Johan Sørensen

An idea for a community site software

I run a site, which has gotten really low on activity lately, the reasons are many, but in no particular order the biggest ones are: I don’t have enough time at the moment to “nurture” it but writing a lot of content, it’s not really big in members yet so it can only breathe on its own (as opposed to living it large).
Anyway, as stated above a part of the problem is that it isn’t particular well-visited, even though it has a few loyal followers/posters (to whom I’m very grateful), but marketing and promotion is not really what I want to focus on here, instead I got an idea for a technical solution.

The Problem

From a technical and UI standpoint, I want to make it easier, much easier to let people contribute with content. Part of the site focuses on longer articles, but as we all know writing longer technical articles takes time; gathering facts, creating demo-code and so on. And time, as we all know, is always a shortage in stock.

A Possible Solution?

I really like the idea of a WiKi. I run one locally for jotting down notes and the like. But I do think that they have their issues, particularly when it comes to organizing stuff and creating a “community feeling”, also a WiKi site is usually all-or-nothing by default (ie. the entire site would be editable).
But the strong points of a WiKi are really strong: revisions, group-editing and so on.
I want to bring that into a technical community site. By allowing everyone to edit an article it should (in theory at least) make the threshold to writing a lengthy article lower and by allowing everyone to edit it would of course make it easier to “flesh out” an article with more stuff, or correcting mistakes.

“But.. That is just like a WiKi init?”

Yes, it is. And I’m sure it’s not a new idea either. But I don’t think a WiKi in the traditional sense would be a good solution here (see above). First of all I want to restrict the WiKi-ness of the site mostly to articles, perhaps even stretching it to news-items, but the forum discussions and user-blogs should be non-editable by everyone but the original author.
Not because I don’t trust the members, but because I think it makes more sense from a user-interface standpoint and creating healthy discussions by restricting the editing ability in the forums to only to the original author.
Secondly, while a “no registration required” site would certainly lower the barrier of entry, it would also loose some of the “community feel” (though, I’m still not sure about that one). But by requiring to register to edit (or create) pages would also be an easy way of preventing abuse and/or spam, but more importantly it would allow for better community features, such as keeping track of loyal users (post count etc), user profiles and such.

OK, The Point Of This Entry Is?

And I guess I could really pull the above off with some off-the-shelf components, like Instiki, some forum software and perhaps some blog software for news or something.
But add glue and I can already sense how little those would play together in a friendly way and how much they’d be unfriendly towards the users. Sometimes, all the duct tape in the world isn’t enough

So, I think this would be a perfect undertaking (regardless of the holes in the above theories) for me to take and create in Rails. Watch this space.


  1. Chris Messina Says:

    Why not try Drupal or CivicSpace? The book content type is basically a community-editable page like a wiki, but has a ton of other features that you’ll probably like. Granted, I’m biased, but I saw your post and thought that it might be worth your while to check it out!

    Let me know if you have any questions.


  2. johan Says:

    Chris, I was using Drupal previous to the update. But personally I think a lot of things in drupal where a bit “clumsy”, although the short-lived experience was overall pleasent, I want something lighter and more to the point; so I wrote a Rails app to handle what I wanted.
    Thanks to the rapid development one get from using Rails, it was up and running in no time, and in my humble opinion it works even better than Drupal for what I wanted/needed it to do.