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Towards Next Dgroups and beyond

On April 24th, 2012 a meeting was held in The Hague to review the progress and future of Dgroups. The meeting brought together all Dgroups board members and Damir Simunic, director of WA Research, which has provided the technical platform for Dgroups for the past 2 years and has led the redesign of next Dgroups.

Participants moved from a common definition of what Dgroups is and what it stands for. As the tagline in the logo suggests, Dgroups is about development through dialogue. Our vision is a world where communication for development is accessible to all and has maximal positive impact on international development.

The main part of this face to face meeting was dedicated to explore Dgroups’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – and the actions to take forward. As some of the Board members said, the meeting was very constructive and useful.

From discussion that emerged from the SWOT analysis, it become clear that the first and most obvious strength to leverage upon is the Dgroups partnership, the group of development organisations that support this initiative. So what efforts should be taken to maximise this strength and to make sure that Dgroups partners become also active ambassadors and contribute to the further enlargement of the membership base, and therefore the financial sustainability of Dgroups itself? The ideas that were discussed included:

  • Redesigning of the Dgroups home page at dgroups.org and the landing pages at individual group level;
  • Publicizing the openness of existing discussion groups;
  • Putting more effort in networking and communicating with existing and potential partners, in order to increase the membership base and ensure the financial sustainability of Dgroups;
  • Working on Dgroups branding and effective online presence that reflects this brand;
  • Making more use of the Dgroups blog to showcase how Dgroups is put at work in different contexts and for different purposes;
  • Defining and communicating to Dgroups members the advantages of the cost-sharing strategy which underpins Dgroups existence.

Some of these actions are already in motion.

Weaknesses included a lack of a marketing strategy to engage new Dgroups partners, and the Board will take new measures to promote Dgroups and enlarge the partnership. Related to this is the opportunity to reach out to new partners in the South.

A threat is that current budget cuts in the development sector are forcing partners to reevaluate their budgets. But this can also be seen as a good investment by current and future Dgroups partners, as it offers a flexible tool for communication, designed particularly for low bandwidth, that can complement and in some cases replace the need for expensive, face to face meetings.

We also discussed progress on the development of the next Dgroups platform and a number of outstanding functionality issues, including the redesign of the Dgroups homepage and landing page of individual groups; the completion of the users’ interface in the different languages that Dgroups supports; the possibility for groups administrators to edit the email footer for each community; improved statistics at group level.

We shall work together with WA Research to solve these issues by the end of June 2012.

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Dgroups new look – More than a facelift

During the two online technical sessions organised in the context of the 2010 Dgroups Partners meeting, representatives from member organisations as well as groups administrators had the opportunity to preview the new look and improved functionalities of the redesigned Dgroups website.

For the  sessions, Damir Simunic of WA Research prepared a video to show the new look and feel and demo some of the new functionalities of the site.

In his presentation of the new platform, Damir highlighted the following elements:

  • The process of  developing and deploying the new platform has been taking much longer than expected; employing world-class designers was a learning process. Nevertheless, we believe the final result was worth the wait.
  • The redesign is completely focused on making it easier for administrators to manage groups, as admins are the primary users of the site
  • The technical objective of the redesign is to simplify the user interface (for example, number of clicks for common tasks are reduced, ‘announcements’ feature is now merged with ‘discussions’) and modernize the platform to use the most modern browser technologies available (HTML5, CSS3, etc), while still working for older browsers.
  • In the process, we wanted to make Dgroups beautiful for admins, to make them proud and happy to show it off to their colleagues.
  • Thanks to new technologies, the platform elegantly scales from large desktop screens to mobiles form factors – Dgroups’s first entry into mobile space;
  • The video show off some of the new user interface features like drag&drop attachments and pasting; large user avatars; significantly simplified means of adding new members; modern tabbed design, and many more
  • .

In the Q&A part of the session, some of the issues discussed comprised the following:

  • Track status of messages: this will be possible with the new design, similar as it is now to track invitations to groups;
  • Stats and tracking usage: This has always been high on any admin’s priority list, and the new design will provide the technical background needed to implement many of these statistics in the near future;;
  • Improved options for content sharing: “hidden” urls for RSS feeds to allow server-side subscriptions without the need for passwords;
  • improve Dgroups integration with other sites and platforms, a API will also be further development
  • Compatibility with older browsers: The new site is designed to benefit from the most modern browsers. However, Dgroups has always been about inclusion, and it will also work on older browsers; obviously, features that only new browsers provide won’t be available on older ones.

We’ll soon provide the link to the test site to all Dgroups administrators. The date for the full roll out on the new platform will depend on the results of this test phase, the feedback received and the improvements required but if all goes as planned, by end of January 2011 the new site will be launched.

It is very important to note that the January launch is about modernizing the user interface – new additions will be coming continuously during the whole year and beyond.

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Dgroups2 – milestones and progress

Here again is the dgroups i081201 - dgroups 2 interfacenterface, larger this time, because at least one reader found the previous screen dump too small. As you can see a number of people have continued to test the platform and make comments on features as they are added. As you would expect, people’s reactions are mixed. There are features which are seen as an improvement on dgroups 1 while others  are generating questions. All the comments have been logged – using the system itself – and will be reviewed.  Thanks again to all those who are putting in their time and patiently learning how things work.

Today, however, we reached a significant milestone. WA Research has completed the major part of the development they planned to meet the criteria set out in the contract. This means two things:

  1. The core migration team has started more systematic testing of the platform, confirming what works and identifying issues to be looked at. We’ll keep you posted on progress.
  2. We need to plan for an increase in the numbers of people – and groups – who are exploring and testing the new system. These preparations need to start with the people who create groups – called coordinators in dgroups 2.  We will be arranging briefing and discussion meetings with those people (called creators in dgroups 1) next week.

Feels a bit like Christmas, really: starting to wonder what’s going to be delivered.

Pete Cranston

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Dgroups 2 – What Will be Different?

Simone, the first to give a comment, speaks for many of us: what will be different? Our aim with this blog is to introduce you gently to the changes and more importantly, to get your feedback on the things with the current platform that gave you trouble the most and what you liked the most. 

Here are a few notable changes you’ll see with Dgroups 2.0 platform; a short list for now, with more detailed blog posts to follow soon:

  • You can change your email address whenever you feel like!
  • Hierarchical groups – any group can have as many sub-groups as needed to support hierarchical nature of your collaboration.
  • Stronger focus on self-service – much more things to pass on to members and admins: invitation emails to let new members fill their own profiles; online requests for group creation …
  • Some terminology changes: creators will become coordinators to better reflect their role.
  • Great search engine with support for faceted filtering.
  • Tighter integration between email and web – in addition to mailing lists we’re used to, there are other things you can get email from and email to (and rss as well).
  • Full support and product management – we intend to provide first- and second-level support for everyone – depending on organization’s and coordinator’s policy, of course.
  • We’re aiming for 99.99% uptime.
  • Your data will move to Switzerland, to a secure hosting center approved by the Swiss Federal Banking Commission.

Our strategy for the migration is to keep your ability to do things the same as before and remove as many limitations as possible. Dgroups 2.0 is first about letting you conduct your Development through dialogue in a smooth manner and get technology out of the way as much as possible.

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Dgroups2 progress and plans

We are off!

This blog is the product of a meeting last week in The Hague. It brought together four members of the core project team – Damir Simunic (WA Research – the company selected to deliver dgroups 2.0), Hapee De Groot (Hivos), Mark Hammersley (leading on Communications, amongst other things) and Pete Cranston (Migration Project Manager), as well as Peter Ballantyne (Dgroups coordinator) and Christian Kreutz (Dgroups Executive Committee member from IICD).

After looking at the data from Damir’s initial analysis we outlined principles, phase plans and milestones for the next six months.

We agreed four basic principles:

  • All groups, together with their users, will be offered the opportunity to migrate to the new system
  • Migration will be organised around clusters of groups, organised by creators or members of the dgroups partnership associated with the group
  • We aim to deliver a managed, exponentially increasing migration process
  • We will communicate actions and progress, regularly, through as many channels as appropriate

Phases

Learning and Evolving: from now until the end of October, WA Research is building the first prototype application. Starting with the core team, we will be inviting some of the people who have expressed interest in testing to work with us in shaping that platform

Beta Testing: from 1st November for about 6 weeks, we will invite more people and their groups to participate in beta testing the platform. There will still be lots of opportunities in this period to help shape the final product.

Switch over: sometime in late December, the new platform will be complete and live – and some groups who have been part of the beta testing will operate completely in the new environment.

Migration: Late December into January 2009 – the majority of groups will migrate in this period

Completion and Decomissioning: during February, any remaining groups will be migrated to the new platform, and the orginal platform will be retired – to survive perhaps in the wayback machine.

If you have any queries or suggestions, please either write to me (pc AT euforic.org) or leave a comment here in this blog.

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Dgroups 2.0: Build and Migration

The Dgroups Executive Committee agreed a contract with WA research to build the next version of Dgroups. The contract was signed last week, Thursday.

WA Research SA has been in operation since January, 2002, with a mission to build and support collaborative solutions for the international development sector. Customers include the World Health
Organisation, the United Nations Staff College, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, MD, and a number of other international and non profit
organizations.

WA have developed a collaboration platform called ECS. It was originally funded by the WHO and Implementing Best Practices (IBP) consortium, which includes more than 20 organisations involved in
reproductive public health (http://www.ibpinitiative.org). ECS is used by more than 25.000 active users and is rapidly growing. WA Research approach is summarised at http://edgeof.net/.

This is a MAJOR milestone for Dgroups – we have been planning this next step for a long time now.

If all goes to plan, we should have the new platform ready by the end of the year, with the migration complete in February.

We recognize that we have much to do in a short time-frame. It will also lead to some changes in the way Dgroups operates. We aim to make the transition as smooth as possible, and we count on your help in this.

To anticipate any problems and to minimize disruption, we are putting together a migration team to oversee – and communicate – the process and all the various steps; I am sure you will here from them very soon with more details, and requests to help beta test the new service.

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