Planning improvements to OSCE web platform

@unteem and I met to discuss some issues with the various parts of and came up with some ideas to improve it. However, we need more input and ideas!

Here are a few of our feelings and assumptions, based upon our own experience and a few conversations with users:


  • Design is not particularly clean or unified
  • No clear overview or signposting about how the website works overall, or the role of different tools.
  • Separate sign-in for each function is annoying, feels disjointed

Wordpress (

  • Too complex for the simple role it should play
  • Confusing backend for editors/posters (slider etc)

OwnCloud (

  • Documents app lacks a lot of functionality
  • Collaborating on offline documents is also too difficult
  • Calendar/contacts app is probably superfluous to our needs
  • can’t preview SVG(!)
  • users are unclear of its purpose and structure
  • folder structure could be optimised to avoid automatic syncing of large media folders.
  • very little functionality when not logged in.

Etherpad ( :

  • can’t hyperlink text (!)
  • no clear overview of existing pads
  • not as smooth an experience as Hackpad or Google Docs
  • not very pretty :wink:

Discourse (

  • Users don’t know where to post or to find relevant info. (structure & signposting issue)
  • ‘search by tag’ functionality could be greatly improved.
  • ‘Make Wiki’ option is hard to find & admin-only.
  • a topic’s wiki status is not clearly visible

…well, there’s a bunch more, but you get the idea!

Some of the key concepts which we would like to move towards for a new improved OSCEdays website are:

  • single sign-on for all OSCEdays tools - anyone have experience with this? Do we look into OAuth?OpenID?
  • Publish blog posts, project intros and local chapter pages directly on Discourse, with this content dynamically mirrored in a clean-and-tidy format on the main, read-only website. (Only the first post in a topic - click through to see or add comments and discussion on the community forum)
  • Text formatted as Markdown wherever possible, across all sections of the website.
  • host our own Hackpad (now open source) for real-time collaborative text editing.
  • experiment with real-time chat with themed ‘channels’ allowing users to quickly and easily post questions and answers - it should be more useful during events, have a lower barrier to entry than writing forum posts and give people more of a feeling of being part of something… in theory. It may spam their inboxes and turn them away. (does anyone have experience with Zulip, the open-source Slack alternative from Dropbox?)
  • set up a Gitlab repository on the server to host and track changes in important documents (eg Foundation statue, OSCE definition), project documentation, software (custom website code, any OSCE software projects we develop), design files…

In general we would like to have a more dynamic setup, e.g where we can edit a Markdown file in the git repository and it will update wherever on the web platform it may be linked. Similarly, if we choose to publish particular topics from the forum to the main website, rather than copying and pasting, we should be able to link dynamically and any changes will also update.

Here is a diagram illustrating how we imagine the structure and interaction of such a website working.

Green means it’s read-only content, i.e. our main website, designed to be read and shared by the general public. Currently our Wordpress installation serves this purpose.
The yellow parts are the core elements we imagine that most users will interact with most of the time: The community forum, their user profile and a real-time chat application.
Dark blue sections are complementary tools which provide space for collaborative editing (Hackpad), file storage & sharing (ownCloud or Cozy) and an RSS feed of open source circular economy articles and news (tools or ideas, anyone?).

A coloured arrow means that it should be possible for data to be automatically updated in this direction, a white arrow means that input or copying of data between these elements would likely be manual.

Our vague idea of having our public hackpad and discourse content mirrored as markdown documents in the gitlab repository is that (we assume) it might be useful to have this information in a flexible, easily machine-readable format so that it can easily be used for interesting open source projects or research in the future. We may be wrong though :smile:

Please be diplomatic and constructive about any other idiotic assumptions we may have made…

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any thoughts, @Lars2i @mixmix @sharmarval @TechnicalNature @almereyda @elfpavlik @pierreozoux @keikreutler ?

Hi guys,
great work, sorry i missed the meeting. The cold slowly gets better. Some first thoughts on your work:

I think for this years event we will have an entire new one. Of course. And lets put the lode one to and be done with it :-).

From a discussion with @unteem came some new ideas about a different and hopefully easier to understand structure for the forum. I am not done with thinking it through. Will share soon.

To have everything in Markdown would be awesome to allow push and pull between instances and platforms.

Channels & Zulip
I think we should definitely check this. I downloaded and installed the Zulip app. Do you know a server where we can go to and test the tool together before we set up our own?

As far as i understood it - sounds like an awesome plan. The only thing i am not sure, why to have the projects and local chapters screened on the webpage for read only? Why not throw this visitors right into the discourse, right into the community? - I mean, i guess, we could, but… Maybe a feed on the webpage with new “projects” or “challenges” would do the job.
Also, it is quite complicated and sounds like a lot of work to set up and maintain. Maybe we are thinking to big?

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why to have the projects and local chapters screened on the webpage for read only?

As I see it, this is to present a clean, well-laid out one-page introduction of a local chapter or a project, for the general public, for press, for everyone who may not immediately want to dive in to collaboration but may want to get a better understanding of what kind of projects we’re working on, where our local chapters are active etc.
Although Discourse is a very nicely designed forum, it still looks like a forum.
The difference for me is in how inviting it is to read - look at this page in Firefox’s ‘Reader View’:

It’s laid out clearly, using a nice serif font, with no extra icons, tags or toolbars - reading it is an easy, relaxing experience. When I turn off ‘Reader View’, however, I see the original page:

Now there is lots of extra information included in the design: there’s an avatar for the author, specific information on creation time and edit history, information on which category (and subcategory) it’s in, buttons for login and signup, and if I’m not logged in, there’s also the whole ‘Welcome to the community’ panel which distracts me before I even get to the important information.

This information is all very important for somebody wanting to interact and collaborate in the forum, but it’s less relevant and more distracting for a casual reader.

Also, it is quite complicated and sounds like a lot of work to set up and maintain. Maybe we are thinking to big?

I agree that it is complicated, and will take a lot of work to set up.
However, I feel like we will likely want to continue to iterate and tweak things, change technologies & use cases etc as we evolve and grow. In my mind, trying to keep information in simple Markdown format, searchable and organized in a git repository, should theoretically make us more flexible in the future, should we decide to change the way we present information or structure our website. But I don’t have specific personal experience doing something like this, so some input from others would be greatly appreciated.

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convinced :slight_smile:

jeap, if we are right about the markdown-thing this should make us flexible indeed.

i received an email form @Gien. He wrote:

“There is a possibility as well that I could bring up to 300 to 400 other locations around the world (…). I am just beginning discussions with them about participating in OSCE Days 2016. So it would be good to really know how much you can scale. Could you handle hundreds of more cities?”

I like that question. Traffic-wise we can. But what structure and process for everything could still work and make sense with 400 cities involved…

Hey guys!

Lars asked me to join the merry conversation here! Yes, I am in contact with two possible groups of open collective spaces whose total membership is in 400 cities. Stop Reset Go is going to be approaching them for potential collaboration on our Open Source Circular Local Economy (OSCLE) building project, which we would like to host on OSCE Days website if it is sufficient.

It is up to 400 cities but these are two separate groups so there may be some overlap and not everyone of them will probably join. You might be safe to go with 200 more cities as a first guess. We are just speculating of course, as I have not yet formally approached them yet …but I am about to put together a proposal. But it would be good to know if the OSCE Days infrastructure can scale gracefully.

well, for me, this use case is exactly why I feel it would be best to keep local chapters publishing from the forum and not have to set up separate Wordpress logins for each one!

Bear in mind that the setup outlined above does not exist yet. By June we will hopefull have made a number of changes to the platform as it exists now, but we can guarantee that (this discourse forum) will be active and maintained throughout any changes or additions we may make over the next months (changes to the main frontpage website, cloud storage, pads and possible addition of chat etc.)

Personally I think we can scale to many more locations quite easily - a restructuring of the forum that @unteem and I discussed involved two main changes:

  • Cities’ changes name to ‘Local Chapters’ to cover towns, cities or regions, depending on what makes more sense.
  • Projects’ becomes another top-level category, where, for example you might see ‘Open Structures Learning Kit’ as a subcategory. When a local chapter is hosting a workshop on that project, they would crosslink between their Workshop topic in their own Local Chapter and the main Project topic or subcategory.

But this doesn’t solve the problem of an overwhelmingly huge list of Local Chapters or Project subcategories that are likely to develop. A visitor to would see, on the front page, the Local Chapters category with 250 listed subcategories, and the Projects category would also have hundreds of Projects listed. We need to look into this more in-depth.

I know @Lars2i has some ideas too, we’ll chat tomorrow and report back.

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Has anyone thought about using Open Atrium instead of Wordpress?

Sorry, I wasn’t in on the web design of this site so don’t know if you guys looked at this as a solution and eliminated.

Even though WP is pretty user friendly, it can be a challenge for someone completely new to WP so to expect then to go in the backend to establish the site is not really a user friendly approach. I think the site has to be designed to not assume any kind of expert knowledge of any kind. It almost seemed to me that the site design assumed some level of software hack culture and a lot of people who are coming into this space don’t have that kind of mindset so could face an obstacle. Was this your experience of it?

You might also assume that everyone knows about @Lars2i notation, for example, but this would be an invalid assumption too. It would be a really good exercise to get someone who is completely unfamilar with websites, software, etc to try it out and ask them to note their user experience. They will quickly tell you where the designer made invalid assumptions. While WP has a zillion plugins, maybe using Open Atrium is better because it is designed specifically for collaboration. I have to look more at the plugins to see how you could expand the basic software but I am assessing it for building an Open Source website myself.

Looking at the diagram, it looks like Open Atrium would handle everything in the diagram except Owncloud and Gitlab and do it all in one integrated seamless environment.

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yeah, the idea which we came up with was designed to avoid any interaction with the backend of Wordpress or whatever software we base our frontpage website on.
We would like our users to only have to learn how to use Discourse - which works with Markdown if you know how to use it, but works just as well if you have no idea what Markdown is.

hey, the discussion about the new category system is here.

As an non-techie user with wordpress, pad and so on-experience, what I missed most during the event was the option to write a pad with links and pictures included that is separate from the challenge thread in order to have a nice and clearly structured documentation at the end. Having text and pictures in separate locations makes it less usable for readers to see what they missed, especially with hackathons or pics of brainstorms etc.
I do assume that I don’t even know half the features we already have, but that also might mean that a less techie user doesn’t easily find them.

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Sorry for the late reply!

All of this look doable. I could of course host the hackpad and the gitlab. (We could also think about transferring discourse)
About the single sign on, it is in your hand (ownCloud and WordPress offer LDAP logins/OAuth login). (I could set up an LDAP if needed)

I also love markdown :slight_smile:
For markdown editor:

Let me know if you need help!

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Hey @pierreozoux. Nice to hear from you.

Ok for me to move the discourse. @Lars2i

Would be cool to have hackpad installed, I and the people i’m working with use it a lot and have a lot of difficulties to shift to etherpad.

Gitlab, maybe not a priority for now though? what do you think @Lars2i @cameralibre ?

I would like to experiment with CozyCloud too. Would that be possible?

For single sign on and profile, we were thinking maybe using a seperated tool for it like Portable Linked Profile Is it something that we could use as single point of entry for our different tools? ping @almereyda

Can we have a call someday next week? Would be easier to discuss about it.

During the GetD event in Berlin, I discussed with some people on how we could use neo4j and have a proper decentralized platform. I’d like your thoughts on that too.

@unteem I think it would be great to get gitlab set up as soon as possible - it would be really good to start version controlling the documents (statute, definition etc) from this early draft stage, even if we don’t immediately set up the whole structure with or similar.

For Cozy cloud, it probably makes more sense to experiment with it ourselves or at least do some thorough research before asking @pierreozoux to implement anything - I don’t want to waste his time! maybe start with a pros/cons list of owncloud & cozy cloud, do a feature comparison, ask advice of people who have used it before.

Here’s a blog post comparing the various open source Slack alternatives:

Zulip still looks strongest to me, what do you think @unteem?

CozyCloud: this is a single user thing, so you’d need one instance per user. I don’t know how the collaboration work. (I think it is safer/cheaper to stay on ownCloud for now)

GitLab, yes, i think it is fairly easy to set it up. i think I’d need 8hours of work to add it to IndieHosters network (no ssh connection at first, just https).
HackPad: I think it is the same as GitLab.
Chat: I already offer Rocket.Chat.

Also, we updated our pricing page: I’d love your feedback on this. We are trying to evolve and the old pricing was just impossible for us.
The good news for you is: we accept payment in time :smile: So we’d be glad to exchange time with you guys!

Let’s setup a call! I’m available.

Hey! When is everyone meeting on this?

Hi @Gien, I’m very busy until the end of November, so won’t be able to put much time or thought into it until then. Maybe the others want to forge ahead anyway, but if not, I would suggest a call between Dec 5th-10th sometime.

Cool. Is anyone down for a google hangout to talk about changes to website?