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Community Site Roadmap

Community Site Roadmap

Community Site Roadmap

The Community Site has existed for over six months now in which time it has come from nothing to being a thriving hub of activity. In this post I present to you our plans for the next six months. We have so many ideas for improving the site - from live chat to OpenID to social networking - and in the roadmap below we have tried to balance the perceived benefit to the community with our time & resource constraints.

Importing Old Posts

What?
  • Import posts from old portal forums into community site forums.
Why?
  • Retain all the useful discussions in a searchable format.
When?
  • October 2007.

Merged Blogs

What?
  • Merge the existing blogs on the community site into a single blog.
    • Instead use categories to organise the content.
    • Use tagging to describe the contents of posts.
  • Redesign the home page to give a better overview of recent content and easier access to older content.
Why?
  • Make blog content more visible and easier to find.
  • Allow easier management of posts and users.
  • Using WordPress rather than WordPress MU also gives the benefit of a more up-to-date software package.
When?
  • November 2007.
How?
  • Upgrade (and transgrade) WordPress MU 2.2 to WordPress (standard) 2.3 and import old posts into relevant categories.
  • Display archives sorted by category, tags, popularity or author rather than simply by date - using Extended Live Archive plugin or similar.
  • Show a list of most popular blog posts using the Popularity Contest WordPress plugin.
  • Suggested initial categories
    • Announcements – latest stays at top of front page
    • External news – syndicated from industry feeds, displayed in separate column
    • EODs
    • Staff posts
      • Technical stuff – dev, networks, platform
      • Business stuff – marketing, products, management
      • Customer focus – stuff currently affecting customers
      • Comments/thoughts/rants

Skinning

What?
  • Allow the presentation of the site to be customisable.
Why?
  • Improved experience for users who can each choose how they want the site to appear to them.
  • Better accessibility.
  • Easier maintenance of the site for PlusNet.
When?
  • Phased November - January 2008.
How?
  • Clean up the HTML markup in the WordPress and SMF templates to ensure all CSS definitions are in external stylesheets.
  • Normalise the use of class names and ids in different parts of the site to allow the same basic stylesheet to apply across WordPress & SMF.
  • Separate stylesheets into layout (i.e. positioning) and design (i.e. fonts & colours). Both will be customisable but novices may prefer to leave the layout untouched.
  • Add a mechanism for switching between pre-defined styles.
  • Add a mechanism to allow users to upload and use their own custom styles.

Google Mini

What?
  • Use the Google Mini search appliance (as used on the portal) to search on the community site.
Why?
  • To provide a more consistent, easier to use and more effective search interface.
When?
  • December 2007.
How?
  • Configure the Google mini to index the community site URLs.
  • Upgrade the license to accommodate the > 50,000 URLs
  • Implement search engine friendly URLs on SMF.

User Generated Support

What?
  • A database of support articles written by and for the PlusNet community.
Why?
  • Provide a tool to collect the wealth of knowledge that the community possesses.
  • Make the support content available to all in an easily navigable & searchable format.
  • Allow the community to update and correct the content as and when necessary.
When?
  • January-February 2008.
How?
  • A content management solution, probably WordPress, will be used to manage the articles.
  • Articles will be submitted by PlusNet staff as well as community members and this will eventually replace the existing support resources.
  • A moderation team will be created composed of PlusNet staff and other community members who have shown themselves to be knowledgeable and trustworthy.
  • Any member of the community may submit an article but it will be checked for content and correctness by the moderators before being published.
  • Initially only moderators will have the power to edit published articles but anyone may comment on an article and suggest a change. Eventually we may move to a fully editable and versioned system.

Chat Room

What?
  • A chat room for real-time communication with other community members and PlusNet Staff.
Why?
  • Provide an area for chit chat and quick questions requiring quick answers.
When?
  • February 2008.
How?
  • Private IRC or Jabber client or something else like PHPOpenChat.
  • Java/flash interface to IRC.
  • Same room as usertools?
    • Ask PUG

Usenet Reader

What?
  • A web-based interface to read and post to the PlusNet newsgroups.
Why?
  • Needed to replace the existing tool on the PlusNet Portal.
  • Could increase traffic to the newsgroups.
When?
  • March 2008.
How?
  • Using an appropriate existing PHP Usenet client.

OpenID

What?
  • The ability to log in to the community site using an existing OpenID.
  • Also the provision of an OpenID server to allow logging into external sites using the community site username & password.
Why?
  • OpenID means only having to remember a single username and password.
  • Single sign-on means only having to authenticate with the OpenID provider to be instantly signed in to all your web sites.
When?
  • April 2008.
How?
  • Partially implemented already.

Tagging

What?
  • An integrated approach that allows content across the site to be 'tagged' by the community.
Why?
  • To provide automatic cross-referencing of related content between blogs, forum posts, support pages & more.
When?
  • Phased.
How?
  • WordPress 2.3 has built-in tagging support.
  • SMF has a tagging mod available.
  • A database could be populated with the existing 'keywords' on support articles.
  • A page will be created to pull all this content together and display it ranked by popularity/usefulness.
Notes
  • Link to Technorati/del.icio.us related tag pages?
  • Use a service such as jinglu.com to auto-suggest tags?

Expanded Profiles

What?
  • Allow community members to display additional information about themselves on their profile pages (e.g. Flickr photos, Last.fm top artists, Facebook ID etc.).
Why?
  • Increase the connections within the community and to others on 3rd party websites.
When?
  • Not scheduled.
How?

Groups

What?
  • Allow users to create groups or sub-communities within the PlusNet community.
Why?
  • Allow users to find other users with whom they share an interest (e.g. gaming, GPS etc.) or anything else (e.g. location, political bias etc.) and communicate effectively with them.
When?
  • Not scheduled.
How?
  • SMF v2.0 has groups functionality built-in.

Glossary

What?
  • Comprehensive user generated glossary database of technical terms and acronyms.
Why?
  • Provide a useful reference which can be cross-linked from other parts of the site as necessary.
When?
  • Not scheduled.
How?
  • Similar to the user generated support system where each article is the definition of a term.
  • Users may comment on definitions and submit new ones.
  • Submissions & changes are moderated.

Karma

What?
  • A system to reward community members on the quality of their contributions, not just the quantity.
Why?
  • Encourage community involvement.
  • Make it easier to find good content.
When?
  • Not scheduled.
How?
  • A simple karma system is too limited.
    • Easy to cheat.
    • Negative karma can be used maliciously.
    • Linked to users rather than content.
  • Better would be a system as on the Apple Support Discussions website where
    • A forum topic can be marked as a question.
    • The original poster can mark up to two of the responses as helpful which gives points to the posters of the helpful responses.
    • The original poster can also mark one response as answering the question which gives more points but also markes the topic as 'solved' which helps other users searching for the answer to a similar question.
  • No overall 'Top Users' list as this can breed resentment in other community members and can be seen as an obstacle to involvement.
  • Possibly a monthly most helpful award.

Ideas Tool

What?
  • A tool to allow the community to collaboratively develop ideas for the improvement of PlusNet.
Why?
  • To gauge which features are most important to users.
  • Involve the community in future product development.
When?
  • May 2008.
How?
  • Similar to PUG Issue Tracker:
    • Submit ideas
    • Comment on ideas
    • Vote for good ideas
    • Moderators may edit
  • This will probably replace the PlusNet internal ideas tool as the primary place for staff to record ideas
    • If so, ideas will require a 'confidential' flag that can be set on certain business-critical records

(User Blogs)

What?
  • Provide community users with personal blogs.
Why?
  • Provide an easy way for community members to get into personal publishing.
  • Increase the amount of useful content on the community site.
  • Possibility to loosely integrate with the rest of the community site (e.g. support pages, forums etc.)
When?
  • Not scheduled.
How?
  • Possibly using a WordPress Multi User installation.
  • Might be better to offer users '1-click install' of WordPress or equivalent on their customer webspace.

Other Ideas

  • Akismet is a great comment spam plugin for WordPress. Requires a license for commercial use which is at least $50/month.
  • Make ads on homepage contextual based on visitors' subscription status
  • Usertools sandbox environment
    • Allow users to develop and submit applications that would be hosted on the community site and made available to others.
    • Possibly use tools such as Google Caja to sanitise code.
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2 Comments
Community Veteran
Hmm... some nice ideas, but I also think PN are getting a bit ahead of themselves here too. For example, the whole social networking thing... why not just leave that to the sites that do it best, such as Facebook? I think the idea of integrating external information (such as the last.fm idea) in to people's profiles is alright - although I'm not sure it justifies the development time when there're more important things you could be working on - but trying to get a fully-blown 'social network' going on here is a little OTT, I think. Similarly, I don't think bringing customer blogs on to the community site is a good idea either. I come to this site for things about PlusNet, not to read its various customers rambling on about things. (I'm not even that keen on the integration of external news from sites such as Engadget.) On the other hand, the '1 click install' of WordPress to a customer's webspace is, IMO, an excellent idea - that way people who don't really know what they're doing can get started very easily. The chat room and user-generated support pages sound interesting, although I notice that they somewhat duplicate stuff Usertools has been doing already for years now... which means I think PN should consider lessons learnt from that. Namely, that the whole 'tutorials' thing - which 'user-generated support' is basically a duplication of - never really worked out, as evidenced by the fact that a 'tutorials team' doesn't even exist any more. Of course, there is one difference in that people would be encouraged to submit articles ad-hoc rather than join a 'team' to do so first, but still, I have a feeling that most people are too busy to want to write support articles when, arguably, that's the job of the company they pay for their service to some extent. But it might work quite nicely if it has an element of incentivisation - perhaps, say, a month's free internet connection for whatever's the top-rated article one month (which would obviously require a voting system). In short, I think PlusNet are trying to do too much with this community site - trying to turn it in to a jack of all trades, which will most likely become a master of none. Focus on what the community site can offer which other websites can't - namely, integration with PlusNet and its staff. If I want technology news, I'll always get it elsewhere. If I want to 'socially network' with people, I'll always go elsewhere. But if I want to know what's going on in the world of PlusNet, I'll always come here - unless the site fills up with so many superfluous things that make doing so tiresome.
Grafter
"people would be encouraged to submit articles ad-hoc rather than join a ‘team’ to do so first"
Also, people would be encouraged to comment on existing articles either to correct inaccuracies, update or expand on content. These comments would then be integrated into the main article by the staff or moderators. Ultimately we want to blur the line a little between staff and customers allowing everyone to contribute in a meaningful manner. I agree with you about keeping the customer blogs off the community site and I almost removed that entry from the roadmap but decided to leave it in until i find somewhere else to put it! The social side is interesting. I agree that we could never compete with facebook or myspace for social networking, nor would we want to. However it's true that people have different friends in different areas and for different purposes. The friends I would have on the plusnet community are different from those I have on facebook which are different from the ones I have on flickr, last.fm etc. We already have a community, the social features would exist to allow easier and more natural communication within it. It's not definitely going to happen but I think it's an interesting idea that deserves some attention.