Archive for October, 2008

Calling all Dgroup leaders

Last week we sent a message to everyone on the DGroup Administrators’ Announcement list.   It had 5015 email addresses subscribed.  You probably received a copy of the message.  If you did not see it, and if you are a leader, facilitator or administrator of a group hosted on DGroups, please go to and join this group so that you are sure to receive future important announcements.

We have been looking more closely at who are the Administrators of the current dgroups.  There appear to be 4187 of us.  This analysis does not yet take into account which groups are active or inactive.  Also casual observation suggests some people use more than one email address.

Those who are good at math will notice that there are 927 email addresses on the Adminstrators’ Announcement List who are not currently administrators of DGroups.   There were also 702 bounces from our message to that announcement list.  These are going to require further investigation.

Some facts you might find interesting… and things we need to know

90% of dgroups have between 1 and 5 Administrators.  There are 117 groups with no Administrator.  Around 1% of groups have more than 10 Administrators, with one group having 419 and another 288.  The next largest is 51 then 47, 46, 32, 30.  We are contacting the coordinators who support these groups with large numbers of Administrators to better understand what circumstances lead to such arrangements

79% of Administrators are responsible for only one dgroup, with 3% being responsible for 10 or more groups.  The largest number of groups administered by one person is 173.  There are five Administrators who are each responsible for more than 100 groups.  8 of the top 10 Administrators are also DGroups Coordinators, working for organisations which are members of the DGroups Partnership.

Peer Support Group

We also have four Administrators’ Peer Support Groups (administrators-en, -es, -fr, -pt).  They have a total of 1402 members, with some people being subscribed to two or more of the different language communities.  Not all of the email addresses on these groups are registered as Administrators, and there are many Administrators who are not on these groups.  Most members of the peer support groups are also members of the announcement list.

Further discussion among group leaders will also take place, in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese, on the Administrators’ Peer Support Groups.  If you would like to join, please select from the following links and then click “join”


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Dgroups2 Migration: The Big Picture

Here’s the big picture of our journey to Dgroups 2.

our keyword is 'continuity'

Path to Dgroups 2 - keyword: continuity

Alpha phase – at present we are making sure the Dgroups 2 platform allows one to perform all activities one is used to. Dgroups is all about email: consequently most of our work now is about tuning the new platform to offer what is needed to continue smooth operation mailing list operation.

This is purely software development and testing operation: we work against a list of requirements for the new platform making sure we cover all aspects of important functionality of the existing one. The work is divided in three functional areas: email, web user interface, and user profile features.

Beta test – as soon as we complete all the major features, we’ll open up the platform for an increasing number of existing Dgroups users to look around, try new things, see how their groups will look like.

At this stage, the platform will have all major functions available, but those will be rough around the edges. We’ll continue polishing and working as you look around. We’ll all communicate a lot about what you like or not and whether we’re missing something crucial that the majority of you were able to do with the old system. During this period, we’ll provide you with a copy of your data from the live Dgroups site, but only to look at – you will still use the existing live site to run your groups.

If you are feeling good about what you see and are tolerant towards technology, go ahead and create a few new groups using the new platform. Sure, it won’t be 100% finished, yet it won’t be crashing either.

Transition – when we’re sure it all works well, we’ll ask you not to create new groups on the existing live site, but to use the new one. Existing groups might still function on the old site for a while, but all new stuff goes through Dgroups 2. At this stage, we’ll have full support in place, all email messages will pass through the new platform and continue to the old one – thus the new one will be a mirror of whatever is going on with the current platform.

We want to give you some time to check the new platform and look around, learn the basics without pressure – your important groups will continue to run on the existing platform you already know so well.

Switch – once you get to know enough of the new platform to send and receive messages, approve new members, add resources, …, we’ll just flip the switch and immediately the new platform will start sending messages instead of the old one. All messages will already be there, we’ll copy all resources in advance. No downtime.

The Great Beyond – on February 20, 2009, we’ll shut down the old Dgroups system forever. That day on, we’ll work hard on new and exciting things to make Dgroups the best place on the Internet for international development community to conduct their dialogue.


Looking into the current Dgroups

The DGroups home page today reports that there are 2674 groups, containing 112366 members and 41919 resources.  Last month we downloaded a complete set of statistics from the database, to better understand the story of DGroups and prepare for migration.

Which groups count ?

On 17th September 2008 the count shown on DGroups home page was 2612 groups, of which 1783 were listed in the public DGroups directory.  There were an additional 323 groups marked as “this is a testing workspace”, plus 339 more mailing lists without associated workspaces.   Some of the “test” groups and some of the mailing lists without a workspace appear to be in use.  That makes a total of 3274 groups for us to consider, in order to understand whether and how each should be transferred to the new system.  New groups, created since 17th September will also be included in the migration.

New groups and old

DGroups has grown steadily over the years.  Group members and leaders have different levels of experience with the current system.  We need to take this into account when planning for migration.  Those who are very comfortable with the current system may be reluctant to accept changes, even if introduced with the intention of making things better or easier for new users.

All shapes and sizes

Most dgroups are relatively small (median 15 members, average 66 members) but there are 34 groups with more than 1000 members and the largest group has nearly 12,000 members.   The migration team will be communicating with leaders of all groups over the coming weeks, to better understand their needs and to offer appropriate support as they prepare for the changes ahead.

Parlez-vous DGroups?

DGroups hosts groups in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.  Most groups, members and messages are in English.  30% of all messages sent in the past 12 months were on the Spanish language groups.

Groups and Partner Organisations

The DGroups Partnership has 26 members and every group hosted by DGroups is supported by one of those Partner organisations.  Partners share the costs of running DGroups and assure it is used appropriately.  Some Partners have many groups, other Partners have few.  Bellanet, which originally created many of the current dgroups, has now closed and the remaining Partner organisations are working to ensure that all of groups formerly supported by Bellanet can continue to use DGroups, if they wish to.

Which Groups are Active?

So, how many of the current dgroups are active?  We have noted that some groups marked “test” have many members and many messages.  There are also groups with few members and which have had no messages posted for over 12 months.  The DGroups Migration Team is now working with each of the Partner organisations to identify which groups are active.  Groups which are inactive but which have important historical content (records of messages posted, resources shared) can also be moved to the new platform so that their history is preserved.

Mark Hammersley

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Untangling the Dgroups threads

This stage of a project is a bit like preparing for an international trip: trying to collect together bits and pieces, addresses, contacts, passport, loose change…and do I need anti-malarials? The equivalent in this project is getting to grips with the current status of groups in dgroups. The international community who use dgroups are very mobile – in and out of organisations, in and out of communities and groups – and sometimes changing names and emails. As with all online communities, it is sometimes difficult to keep in touch with these movements. Our situation is made more complex because of the handover from Bellanet to Igloo, the organisation which now supports dgroups. Bellanet started dgroups, and pretty much kept up to date with the changes until they it was closed down last year. However it has been harder for Igloo who haven’t got the history, nor people who have experience of how Bellanet operated.

So our priority has been to fully understand the reality of groups – how many are currently active, how many are dormant (not currently active but likely to be in the future) and how many should have been closed but weren’t? I have to confess here, for example, that when I was at OneWorld several groups were started for projects I was involved in that shouldn’t be still be there – but still are because I didn’t make sure they were closed. There is also the important issue of what we are calling ‘orphan groups’, groups that don’t currently connect to a current member of the dgroups partnership. Bellanet, for example, set up lots of groups. Those ‘owned’ by IDRC transferred out of dgroups to an IDRC server but lots of groups, including some large active ones, aren’t currently linked to a member.

We are clear that all groups that want to migrate to the new dgroups will have the opportunity to do so which is why we are spending a lot of time at the moment sorting out these issues. We have started the process by contacting the creators of dgroups, who are working through the lists at the moment.

We are also keen to re-activate the peer-support groups that were busy in the past but have been less so recently. Peer-support is an important way to share knowledge and spread limited resources between larger and smaller communities. We have contacted all the listed administrators: we are placing bets on how many bounces there are.

Meanwhile, we have also been focusing on the email system, making sure the new platform can support the email functions that have always been – and will continue to be – a central part of dgroups. The four of us in the migration team are experimenting with a trial environment at the moment and, as planned, we will invite a small number of people to join us over the next couple of weeks.

Pete Cranston



Top Five Dgroups Email Domains

Here’s some Friday fun for all of us Dgroups lovers: the top five email domains (out of more than 30.000) that Dgroups members use to subscribe to lists over the past six years:

Where did our messages go the most?

Where did our messages go the most? leads the pack (among the top ten, there are also and, with Gmail on the rise taking over from Hotmail this year. It’ll be interesting to see whether we will continue to vote for Gmail with our account choices, or will Yahoo manage to court us back.

Notable also is the  CGIAR taking over the World Bank’s 5th place in 2008 – a recent post shows one of the ways the CGIAR uses Dgroups.


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Dgroups speed-geeking

At a recent FAO and CGIAR knowledge sharing course, participants chose Dgroups as the application they most wanted to learn (share?) about in a ‘speed geeking‘ session.

See what they thought of Dgroups!

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What’s New: Hierarchical Dgroups

We are introducing hierarchical groups as part of Dgroups 2.0 to help structure relationships among groups that sometime exist. Sometimes one communicates on a topic that has both general and specific components that are naturally organized in a hierarchical relationship.

Our Migration Group Hierarchy

Our Migration Group Hierarchy

Our migration team is using this hierarchy to simplify communication. Our top-level group, ‘Migration to D2’ deals with general communication around migration. This group also serves as the entry point for all people we’re involving in the work around the migration process. Yet, we have some specialized topics, like data analysis, observations on the behavior of the new platforms, meeting coordination, and similar. For these specific topics that include only a subset of people involved, it makes sense to treat them separately. This is where the hierarchy comes in: we dedicated a sub-group for each of the specialized topics.

The interesting part is how the platform deals with hierarchy membership: all members of the sub-groups are always members of their parent groups, all the way to the top. If we invite someone to a sub-group, that someone is automatically a member of the parent groups (but not the sibling groups). Membership always propagates upwards. 

Conversely, an administrator of a group is automatically administrator of all sub-groups. Of course, one can assign a new administrator of a subgroup, who in turn can administer all sub-groups of that group, but is only a member of all parents. 🙂 Quite a mouthful to say, yet simplifies user management greatly.

There is no limit how many levels of sub-groups one wants to create, except maybe in practicality of writing an URL that is 1000+ characters long. Each group still gets its own mailing list and a document library, and outside of the URL and membership rules, it behaves like a top-level group.


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