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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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New Board, new platform, renewed commitments – Dgroups partners meeting 2011

The Dgroups membership met last week in Rome during the Rome 2011 Share Fair for the 2011 Partners meeting. This was the first face to face meeting of the Dgroups partners since 2009, when we met in The Hague just after the Foundation was created and the migration of the platform to WA-Research was completed.

The meeting was well attended, with half of the Dgroups partners participating and actively engaging in the discussion on Dgroups present, its value and concrete plans for future activity and development.

New Dgroups platform

New Dgroups platform

In the first part of the meeting, Hapee de Groot and Rob Witte from the Dgroups Board reported on 2010 activities and finances. In the discussion that followed, Dgroups partners addressed the issue of how to enlarge the membership and market Dgroups amongst development organisations. Dgroups remains a unique initiative in development cooperation, partly because it is email based and so is suitable for those still numerous areas where Internet access is expensive and unreliable,  but partly because we are independent and so not subject to the same regulations and constraints as Google and other commercial platforms based in the US.  These factors, together with the current site redesign and the budget available for further technical development, will definitely help promoting Dgroups in the months to come.

As part of the business meeting, Dgroups members also agreed to enlarge the Board to  6 members and confirmed the nomination of 3 new Board members . This was also the chance to thank outgoing Board members Riff Fullan (Helvetas) and Maarten Boers (who stepped down last April) for serving as Board members in the first elected Board of the Dgroups Foundation and for their great contributions.

In the second part of the meeting Dgroups members had the opportunity to meet with Damir Simunic of WA-Researchto discuss updates and plans related to the Dgroups platform. The site redesign is almost complete and some existing groups have been already migrated to the new version. There are still some bugs currently being fixed and some more groups will be migrated in the next month to further assess if the platform is robust enough to proceed with the full migration. On the basis of the feedback and information received, the Board will decide on a date when the complete migration can be started.

Dgroups futures exercise

In the last part of the meeting, Dgroups partners looked into Dgroups futures. The session was designed to combine and adapt two facilitation methodologies – appreciative enquiry and ‘future backwards’. In two groups, participants listed Dgroups assets, then they shared and combined them. From this basis, the two groups defined a ‘nightmare’ and a ‘dream’ scenario for Dgroups 2 years from now. Finally, they described the steps that lead to each scenario and reflected on what can be done to influence the path – focusing on immediate, medium and longer term actions.

The complete report of the meeting is currently being drafted and will be circulated to members soon in the coming days.

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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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Dgroups: Still going and growing – and blogging again!

Welcome to the revived Dgroups blog!

There have been a number of important developments in the past few months.  The new Board of the Foundation has been busy since its election in April 2009, while WA Research has keep on improving the platform and its performances – unfortunately in both cases the communications have not been at the same level as the efforts and the work done. Let’s then try to catch up and take a snapshot of how things are at the moment.

Numbers don’t lie..
As of  June 2010, Dgroups counts 2035 active communities. During the past 20 weeks, more than 70 new groups were created, with average frequency of 3.5 per week. As evidence of increased use of Dgroups, this year is seeing the weekly creation surpassing 15 groups per week, which did not happen in 2009. Equally, number of new groups per week rarely falls under five per week. As of June 2010, these groups are used by 139.336 registered users, up from 113.619 since February 2010.

Thanks to the work of Damir and colleagues at WA Reasearch, the performance of Dgroups has been improving significantly over the past months. The service is stable, most email delivery problems are resolved. A good email sending reputation has been established with large Internet service providers, and we are seeing less and less spam blocks. Email delivery to users is now almost instantaneous, even though weʼre sending about 2.3 million messages per month…

Technical development and web user interface redesign
A large number of usability and stability improvements have been deployed too – and the user interface has been translated and made available also in Portuguese, Mandarin, and Russian.

However, the most important think is the one yet to come: a major visual redesign is currently in progress, and we have great expectations from the preview we could see! A staging web site should be made available during the next months, and we hope to deployed into production in Autumn should there be no major objections or problems. Once the new design is final and in production, we’ll focus on adapting organizational skins to fit the new look and feel.

Support system
We have reintroduced the old support system that proved to work fine in Dgroups1. This is a cascade support system, where users rely on groups admins; admins on the admins peer-support group and creators; creators on their peers and on WA Research as last option. The email address support@dgroups.org has been closed, but we’ll make sure we’ll have a good help file (on the Dgroups help Wiki) and a lively Admins Community.

Partnership and annual meeting 2010
As a follow up from the 2009 members meeting, we are working on the finalisation of several legal and policy documents – such as Terms of Use, Creation Policy etc. We are also drafting a new business plan, and try to ensure that the level of membership stays high enough for sustaining the existence of Dgroups as a whole. Still lot to do needs to be done in this reagard, and we hope that different members can play an active role in this matter. A milestone in this sense will be the next Partners’ meeting, currently planned for the second half of November.

Future Blogging

When I  logged in onto the blog dashboard I saw one comment awaiting  moderation, saying:

“It seems this blog died??? not sure if there is a new blog. the wiki too seems rather dated”

Well, we’ve listened. From now on we will resume regular blogging. In the next post we’ll explain the new management and coordination arrangements for this year and continue with the updates. In the meantime, you’re very welcome to drop by here, and share with us your ideas about Dgroups, what you like and dislike, how you use it and what’s in it for you. We’ll do our best to keep the conversation going, and ensure transparency in the way things progress.

Pier Andrea Pirani

Euforic Services

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Dgroups platforms updates

As you might have already noticed WA Research has recently released some new updates in functionalities and features to further develop the Dgroups platform.

  • Public interface
    From the Dgroups homepage, users can now login to their groups or join new groups in a much clearer way.
  • Directory of groups
    When clicking on ‘Join a group’ users access the public directory of groups and can see all the groups created in Dgroups. From here they can join or request membership to the different groups.Still missing – but in the pipeline – is a search function that allows to browse the directory more easily, also filtering by subject or region.  WA Research is currently working on a this and it should be soon released.
  • Russian and Chinese interface
    Dgroups is now available also in Chinese and Russian. Thanks to FAO and Yuriy Nesterov in particular for volunteering to translate!
  • Admin can edit users profile and reset password
    As possible in D1 and long-awaited in D2,  groups administrators can now edit member data. By clicking on any member of a group where you’re an admin, you will notice green bar with ‘edit’ and ‘edit public profile’ links above member information. You’ll also see the ‘reset password’ link, to send your users a new password to login onto Dgroups.

More functionalities are currently being developed and tested; toghether with working to ensure 100% reliability in the email distribution, these functionalities include the possibility to track the status of different messages, statistics and bouce report, improved site navigation and usability.

We hope to announce some of these rather soon. If you have feedback and suggestions on how to further improve Dgroups, please drop a comment below!

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