As I gaze out my home office window (which I do in exceedingly rare moments when I’m day dreaming turning over thorny ideas) I can see a kowhai gently bending with the breeze. The plant is a farewell gift from the partners behind CommunityCentral. My paid role Project Manager came to an end last week after over 18 months involvement.
In the week of my departure we released two much awaited features: Private workspaces and Discussion networks. The features are set up to allow people to use a secure online spaces to support their work, learning and conversations. They’re in part about productivity, and part building connections.
If you login in you’ll see there are already people using these spaces. For instance, Tracy Kenyon, of Presbyterian Support Northern, has set up a Discussion network to link volunteer managers and coordinators. Her aim is to build up online community. You’ll see the names of Private workspaces, but that’s about all as these are for committees or project teams. They’re very much about internal workings of organisations.
In the latter half of the project my role was primarily focused on software development and setting up internal processes. My head was truly under the hood of Drupal as we endeavoured to wrestle the generic organic groups modules into something we felt would work for community and voluntary sector audiences. There also some cosmetic changes are well – in evidence in the banner above.
There is more to do, and likely a few rough edges here and there. We established a firm policy of being open to feedback. A suggestions forum has been added to the About section as a one way of collecting members’ comments and ideas for new features.
The project is now switching focus. As it says in the latest edition of the email update:
… attention is now turning to helping all members make good use of the platform, and telling lots more people about what is available. So, now is the time to spread the word!
I got an enormous amount out of working with a diverse group of people to turn the idea of community hub into a nascent community. Although it seems pretty obvious, I’m a signed up member of the supporters crew. It’ll be hard to forget, especially with a kowhai waving to me outside the window.
We’ve stripped the beta out of the CommunityCentral URL and we’re up and running. What a buzz!
It was almost a year to the day since I started. At times progress seemed painfully slow. Wrestling with software development isn’t always easy, and not exactly fun. It consumed a lot of time. But we’ve got there. The first version of the website has a couple of features operating. Mostly importantly people can reigster as members.
Already there has been a steady flow of people joining. Equally importantly some early requests to use the e-newsletter distribution service have come in from community groups around the country.
A plan is almost in place for adding the next set of features, starting with workspaces. These are due early in 2009.
Behind the scenes we’re developing our practices and various protocols. Help with practical changes on the site is coming from Dominic Ballesteros who is volunteering as the website’s webmaster and user support person. He’s just arrived in Wellington from the Phillipines looking for a job. As he’s multi-talented I can see this happening very soon.
Anyway, take a look and let me know what you know think.
On the CommunityCentral blog you’ll a find a sneak preview of the new homepage. After a demonstration at the NZ Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisation’s AGM we’ve decided to let people see what the new web-based platform will look like.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been doing a fairly intensive amount of usability testing. This has included a series of formal tests by AccEase who draw on a pool of people using screen readers and other assistive devices. I’m doing some more informal usability testing with a small group of typical users. And finally, the reference group we set up as been probing the e-newsletter function.
All this testing is generating a lot of feedback – some of which will involve relatively minor cosmetic changes, including wording, but there could be some more substantive problems. As we want to start engaging with users, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to address everything raised in the testing before the website goes live.
After ten months of planning, discussion, scoping, and behind the scenes work, the launch seems to be coming up so quickly. There are endless details to sort out and fiddly refinements. At times I wonder how I will get through everything.
What keeps me going? It’s actually because now that we’ve got a working website I can see how CommunityCentral will make a meaningful contribution to supporting people working in tangata whenua, community and voluntary organisations. It’ll take time, but I can see how the vision of the founders and initiators can be realised.
Anyway, I’d welcome any feedback if you visit the sneak preview.
PS We’re looking for a dynamic person who enjoys setting up systems and giving people really good support to act as webmaster/ site manager. Our ideal scenario is finding an intern or volunteer who will take on the role of webmaster and support person – for something like four or six months. Please get in touch if you’re interested or know someone who might be suitable. I’d be happy to send details.
We’ve been a bit coy of singing too loudly that a new website for the tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector is coming soon.
With major website developments timing can be fickle. It’s really difficult to be sure you have enough to show others.
But later next month, we’ll be unveiling CommunityCentral. There’ll be spaces people can set up to work together. This could be on a discrete project or as part of an ongoing network. And then there’ll be some news sources and big projects to keep an eye on.
This is just the start and the project aims to get people talking about what online tools will best support work in communities. Although we have yet to secure an ongoing source of funding, the aim is to keep growing and modifying CommunityCentral in response to what people working in grassroots organisations need.
To find out some more you can read our early marketing brochure (200 KB, PDF), read a few posts on the CommunityCentral blog where we’re talking about the development process, or listen to a recent interview.
Last week Ros and Michael from Collaborative Voices interviewed me as part of the their monthly radio show. The show keeps the not-for-profit and social service sectors up to date and informed. There is an mp3 file or your can listen on demand to the “NFP Computer Stuff You Need To Know” feature. If downloading the mp3 file, be warned it is a 25 MB file, so it’s best not to use dial-up.
Later in the year we’ll be doing a roadshow around Aotearoa sharing the website and getting feedback on where we should head.
I’ve been working on this project since November last year, so it’s great to be finally making visible progress. Get in touch with any questions or feedback.