The why
For a small but energetic business development network of 9 core-members that I’m part of I have over the past months been privately experimenting with putting different pieces of social software together to build a platform for collaboration and exchange. As proof of concept that you can build extensive platforms from these readily available building blocks and with an eye to be able to provide communities with a complete platform against basically no software or licensing costs.

The what
I have patched together a Wikka wiki, two WordPress weblogs and a Simple Machines forum (SMF). Through single sign-on members have access to most of the wiki, the forum, and an internal blog. A small part of the wiki serves as public website, and is complemented with a second public blog. As we are still working on the design, and most of the platform is shielded from the public anyway I’m not inclined to link to it yet, but I wanted to share the basic set-up:

basic set-up of the platform

The public part serves as the face to the world of course. The non-public parts are accessible to members and invited guests on a project-basis. Wiki-pages are for dialogue, projects, collaboration, documenting, news and other functions concerning the ongoing activities within the network. The internal blog is the place to share stories and interests that do not connect to current activities but members think might well become projects or relevant themes for the group. The forum is used for discussion, and decision making processes (where wiki pages would be less suited). Stuff within the wiki that is ready for public use can easily be moved out of the community part of the platform by altering the access rights for that page. This creates an easy flow from the shielded parts to the open parts.

The how
The different parts are linked to eachother by using CamelCase plugins, and interwiki-like features. Furthermore I rely heavily on Magpie RSS within the platform, and RSS, delicious, Flickr and tagging to draw in members content from elsewhere into the shielded space. This adds to the feeling of activity and energy in the space. Over time I hope to blur the lines between the building blocks more and more so members see only one platform. The first step on that path will be a uniform styling for it all.
I am not a coder, but a knowledge management adviser. But I like tinkering with code to understand tools better. Most of this platform is done by crude hacking on my part and extensive code borrowing from development communities, to which both WordPress and Wikka lend themselves very well (though SMF less so, as the code seems way more complex to me) through either plugins for WordPress or so called actions for Wikka. Kudos to those that keep contributing effort and code to these projects!

The who
For the current members of this platform I imagine it has been a roller coaster ride, as the majority of them were not familiar with using these type of tools at all or on such a scale. Part of our group efforts therefore are directed towards helping eachother to create a working personal information flow in which this platform is but one of the input and output channels. So ways to coordinate your personal input, processing and output of information have been part of the agenda in building this platform.
We did a workshop in May in Amsterdam, and will do one next week at our place. [UPDATE: have done a workshop] One of the take-aways for me is that my ability for choosing the right output channel has increased, especially in choosing the right level of openness and privacy and the right posting context. This by switching between public- group- and private places to post, and still being able to keep it all traceable and accessable for myself. (Not like posting it somewhere and then forgetting it’s there)

during the Amsterdam workshop

Missing piece of the puzzle
One of our main wishes for now is to include CRM-like features that offer the linking functionality that social networking platforms have. I can imagine we might want to include harvested FOAF files into that dynamically as well. If any of you have any tips or suggestions towards such a CRM functionality that can contain not only information but the social networks of people as well I would be happy to hear from you. So that I can keep patching the patchwork portal.

9 reactions on “The Patchwork Portal

  1. Nice explanation of our platform, Ton. What we all should do is perhaps add our endorsements for the value this has created for the group.
    Personally, I think the platform you built and the “home” it has provided for sharing our ideas, giving us a shared common space to play together — as well as a repository for our individual contemplations and projects — has helped glue the group together.
    You demonstrate your value at every touching point, Ton, and we all appreciate your contribution and wisdom here.

  2. It’s not entirely clear what your requirements are, but when it comes to “community plumbing”, Drupal ( probably has the best feature set.
    But you might not want to drag in yet tool in your portal…

  3. >One of our main wishes for now is to include CRM-like features that offer the linking functionality that social networking platforms have.
    Could you explain that a little bit further?
    btw: the comments dont like my name, for that the underscore

  4. Drupal is a Content Management System, whereas Ton is looking for Customer Relationship Management. If I understand everything correct (please comment if I don’t, Ton), by linking a CRM to the Wiki, the group would be able to directly connect from (all) its ongoing activities to (all) its contacts. Real cool.
    And one step further… what would happen if the group can add the social networks of its contacts to this? It would directly link their ideas (while still in the brainstorming phase!) to people that have interest in them – whether they can use them, can contribute to them, or some other interest.
    That would make a very impressive system! For instance, it would allow the group to estimate the impact of their ideas and adjust these ideas based upon existing social links! Or it would enable the group to target their ideas to potential clients with proven interests. Or…
    And so on – some smart ass..ociate you are, Ton!

  5. IFCCC founded

    In a recent post I talked about a business development network that I build a so-called Patchwork Portal for. Yesterday afternoon we officially established the network as a foundation called the Institute for Collaboration, Creativity and Culture. We’…

  6. Tech Question: SMF and RSS

    A quick question on the off-chance that someone of you might have the answer, or a pointer towards one. I run a Simple Machines Forum in the so-called Patchwork Portal I described earlier. Most messageboards are only accessable for registered…

  7. BlogTalk Reloaded Proposals

    I just sent in two proposals for BlogTalk Reloaded, the conference that will take place in Vienna in Octobre. The first is building on my entry for the G.O.R. conference in Bielefeld last month. I plan to do interviews…

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