and free to the world. As more NEO community
leaders get together to determine how to optimize the implementation of this
technology, we will establish a framework for sustainability which I expect to
provide free hosting and support for all users in this community - this will be
accomplished through some combination of foundation support, administrative
fees, our participation in the open source projects themselves, and commercial
advertising and sponsor acknowledgements on the various REALNEO affiliated
sites.

 

All sites in this initiative will have the same rich functionality and a
central user ID system, and each user will have one truthful identity for all
REALNEO activity in the community, which can be as rich in information as is
desired, to the level of supporting entire resumes and business plans, addresses
- absolutely unlimited functionality is possible. REALNEO is Friend of a Friend
- FOAF - compliant, meaning user ID data provided for our site is compatible
and exportable to other FOAF compliant sites. Further, this virtual community
is not for flamers looking to vent to the world but for citizens looking to
participate in their real community. Over the next few weeks, we will establish
appropriate use policies and all users must follow them to be part of this
virtual world.

 

At this time, with the charity of Bryght, REALNEO is hosted for free on
their development server in BC. They are currently moving REALNEO to their
production server, with an updated build of the application, with more
functionality, and the environment will be more stable and upgraded
continuously thenafter (a beauty of an active open source environment). I
suspect our site has crashed a few times because of the temporary and rushed
deployment we drove Bryght to provide, and the site has crashed far fewer times
than my Microsoft XP computer or the Microsoft Exchange server supporting my
email here in Cleveland. I'd guess we've crashed three times for a total of six
hours, which represents 99.6% availability, and is not bad. I believe
REALNEOWIND has been 100% available. Bottom line, the site will be as stable as
any server may be, subject to infrequent downtime for serious technical
difficulties, upgrades, backups, DoS attacks, etc.

There are a few other aspects to consider.

There
are a few other aspects to consider.

 

Yesterday,
I attended two internationalization related sessions – one on Palestine and
Israel after the death of Arafat and the other featuring the Ambassador of
Vietnam. During a lengthy related talk with local Internationalization proponent
and attorney Richard Herman, we determined having the ability to provide
multi-lingual content and resources would have a significant benefit in NEO in
many ways. Drupal can use language modules to support localization. Richard and
I discussed the value of developing REALNEO environments for the local
Vietnamese community, for example, making NEO a better place for Vietnamese
immigrants and students to live, attracting and retaining more of them here,
strengthening their cultural identity, sharing synergies with the rest of our
community, and making NEO more attractive for trade relations with Vietnam in
every way. The Ambassador of Vietnam made a physical trip here and a delegation
from Cleveland State made a trade mission to Vietnam recently for that purpose –
if we can justify the spending of $10,000s on such outreach for just one minor
trade partner, we can certainly justify doing the virtual side of this right,
which we do not do today. Further, by doing all this right first, and best in
America, NEO gains global competitive advantage we do not have today and will
not capture without such unique value adding social networking initiative. The
same opportunity exists here for enhancing relations with every nation and all
people in the world. Richard has already proposed to the Civic Innovation Lab
the development of a directory of International services and service providers
in NEO, which is conceptually like the cleveland365.com initiative for African
American business connections just funded by CIL for $20K. If they can justify
Cleveland365, it is clear they should fund a similar Internationalization
service as well. In fact, Cleveland365 is already going down the wrong
technology path and both Cleveland365 and an “Internationalization365� should be
developed as one virtual community and CMS environment using the same
applications as REALNEO – there is no excused for wasting $10,000s developing
segregated bad solutions that divide this community further, when the time,
funds and effort should be dedicated to integrating our diverse people and
solving underlying social and economic problems using right
solutions.

 

Thus,
another benefit of REALNOE, at the application level, is the standardization of
local community, enterprise and individual identity development around one
world-class, simple open source application suite and interface, making CMS site
development, administration and use ubiquitous, allowing the people of NEO to
concentrate on using one global, free application environment, social network
and virtual community to get important jobs done, rather than draining their
brains trying to learn and use wrong applications and wasting time with
ineffective capabilities and services. The resources now wasted on doing things
wrong can be expended improving one set of underlying applications and enhancing
the user experience at the presentation level – Cascading Style Sheets, graphic
design, localization, etc.

 

Another
value to highlight in your overview is that REALNEO brings the people of this
region up an important communications curve by shifting them to new paradigms of
virtual community and social networking, where we are now severely lagging the
rest of the developed world. So long as the people of NEO lack these
capabilities and related social skills, we are old economy and ineffective. It
is impossible for NEO to develop our new economy with poorly skilled residents.
Imagine trying to attract new economy to a place where the people don’t know how
to communicate – that is NEO today.

 

A
last thought in this brief expansion – by driving the people of NEO to use the
world-class open source REALNEO environment we introduce them to a new world of
information technology they largely do not know or have the ability to leverage
today… the now dominant open source world. Without a large, skilled open source
application development, management and user community, NEO is of greatly
diminished value to new economy enterprise developers. To escape our downward
spiral, we must retool our workforce to use today’s information technology, and
we must engineer a better workforce to help develop the information technologies
of the future, enabling the new economies offering the unique value of the
future.

 

Without
making these minor but fundamental commitments to the future of our regions, all
other economic development initiatives in the region are old economy and
ultimately ineffective. It is essential to communicate these facts in your
summary overview and throughout the community.

Check out Drupal developer Dries Buytaert's site

Check out Drupal developer Dries Buytaert's site - his resume at http://www.buytaert.net/resume#personalia
is fascinating and the info there about Drupal may help you better grasp this environment:

· Founder and maintainer of Drupal.

2000 - current

In 2000 I founded Drupal, a dynamic web
site platform which allows an individual or community of users to publish,
manage and organize a variety of content. Drupal offers a broad range of
features and services including user administration, publishing workflow,
discussion capabilities, news aggregation, categorization using controlled
vocabularies, etc. Equipped with a powerful blend of features and
configurability, Drupal can support a diverse range of web projects ranging
from personal weblogs to large community-driven sites.

"We chose to go with a Drupal-based platform because it
is open source, has a dynamic developer community, and offers a powerful and
flexible platform for building online communities."

Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus and of the Electronic Frontier
Foundation

"Deanspace is the revolution."

Zephyr Teachout, Internet director Howard Dean campaign, The
New York Times.

Drupal is an open source project licensed under the GPL. Supported by over
250 contributing developers, its uses range from academic and educational sites
(for example the University of Florida State and Purdue University) to electorial
campaigns (it empowered Howard Dean's push for the U.S. presidency as
'Deanspace'), and large online communities like Ecademy (a business networking
site with more than 40.000 registered users), Tipic (a hosted weblog service
with more than 180.000 registered users) and SpreadFirefox.com (Mozilla's
marketing and campaign site for the Firefox browser). Drupal has been discussed
in various magazines (C't, Heise online) and newspapers (NY Times, Boston
Globe), on websites (Slashdot, Wired) and in books like:

  • The revolution will not be
    televised: democracy, the internet, and the overthrow of everything
    by
    Joe Trippi.
  • The power of many: how the
    living web is transforming politics, business, and everyday life
    by
    Christian Crumlish.
  • We the media: grassroots
    journalism by the people, for the people
    by Dan Gillmor.
  • Die heimliche
    Medienrevolution - Wie Weblogs, Wikis und freie Software die Welt
    verändern
    , by Erik Möller.

Powerpoint presentation on REALNEO environment and Drupal

REALNEO Systems Engineer Ted Takacs (more on Ted is found here) has prepared an excellent overview Powerpoint presentation to share with attendees at the REI orientation sessions and for your review by downloading here.