[unrev-II] Fwd: News: HyperNews Consortium

From: Simon Buckingham Shum (sbs@acm.org)
Date: Mon Oct 01 2001 - 02:15:13 PDT

  • Next message: Jack Park: "Re: [unrev-II] More on the GPL License"

    Here's a guy who has the talent - and apparently - the time to build
    the dream web-discussion system, open source. We've used HyperNews
    for a long time (still do for JIME: http://www-jime.open.ac.uk), but
    migrated to Phorum (PHP/MySQL) when dev. stopped.

    However, if UnRev sent Daniel a coherent summary of the kinds of
    requirements it's been discussing, he might catch the bug...



    Date: 30 Sep 2001 19:20:26 -0000
    To: HyperNews@hypernews.org
    From: Daniel LaLiberte <liberte@hypernews.org>
    Subject: News: HyperNews Consortium
    X-Hn-Loop: http://www.hypernews.org/HyperNews/get/hypernews/history/51.html
    Newsgroups: http://www.hypernews.org/HyperNews/get/hypernews/history.html

    If you reply to this message at HyperNews@hypernews.org, include:
    In-Reply-To: <"/hypernews/history/51"@www.hypernews.org>

    HyperNews Consortium

    Hello to all HyperNews supporters.

    I'm writing to ask for your advice about whether I should renew the
    HyperNews development effort or just let it continue to slide into

    First a little history. I started HyperNews when there were no others -
    HyperNews was the first web-based forum system that became possible when
    CGI was made available. I was just in the right place at the right time.
    There are now many very good forum system, and I am actually happy to
    see this state of affairs because one of the big reasons I wanted to
    create this kind of software was to encourage people to communicate and
    build communities on the web. I'm not trying to take credit for all the
    collaboration efforts that followed because I got my inspiration from
    other online systems before the web, as I am sure many others did. But I
    hope HyperNews helped to inspire a few efforts that otherwise would have
    languished. In any case, I have no regrets, regardless whether HyperNews
    continues now.

    At this juncture I have a serious choice to make, and then again, I may
    not have much choice at all. I've been fully occupied with excellent
    jobs the past four years since leaving NCSA and moving to the Boston
    area, but now, like many others in this industry, I am finding myself
    out of work, and the recruiters that used to call me every other week
    have been silent. Basically, no one is hiring.

    Thus, I will soon have plenty of time on my hands, and rather than
    spinning my wheels all around town trying to find someone who might
    employ me, this seems like the perfect opportunity to employ myself,
    with your help, and in the process, I'll be helping you meet your needs
    as well.

    I have to ask, as you should also, whether it is worthwhile continuing
    with HyperNews in the face of all the competing systems. There might be
    many reasons that HyperNews is still viable.

       * There are several large sites that use HyperNews, including
         iVillage.com[1] and Advance.net[2] , and new installations are still
         going up.
       * It's open source (modulo restriction on proprietary variants; new code
         will be GPLed).
       * Threads are more popular now that many people have experienced the
       * Two-way email gateway is found in few other systems.
       * Collaboration systems are very broad, touching on every kind of work
         and play that people do. There are still market opportunities.
       * The world needs collaboration systems even more now than before.

    It has been quite a while since I last released a version of HyperNews
    (March 1999), and development has been kind of choppy since then, but
    there have been many developments, mostly funded by contract work. The
    most significant changes were moderation support, posted messages may be
    edited, support for speedycgi and faster generation of message trees,
    and initial efforts toward use of perl modules and templates. There are
    still many things that need to be done, and tons of possible features
    and options to be added. In addition to the innumerable small features
    and fixes, here are a few of the major areas of work that I have thought
    of, some that have not been done in any other systems that I know of.
    I'm sure there are many more that you can think of.

       * Integration of threading and date sorting. This is a tough one that,
         if done right, could satisfy the two opposing camps of linear vs
         tree based discussions.

         * Real-time chat integrated with the persistent threaded forums. I
         mean real integration, not just glued together as in other systems.
         Users may switch a forum to real-time mode to watch messages as they
         are entered anywhere in the message tree. I designed such a system
         while I was at W3C, implemented by MIT students.

         * Integrated voting. A message could be a call for votes, and replies
         are the votes. Different kinds of voting schemes and ongoing
         summaries could be supported. Closely related are ratings (a la
         slashdot), typed messages, and structured dialog constraints.

         * Adhoc workflow integration. Many collaboration systems support some
         form of workflow, but usually with too many constraints to be
         tolerable for real-life situations. Also closely related are
         attachments, document management, version control, and bug tracking.

         * Collaborative reference building, like dmoz.org but with many
         distributed sites so this is potentially more scalable. Integration
         with messaging, of course.

         * Indexing and Searching. Virtual forums based on search criteria
         could make forums self-organizing. Integrate with authoring so that
         before a message is posted, all related messages are found.

         * Thoroughly modular architecture, with templates to separate HTML
         from code. Mason seems to be the best choice here. Also, more
         database support, especially for membership info and messages

         * Generalize users, groups, messages and forums. Each user or group
         gets one or more forums that work like nestable mail folders.

         * I'm fairly expert at JavaScript and DHTML and I'd like to provide a
         front end like the webfx WebBoard (http://webfx.eae.net/) as well as
         many other dynamic effects, e.g. WYSIWYG message editing.

    So there are plenty of interesting things to do, more than enough for
    one person. How much can I do? I'm confident I will be very productive,
    if I have the opportunity to work full time on it. The above list is
    certainly several years worth of work, but I should be able to do all of
    some items and part of all of them.

    To continue development at this time, however, I need to find out from
    you whether you are willing and able to help me. In addition to possibly
    helping in many ways with the development effort itself, I need to focus
    on earning an income, because I can't feed all these fine words to my

    Here are some funding alternatives.

       * Consulting to do simple installations and upgrades of HyperNews on
         your site. I've been doing a fair amount of this, and although it
         can be tedious, it is also very valuable in terms of finding out
         first hand what installation problems arise out in the field.

         * Contract work to improve HyperNews. This is the work that I prefer
         to do because HyperNews gets better as a result, leading to more
         interest by others in using it and improving it. It is moderately
         risky to estimate the time any particular job will take in advance,
         but this is how most of the development has occurred since I left

         * Group-shared contract work. This is very much like an individual
         contract, but instead of implementing a feature for just one person,
         a group of people who all want the same feature would pool their
         money. The cost per individual is therefore much less, but there is
         a management overhead. Cosource.com was a site that supported this
         kind of resource pooling for any projects that people wanted to add.
         I'm not sure why it didn't work out (the site is now gone, as is
         sourceExchange.com) but I still think the concept is viable.

         * Hosting forums at HyperNews.org. I have shied away from doing this
         because it can become a huge management problem, and I didn't want
         to take on that responsibility. Moreover, there are a lot of
         competiting services in this space, and many that offer free forums,
         supported with advertising. I could do the same, but then it becomes
         more and more of a portal play, which seems all played out... But I
         think hypernews.org should continue to host high-level subject
         forums, such as 'education' and 'government', that reference other
         forums hosted elsewhere.

         * Consortium of members. The idea here is that several individuals or
         organizations (commercial, non-profit, educational, government)
         would each contribute some moderately small amount of money,
         anywhere from $100 to $10,000, and they would have a proportional
         say in how the money is spent and what features are developed. This
         is similar in some respects to developing and selling a typical
         commercial product, with development directed by the consumers of
         the product, but the differences are important to keep in mind. It
         is more like the group contract idea, but with less overhead and
         more freedom regarding what is worked on when.

         * Grants or Sponsorship. This is kind of like the Consortium idea, but
         with fewer contributors and more of a research or educational
         motivation. This is basically what I was doing at NCSA, but's a shot
         in the dark at this time, I think.

         * Commercial/free version. Advanced versions can be developed and sold
         in various ways (service or product), which become free some time
         later. This might be OK, but I don't like to make users live with
         the old version when there is already a new version that fixes
         previous bugs, etc.

          Of these choices, I'm perfectly willing to continue consulting and
    contracting, but there is a fairly high overhead in setting up each
    individual job and following up on it afterwards, and I think people
    don't want to pay me what I would have to charge to support my current
    cost of living (at least $100 per hour - the Boston area is ridiculous).
    The group contract idea could work well to share the costs and reduce
    the overhead, but now that cosource is gone, how would we manage the
    process? Perhaps we need to add a few features to HyperNews to support
    this group contract process!

    Thus, the Consortium idea seems the most viable at this time since it
    has the effect of sharing costs without as much overhead. I would need
    about 10 members at $10,000 per year, or 100 at $1000 per year, or some
    combination. A thousand members at $100 per year would also be fine, but
    I'd need a fairly well automated system to manage communication with
    that many members.

    If there is not quite enough interest yet at this time, I could still
    live on contracts for a few months hoping the job market turns around.
    Or whatever level we get, if it is at least a couple months worth, we
    could start with that and expect that more members will join. (If this
    doesn't work out, I have a plan B for something new and exciting that
    will very likely change how the web works. I would start that effort
    now, but it will take longer for the money to come in, and I can also
    get there by way of HyperNews, so that is why I want to try the
    HyperNews Consortium first.)

    If there is enough interest, great! I would begin to set up an
    organization immediately, perhaps modelled after other development
    consortiums. Initial members would have a huge impact on the form of
    that organization, of course. I would also set up some forums open to
    Consortium members for the purpose of discussing the organization and
    the work to be done. We can take it from there. In fact, being somewhat
    optimistic, I have created the HyperNews Consortium[3] forum. More will
    be created as needed.

    So, is there enough interest? Of the approximately 300 people on the
    HyperNews History list, I expect some fraction, maybe 30, will have some
    interest. There are many other users of HyperNews who are not on the
    History list - I'll try to contact them. Please ask your coworkers or
    supervisors or whoever is in charge of the money, and let me know what
    you find out. Please express your tentative level of interest in
    becoming Consortium members along with any qualifications or concerns
    you may have. You may post publically in the HyperNews Consortium[4]
    forum, or email to me privately. I hope to make some decision about how
    to proceed within a couple weeks.

    Thanks for your support.
    Daniel LaLiberte[5]
    9 Juniper Ridge Road
    Acton, MA 01720
    978-394-1058 (cell-work)
    978-263-4034 (home)

    [1] http://www.iVillage.com
    [2] http://www.Advance.net
    [3] http://www.hypernews.org/HyperNews/get/hypernews/consortium.html
    [4] http://www.hypernews.org/HyperNews/get/hypernews/consortium.html
    [5] http://www.HyperNews.org/~liberte/
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