Friday, March 19, 2010

Transition Network website unleashed

Transition Network website unleashed

A while ago, Transition Network came up with an inspired and detailed strategy for how it wanted its new website to be, designed as one to best enable Transition Network to, well, network. It was described by a participant at the workshop that unveiled it at the 2009 Transition Network conference as “the best web strategy I’ve seen since I first got involved in the internet and software in 1994″. Well, now, thanks to the tireless efforts of Ed Mitchell and his team, it is now a reality, and it is over you all to make it your own. It is indeed a fabulous creation. Here I hand over to Ed, who will introduce you to the marvel that is the new Transition Network website….

Rob Hopkins
Transition Culture

Background: 2009

The Transition Network web project began in 2009 with an initiating core team tasked to set the web project’s course through a sea of different expectations, undercurrents, surprise quakes and other exciting phenomena. This covered business analysis, technical platform assessment, delivery routes, roles and team dynamics, budgets and other formal work.

The core team consulted widely and openly, online and offline, during 2009, producing recommendations for the Network board and national conference.

The here and now: 2010

Following the recommendations, the Network attracted a team of top notch ‘Transition Technologists’ who have delivered the site as a collaborative workers’ co-operative with open source software and extraordinary aplomb. We are now re-directing visitors from the old wiki to this new site in a gradual way.

The site’s goal is to support the Transition Towns movement with reliable community-owned information about the most important elements of the movement: the initiatives, projects and people. So our first focus is on those.

The Profiles

Every initiative, project and person has their own profile page which they can add and edit themselves, meaning that the information is up to date and managed by the people who know the most – themselves. Every profile page has a large ‘contact’ button – the aim is to help people find and connect directly with eachother, enabling as much cross-network sharing as possible. Anyone can easily add a profile for themselves, their project, or their initiative.

The Streams

The site is also where we will publish our different ’streams’:

* Network News: from Transition Network
* Community News: from Transition Initiatives
* Blogs from Transitioners
* Blogs from respected thought leaders: our experimental ‘voices’ stream
* The all important newsletter to reach out to everyone’s inboxes

The Community Microsites

As well as the profiles and the streams, the website will support very simple ‘community microsites’ for official initiatives who don’t have the technical resources to set up their own sites. These will offer editable pages, news, events and an initiative newsletter for those who need it. They are not here to compete with the mighty Ning, nor any of the other wonderful social network sites out there – trying to better Ning is not our area of interest, and will break us, so we’re opting for simplicity on our site and communicating well between our site and the plethora of social networking sites.

The Sharing Engine

All of these activities are building momentum and are readily available on the website and via ‘RSS’. This means that initiatives can read and re-publish the streams from the network, the bloggers, and other initiatives on their own sites – a de-centralised information structure where the hub facilitates information flow rather than hording it and demanding everyone visits it. We’re keen on that – supporting network-facilitatory flows rather than top-down power politics. We hope you are after that too.

This is the beginning of the ‘Sharing Engine’ but much of it is still in the transition technologist lab being tinkered with, so, well, what can we say apart from… gosh it’s all a bit exciting really.

The Transition Technologists

Most website budgets are spent on just getting a website. We think that’s OK, but a website is just a website – it’s just technology. We thought that it would be worth trying to build a bit of social capital around the web project for the benefit of the movement at large. So that initiatives could refer to a trusted group for technical advice and services. So we attracted a co-operative group of experts to support the website build process (phase 1) and assess the viability of building a ‘Transition Technologist’ group in the longer term.

This would be a group of web experts who agree to work collaboratively, share budgets openly, practice good open source web development, proper documentation, ego-free working, effective conflict resolution, and other criteria that generally go to making a good trusted working environment.

Phase 1 went well and we learnt a lot of lessons. It is not possible for us to thank the technologists enough for their dedication, patience and trust. Chris, Daniel, Graham, Jim, John, Laura – you know who you are and we love you. How about filling out some personal profiles then, eh?

We will be opening the Transition Technologist group up later this year to advance the development of our open source project (the web services) and offer the movement a reliable and trusted source of technical expertise.

Some facts and figures

Since our soft launch on Monday 1st March, we have gradually introduced new groups of Transitioners to the site. The idea was to have a cool, calm and collected introduction, gradually widening the sphere of users in a controlled manner.

We began with an invite to the official initiatives to edit and test the initiative profiles on Monday March 8th. Since then, 90 (out of approx 280) official initiative profiles have been updated. Then we invited all our registered newsletter subscribers onto the new site on Tuesday March 16th (yesterday). Since then 280 people have updated their personal profiles.

These are absolutely excellent responses and we thank you all for your enthusiasm and willingness to give it a go (and patience with our ‘issues’!).

We were then going to invite all the mullers who we have contact details for (from the old google maps), asking them to add their own profiles. This was going to happen next week. Without any invitation, we already have 13 muller profiles on the site…

Good work all!

A quick note about web servers, speed and consumption

Most web hosts sell you their services on the basis of money and speed and size with no reference to the ecological impact of your consumption. There is a big gorilla in the ‘internet’ room at the moment, which is that the more we use the internet, the more energy we burn.

We see the web as vital to sharing Transition culture as far and wide as possible. At the same time, we are trying to minimise our energy consumption in both live and embedded terms. So we are working with a web host who use older web servers than most. This means our site is not super-duper-hyper-fast in comparision to sites using fancy new web servers, but it means that our site has a lower impact on the environment. And that means a lot to us.

SO: we are launching the site using as little new technology as possible. This may affect page loading times when you are logged in. IF we all find that it is too slow, we will upgrade to some slightly newer web servers.

But we want to give the slower web servers a try before rushing around, Cafe Lattes in hand, demanding new technology, new shiney things, more consumption, ooh look there’s a fancy new bit of technology, let’s BUY it, it will make us HAPPIER if we can go faster, vroom vroom… etc.

We hope it’s OK, and if it’s not OK, we will upgrade. So please let us know using the contact form on the site, and bear this in mind if the site isn’t as fast as some cool new trendy precious metal guzzling site.

The tea

Oh yeah, and the new website makes a good cup of tea as well… Yeah right! That’ll be the day.. a good cup of tea from a machine…

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