A Drupal-based DailyKos

Yesterday's post on the next steps forward, in light of Soapblox's near-meltdown, generated some very interesting suggestions and questions, and even a bit of a good old-fashioned programming language holy war, in the comment thread.  Alert reader Jon Pincus also pointed me to Pam Spaulding's very insightful thoughts about Soapblox.  Pam gets right to the heart of the matter in pointing out that the issue underlying this meltdown is money, or lack thereof.  Progressive bloggers aren't wealthy, and some of them failed to pay even Soapblox's reasonable monthly fees.

I do not think there will ever be a single, ideal blogging platform for all progressive bloggers, for the simple reason that each blogger will make her own decisions about where and when to post.  Soapblox may grow and thrive for a long time to come; I hope it does.  But I would also like to see the development of an alternative system that is every bit as easy to work with, and every bit as cheap, as Soapblox, but with a stronger technological foundation.  Ideally, I would like to see an alternative system that is more feature-rich, and capable of supporting the next wave of progressive organizing that is already beginning.

In particular, I believe that progressive Drupal developers will need to produce a "Dailykos-lite" version of Drupal, which makes it easy and cheap for progressive bloggers to start new blogs whose functionality imitates that of Dailykos.  Moreover, I think we will need to provide a turnkey solution for starting and hosting a Drupal-based Dailykos-lite blog with a reasonable monthly fee, similar to wordpress.com.  Using such a hypothetical solution, a progressive blogger would be able to do the following, at minimum: give front-page access to multiple bloggers, allow readers to post and recommend diaries in a sidebar, promote user diaries on a case-by-case basis, allow readers to rate one anothers comments, ban trolls, and add special sidebar features from time to time.  Such a system should be easy-to-use, and should require no more than a few minutes' setup time in order to get up and running.

The big question is, how will we pay for the development of such a system; even more tricky, how will we pay for the maintenance of the system?  Setting the development question aside, I think the maintenance question is one where there is some room to innovate.  Instead of using the monthly-fees model - reasonable though it may be - it might make sense to develop a hosted system in which a certain portion of advertising space is set aside for the hosting provider, and all revenue from that space is given to the hosting provider.  Other revenue-sharing models - e.g., some percentage of all affiliate or merchandising sales - are also possible, but this kind of model would ensure that, as long as people using the blogging platform, there is a steady stream of revenue available for keeping the platform afloat.

There are, incidentally, other opportunities lurking in the shadows of such agreements.  The hosting system could also provide help for bloggers who meed legal protection, it could develop a library of licensed artwork available for bloggers to use in their graphic designs and individual blog posts.  Or it might be possible for the hosting system to become a full-fledged support agency for bloggers, capable of licensing bloggers' writing for republication; arranging speaking engagements and book deals for popular bloggers; helping bloggers land consulting engagements; providing health insurance and other typical job benefits; and more.  Some of these ideas are a bit exotic or, to be honest, entirely unrealistic, given how little money is available to support blogging.  But I think it's important to remember that creating new opportunities for bloggers means more than just developing fancy software.

I'd love to hear more from progressive bloggers about what kinds of things they want or need out of a blogging platform.  Starting with the very basics, what kind of features - in addition to those listed above - do you need to go about day-to-day blogging?  How much are you willing to pay for those features, or, if you'd rather not pay, what kinds of blog platform business models are palatable to you?  What other forms of support could a robust platform provide?

Tags: Blogosphere, content management systems, Drupal, progressive movement, SoapBlox, Technology (all tags)



blogger's union?

by louisprandtl 2009-01-11 11:27AM | 0 recs
Re: blogger's union?

Well, of course.  If there's some way to arrange things so that the hosting provider is not just a provider but also an employer for bloggers, then why not?  On top of all the other benefits of giving bloggers an actual living, it would allow the employer to think about the long-term future of the blogosphere, and what kinds of gaps need to be filled.

by Shai Sachs 2009-01-12 07:51AM | 0 recs
Thanks for the reply. Your diary's last paragraph

prompted me to ask that question. Because to achieve those benefits for the bloggers, one would definitely need a bloggers' Union or an Association of Bloggers....

by louisprandtl 2009-01-12 10:13AM | 0 recs
I'm a satisfied Soapblox customer

(at Bleeding Heartland), but one advantage of the Daily Kos system is how easy it is to embed a link in a diary or a comment. I wish Soapblox had the same kind of feature.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-11 11:46AM | 0 recs
Re: I'm a satisfied Soapblox customer

DemConWatch uses Soapblox, and we just click on the "link" button to add a link. We're on a new version of soapblox, however. One of the administration problems Soapblox has is the rolling out of new versions to all the users. Hopefully that will be fixed in the ongoing improvements.

by msn1 2009-01-11 05:42PM | 0 recs

by thatpurplestuff 2009-01-11 12:10PM | 0 recs

Something that struck me with the Soapblox situation is that having so many sites rely on one service undermined one of the structural advantages of networked organizational forms, that networks can often withstand the failure of many nodes within them. When many of those nodes rely on a single resource to operate, however, they share a single point of failure and lose some of that advantage. Bowers noted that, "90% of the fifty-state blog network, and also by several national sites including Pam's House Blend, My Left Wing, Swing State Project, and [...] Open Left" were all threatened here. As we saw, that's a huge chunk of important infrastructure that could be taken out with a single attack. Enough to take out the netroots? No, but it was enough to take out the fifty state blog network and an important subset of the netroots.

None of this is intended to run down Soapblox, but it seems to me that the idea of preserving a "single service" model is a bad move, strategically. One alternative might be to developing software packages for progressive bloggers and organizations that can be dropped in to more or less arbitrary hosting environments and set up easily. Distribute the load, lower the risk.

by pwelsch 2009-01-11 12:14PM | 0 recs
Good thoughts and I think you are right

however, the great thing about drupal as a platform, if not some sort of unified and centralized service, is its ability to morph into a distributable packaged platform ala Dries Buytaert's Acquia or Civicspace- i.e. something you download, easily install on a hosting server and go...

by linc 2009-01-11 01:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Good thoughts and I think you are right

Oh, most definitely. The tools are all out there, really. The issue is gathering them up and getting them in to something users/orgs without substantial technical skills or a staff can roll out. Maybe it's a question of combining that approach with training and some kind of support apparatus.

All I know is that if we can ensure that a high enough percentage of developers working with a given platform are progressive we can make sure Erick Erickcon stays away from it. ;)

by pwelsch 2009-01-11 01:56PM | 0 recs
Hosting fee, Setup fee, Ad revenue for maintenance

I think we have to identify what's really being paid for.

Free blogging is widely available.  Between Wordpress and Blogger, it's really easy to get a generic blog up and running inside of an hour.

Advanced blogging software from Wordpress, Drupal, etc. is freely available and freely maintained with regular security releases.  All you need is 1) a hosting service, and 2) expertise.

IMO, those are the two things you pay for -- a regular fee for hosting (~$7/mo) and a one-time fee for setup ($100 up front, with no customization?  the marginal cost of another blog using the same install has got to be small).

It would seem reasonable to include built-in advertising with the setup, with a percentage going back to host.  There should be an option to run a no-ads site -- you run no ads or, if you display ads, then you have to also display the hosts ad.  Sites that opt-out of advertising probably wouldn't make much from it anyway, and forced advertising might turn off a lot of people.

by ahkiam 2009-01-11 12:35PM | 0 recs
but if you want a community blog

is that possible on Wordpress or Blogger?

I am technologically ignorant--other people created Bleeding Heartland before I started writing there. But Soapblox has so many advantages for people looking to create space for community discussion.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-11 12:42PM | 0 recs
Re: but if you want a community blog

Blogger works poorly and Wordpress works well for a group blog.  For a community blog where  you need user diaries, rec lists, etc., you need the more varied levels of user access and content types that you get from a full CMS like Drupal or Joomla.  They're free, but they require some work to learn.

Since Wordpress is open source, maybe someone has a modification that allows for these features, but I haven't seen them yet.

by ahkiam 2009-01-11 01:02PM | 0 recs
Re: A Drupal-based DailyKos

Drupal is a lot more than a blogging platform, and WordPress and moveable Type are excellent choices if you are just looking to blog.

The hard part about your proposal is that there was a service like you describe, it was called CivicSpace, and people let it die. I own a Drupal consulting firm that also builds products and probably will not consider the kind of service you describe for that reason alone.

The progressive community can be fickle...


by techsoldaten 2009-01-11 12:35PM | 0 recs
Re: A Drupal-based DailyKos

But now that we've had a teachable moment...

It would probably take some bigger blogs (cough MyDD cough) getting behind the project for it to happen.

by ahkiam 2009-01-11 01:08PM | 0 recs
Re: A Drupal-based DailyKos

As I posted on the other thread, MyDD is moving to a Rails-based platform. You'll see the fruits of the project sooner than you think.

by Jerome Armstrong 2009-01-11 01:17PM | 0 recs
Re: A Drupal-based DailyKos

Thats good to hear and I look forward to seeing the new site. According to the Rails site it should it should be ready to go in 15 minutes, and if so that will definitely be sooner than I think=).

I take it this will be a MyDD-only platform? (nothing wrong with that) Or are you thinking about opening it up somewhat?

by ahkiam 2009-01-11 04:29PM | 0 recs
Re: A Drupal-based DailyKos

It'll be a saas platform, with various plugins that I hope can provide a community-involved outlet. It'll also be with open id.

Its a lot quicker, but longer than 15 minutes!  First week in Feb, I promise, I'll have two client sites out on it that I'll link here.

by Jerome Armstrong 2009-01-12 04:51AM | 0 recs
Re: A Drupal-based DailyKos

Dunno if I agree with this sentiment.

The best ideas in open source emerge from someone setting forth a vision, working towards it, and showing others how it solves problems. If you think about it, Rails, Drupal, Joomla, Plone, Wordpress, even Scoop - none of them started as anything more than someone's pet project. It did not take a big splashy blog to launch a project, it just took someone continuing to work on something because it was the cool thing to do.

We are really talking about building a distribution of Drupal just for large online community sites (the hosting issue aside). The work is not in building something new, the work is in taking something that exists and building a specialized version of it. I just don't see that as the hardest thing on Earth to accomplish.


by techsoldaten 2009-01-11 09:46PM | 0 recs
Re: A Drupal-based DailyKos

I agree that a Drupal-based, pre-configured, community blog site could be pretty easily created and provided for download customization.

However, if we're talking about a new fee model to pay for a blogosphere hosting service that's partially based on ad revenue, you're going to need some blogs that actually have ad revenue.

by ahkiam 2009-01-17 08:31AM | 0 recs
Re: A Drupal-based DailyKos

I'm not sure what you mean by "get behind", but if I can help by publicizing a Drupal-based, easy-to-use, Dailykos-lite blogging platform here on the front page, I'll be happy to do so.  I'm very curious to see the new Rails paltform, too!

by Shai Sachs 2009-01-12 02:50AM | 0 recs
Training up a Progressive Techno-Skillset

For Drupal to be a good solution for a non-techie blog owner you need two turnkey (or easy-to-use) pieces: hosting and blog setup. Hosting includes install, updating, backup, maintenance, etc.  Blog setup includes layout, design, structure, and configuration of blogging modules. The Blog-owners want to have the desired blog design magically appear on the internet so that they can concentrate on content.

I would like to point out that these tasks can be partitioned, which lends itself to a team approach. You have the hosting side (database, sys-admin, security, servers).

You also have the Blog setup side: Design.css, Layout.css, Blog-Module-set maintenance, Blog-Module configuration, User administration, Advertising, Content writing, etc. All of these skills might not meet in one person. Not every database guy is a graphic designer, if you know what I mean.

Open-source, Obama Websites

Beyond the Blog application space. Drupal is getting a lot of use as a CONSTITUENT Management System, along with serving as the front-end website for a lot of advocacy groups, membership organizations and non-profits. In other words, learning Drupal could be a progressive career path. CiviCRM may be it's own, separate career path.

Anyway, I had a vision of 100 SoapBlox to Drupal transitions overseen by a volunteer task force of 50 Drupal programmers, and 50 layout specialists, each of whom get two or three sites to convert. At the end of the day, you would have 100 people who know this Drupal-Blog-Platform inside and out, and who could go on to careers in Progressive advocacy groups or membership organizations.

A Drupal wesite plus CiviCRM is far from being a turnkey operation, but maybe the practice of creating a Drupal-Blog-Set could be extended to the Drupal-Advocacy-Set.

by MetaData 2009-01-11 01:05PM | 0 recs
Keep us posted on that

Motley Moose is also a soapblox powered, and we're looking for alternatives after the recent scare.

Though it's basically an easy set up for community powered blogs (and much much better than wordpress or blogger for such sites) there are several limitations

1. The inability to have separate areas with their own rec lists.

2. Real time updating of comments and diaries (as in Kos)

3. Rather functional and inflexible user pages

If you can look at those issues too, I'm sure my fellow Moosers would be interested.

by brit 2009-01-11 01:34PM | 0 recs
funny, I just commented on this very thing!

The interactivity thing, that is.  Most of what you experience on dailykos is a product of AJAX.  One simple Drupal contributed module is the AJAX Forms module that allows you to pretty much AJAXify any Form in your Drupal based site- comments, etc...  You might give that a look see.  If you have a test site up and need help installing a contributed module to give it a go, let me know and I can type out some quick directions.

by linc 2009-01-11 01:48PM | 0 recs
Yes, just caught your post

I'm not a techie, so your Ajax comment is really useful. The Moose is currenlty on soapblox. Can you Ajaxify that?  From what I can remember you can't, so that makes Drupal very attractive.

Do have a look at the Moose and let me know if you think it's 'Ajaxifiable'. And while I'm on the subject, why don't you join up? Lot of old friends and foes from the primary days. But that's forgotten now. I remember you well from those times and would love to see you there.

by brit 2009-01-11 02:07PM | 0 recs

I don't think Soapblox allows for much contribution as far as the base code goes.  One of the greatest things about the Drupal community is its supporters and active contributors.  The module I referenced was developed by a community member and is not part of the core drupal package- however, it is easier than you would think to implement.  Additionally, once someone creates a module and the module remains active, it will always have support.  So, if you develop an issue or have a suggestion, you can add this to the support queue for the particular module.  I think this is one of the reasons Sachs is pushing drupal so much- it would sure help out in a situation such as the one Soapblox is currently experiencing!

MotleyMoose is not a complicated site (and this is a compliment!), it would be quite easy to implement the right combination of modules and features from drupal to achieve exactly what you want.  Of course, it would have to be on Drupal.  From what I know of Drupal, you can replicate almost any feature that an end-user would recognize on a Scoop site like Dailykos- and for free.  Using Scoop can cost and it is extremely/relatively complicated.  I sound like a salesman!  Good thing its opensource ;)

Anyway, I lurk round the Moose quite often, just haven't signed up yet- should do indeed!

by linc 2009-01-11 02:48PM | 0 recs
Re: hmm...

Linc that sounds great, both what you're saying about drupal and the fact you might sign up on the Moose. Our tech experts are Semiquaver and John Allen. I'm going to alert them to this thread if that's OK by you. Maybe someone in the Moose group has your email. Drupal sounds like the ticket.

by brit 2009-01-11 02:51PM | 0 recs

lincfd(at)gmail(dot)com.  Alert away.  I am doing quite a bit of work with drupal and joomla right at the moment and would be more than willing to help you all out in any way.

by linc 2009-01-11 02:58PM | 0 recs
Thanks for the offer to help. I'm sure the techie

folks will be in touch with you....:)

by louisprandtl 2009-01-11 03:17PM | 0 recs
Brit's above comment seconded.. do visit MM...

by louisprandtl 2009-01-11 02:38PM | 0 recs
Important thing to realize

2. Real time updating of comments and diaries (as in Kos)

DK has this really cool thing, so I want it also. Well, Markos spent a lot of money coding and customizing. In order to get exactly the cool things on your website that you want, you need to go custom... which costs money.

The advantage of SoapBlox is that it is (1) turnkey and cheap, and (2) that it is optimized for community blogging, even if it doesn't have all of Markos's specific cool things.

The advantage of Drupal is that you can do anything (!!!), but you do have to spend the time and money to do it. LINC says ajax module. Well, yeah, but who implements it? And who updates it when Drupal goes to Version 7.0. Ooops, that module programmer graduated from college and doesn't have time to do it anymore.

This is not to dis anybody, but I'm going to suggest that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

by MetaData 2009-01-11 03:26PM | 0 recs
You are right

but, from what I understand, soapblox isn't free either?  I know the fee is minimal, but so is hosting at siteground or similar, places that offer plenty hosting support and protection.

Now, what soapblox has been doing is fantastic and truly commendable and recent events probably stress your point even further.  Maybe there can't be an expectation that places like soapblox can exist and continue to operate properly without proper financial support.  

by linc 2009-01-11 06:00PM | 0 recs
great idea

btw.  I am probably not a programming expert, but certainly theme-ing and implementation.  Count me in ;)

by linc 2009-01-11 06:02PM | 0 recs
I see two obstacles

with using drupal as a platform to imitate the capabilities of say, dailykos.  One is drupal's lack of AJAX supported features.  However, that's not a huge obstacle unless you are obsessed with refresh free interactivity.  If you don't care much about AJAX or are willing to just overlook it, then really the only problem that remains isn't necessarily a static money issue but rather a user/readership issue.  

Drupal has the capabilities for a multi-blogger blogging platform, but is the interest there?  Would soapblox and blogger and wordpress users drop their current homes and/or be willing to transition to a different community?  Is the support inherent in a drupal based, drupal imitating community enough to pull in the users and thus readers?

I say this, being a bit of a marketer knowing that the right use of advertising, affiliates, etc... can support any scalable online site(s).

by linc 2009-01-11 01:31PM | 0 recs
Re: I see two obstacles

Well, it is possible to develop AJAX features in Drupal - I've done it myself.  The core engine comes with some neat AJAX features, and there are a variety of modules you can install to add more.  In any case, I'm not sure AJAXy features are all that key to the blogging experience; there are some that can be quite nice, but certainly not make-or-break.

As for the question of inertia, you're absolutely correct.  Some people will want to stay with Soapblox, Wordpress, or what have you, and more power to them.  There are bound to be some bloggers who will want to go with Drupal, though, and I guess the question is, are there enough to make this kind of development worth it?  Given the wide range of new features available in Drupal but not in other CMS's, I think the answer is, probably.

by Shai Sachs 2009-01-12 02:46AM | 0 recs


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