When I started this site just over nine years ago, I didn't have a clue about what I was doing nor how the site would grow. I found the platform we still use today by accident and back in the heady emerging social media days of 2007 and 2008 they were great. The platform was constantly evolving and if I ever had any problems they were incredibly responsive.
However, the exciting (excitable?) social media buzz of those days has settled down to a background hum. Many tech companies went to the wall. Our platform hosts have survived, but were bought by a company which if it were a parent would long ago have been taken to court for severe neglect. This second-rate parent has just sold the platform on. Some accounts suggest that the new owner may be less parent and more modern-day slaver.
Worldwide, users of this platform are up in arms that our monthly fees are being doubled, but perhaps more than that, people are concerned about the viability of the platform in the medium term. So it seems like it's time to start contemplating some other futures.
If the platform closes down, not only would HoL face oblivion, but almost a decade of local community conversation will be lost for good. (This would be just one small part of what's being talked about as potentially the 'forgotten century' as all sorts of digitally stored archives disappear forever). That would be a shame for us now as well as for those who come after us.
To ensure our survival and the preservation of the rich tapestry in our archive, we may need to find a new home. As a first step I've reached out to the other Haringey sites that patterned themselves on HoL and used the same platform.
But, whether we do it alone or work with other sites, any move would mean specifying a new platform and then finding someone to make it for us. So two questions from me at this point:
1. In terms of the features we have and the ways things look, what would you like to change and what stay the same?
2. Can anyone help out on the technical side? As you can imagine the site is not blessed with huge wealth! (But we have won multiple awards and are well known in communities around the world....and...and....I guess any solution you make for us can be applied to a huge number of other people currently using our platform and also looking for a new home).
It would certainly be useful to see a working example of a site in whatever platform might be chosen before making the final choice. There are plenty of nice looking Wordpress sites out there - but I haven't seen one with a busy discussion forum yet.
Incidentally one function I'd like HOL to keep is the ability to post images inline with the text. Some discussion forums platforms seem to struggle with this e.g. phpbb lets you add attachments but only displays a thumbnail at the bottom. I think possibly the Wordpress bulletin board also struggles with this. We need to see those lost cat pix!
On the subject of funding - generally I think the site currently benefits from being free to join and post, but a platform which allowed the admins to charge to certain types of member would presumably be useful to cover the hosting costs etc. You could have normal members allowed to join for free, but premium members pay a few quid which then gives them certain privileges like being able to post in the classifieds.
Sweeping, opinionated, binary 'declarations' aren't as useful as views you could add that were supported by facts. Those facts simply don't back you up. The 60% market share (nearest rival:6%) is proof that Wordpress is much more highly rated than you claim, that it's a popular CMS and an effective social platform so maybe it's your groundless judgement that's off?
vbullitin (sic) or phpbb are too niche - Liz and Hugh operate this huge site almost single handedly - do they have the time or inclination to become niche specialists in order to leverage neat features?
The intellectual investment could be in something where there is plenty of free support from HoL users who can draw on real experience, and from other admins ready to help (wordpress forums are full of examples of people readily supporting each other, promptly and for free). Coding expertise needs to be low-cost and widespread. There are thousands and thousands of free plugins for every imaginable use case for WP and plenty of HoL users with real WP experience- how many for the specialist bulletin boards?
>>It really depends on what the vision is for the site.
Defining a 'vision' that techies roll it out is what's wrong with computing. It always feels like male arrogance to me - 'bend to my will'.
Tech creates new possibilities, 'bending' it warps the 'vision', better: 'go with the flow'.
Leverage what exists and use it for what it's good at - drop any peculiarities and 'go mainstream'.
How about http://www.blackmonk.com/blog/2013/08/5-reasons-why-wordpress-is-a-... or http://benmay.org/wordpress/when-to-use-wordpress/ or http://blog.krmmalik.com/post/wordpress-was-a-great-choice-in-2008-...
I work with and support Wordpress as part of my daily job, it is a really good blogging platform, hell I even run my own install for my blogging needs. It is a really lousy CMS, because it is bent out of shape to deliver those features, and due to the tight coupling within it you get sub standard results.
I disagree about the need to define the vision first, Speaking as a techie the thing we hate the most is the no brief project. They are impossible to make any sane choices about how to build what is required, since you just don't know. Do you need to integrate with 3rd parties, enable content syndication, provide chat functionality? Without some kind of vision and brief it becomes impossible to say.
Grav for the CMS side of the site should work well based upon what I have seen. It is a flat file CMS that uses Markdown for it's content. Discourse is an excellent forum and the two could easily coexist. This is the process of using the right tools for the right job. You can bang in a nail with a monkey wrench, but it's not the best way to do it.
Are there grander plans for HoL? I don't know as I'm not in a position to answer. Is it a good time to consider them? Absolutely.
Any chance of some data on number of users? Average number of daily posts? Post growth over time?
Having worked at another "run your own social network" company briefly before it went bust, I would advise not looking at any similar services such as socialgo - the consumer business model is very hard to sustain (hence why your fees are being hiked) and the b2b one is dominated by big players such as Jive, so hard to get into. Invariably these platforms don't hang around that long.
The main consideration is whether you want to maintain a similar structure - keep the groups, info pages, event calendar etc modules, or strip back to a pure forum. If the latter, there are some great options (although having run a vBulletin iteration professionally, it gets cumbersome quickly so I would avoid that particular software. But you can looks at moneysavingexpert.com community to see what it could look like. Xenforo, Discourse all valid options, but smaller so less plugins to extend functionality)
If you do want to continue with a social network approach, take a look at BuddyPress.
Because it's an extension of Wordpress, it has a huge library of supported extensions, both paid and free. You can pretty much throw a stone and hit a Wordpress developer. It's free (although of course you need to pay to host it) It will never disappear, hike fees etc etc.
And being community supported, the range of plugins is incredible - like this Ning to Buddypress importer script :)
If running your own VPS is daunting, you can buy managed hosting for it, and there are specialised providers who you can then lean on for technical help specifically with Wordpress/Buddypress. Some examples, just search for "buddypress dedicated hosting" or similar:
And some basic information on considerations:
I can't offer any hands-on help as am time-poor, but happy to talk through any of this in more detail if it helps.
And you can buy pre-made themes for about $50:
I suggest you go for the most popular free, open source software - currently Wordpress. As has already been commented, it has a huge range of plugins, many of which are in use by vast numbers of people - BuddyPress seems obvious.
Drupal (which is technically better) and Joomla lost the battle for market share and unity is strength. The more users, the wider range of solutions and the less expensive the expertise - you can draw on them (and HoL users) for permanent, repeatable, free support. That's key because currently you do everything yourselves and there doesn't seem to be enough money in it for that to change. Hopefully you'll want to pursue the zero-cost option as that means others you lead by your excellence won't be priced out of the market.
Adopt what is good about WP/BP rather than trying to recreate the 'old' way. Try not to beat Wordpress into submission. As there are a group of 'Network Neighbourhood' sites that followed you down the ning rabbit hole, you might consider a group approach to building a 'Network Neighbourhood Toolkit' (NN Toolkit) - basically a 'community' config of Wordpress with selected plugins/a free responsive theme etc in an organised install. You're not alone.
The change control process itself can be a blog. Take the opportunity to add in some free ecommerce (Woo- they claim 30% market share) and consider going for an open-source ad approach rather than Google etc.
Wordpress can be configured to be private and is free if lightly used on sites like Heroku, so why not get a team of tech volunteers together and port a closed beta of HoL to it on using the 'NN Toolkit'? Reap the one-off offers of help with the port and see how it goes. Maybe even do a 'live' bridge from ning so you have a 'synchronised' site with instant switch over.
As you may be aware, there's been a big change in emphasis with Wordpress - you can 'call' bits of it from a simple webpage (via an API). This means that you could run a 'static' version on github with a custom domain - no hosting costs at all.
Finally, if only Facebook was better, could you not use that?
I think the problem with Facebook, functionally, is the lack of categorisation and search makes all the content too ephemeral.
It would be really useful if people could give examples of discussion forums which they think work well. Or don't work well for that matter. I had a look at the GLA's Talk London site. It seems to lack several features we have here on HOL e.g. ability of community users to post images or videos or even to format their posts with bold, italic etc.; ability to send direct, private messages other users; ability to see new posts on older articles (Ning isn't perfect at this but Talk London doesn't seem to have it at all).
I think the Talk London site is built on the Drupal CMS platform. I haven't seen any Wordpress/Buddypress sites that work much better.
A few things which would be on my wish list, in no particular order:
No! Muting people would ruin the whole experience. Jessica for goodness sake, it's no excuse that you speak that many languages so fluently. It's a whole experience.
Don't worry, you're not on my list :-)
Personally I'd only use this function to streamline the experience a bit but I suppose there's a risk that some people might choose to block everybody whose opinion doesn't align with their own, which would make for a pretty dull conversation. Perhaps the best implementation would be to hide the post itself but keep the header at the relevant point in the conversation alongside an unhide button.