Roadmap for a Drupal-based progressive community blog platform
by Shai Sachs, Sat Jan 17, 2009 at 05:54:00 AM EST
Last week I wrote a brief series on developing a Drupal-based progressive community blog platform. As a bit of background, Drupal is a leading open source content management system; at work, most of the websites I build use Drupal. In light of the vulnerabilities of the Soapblox platform, which hosts many local and some nationwide progressive blogs, it's become apparent that an open-source software packages, specifically tuned to the needs of progressive bloggers, would be a valuable asset.
The initial series last weekend got a fair amount of interest, but there was one theme that was fairly strong among the comments: Drupal is a great platform, but it's not user-friendly enough for most bloggers. There is, to be sure, some kernel of truth in that critique - Drupal is not that easy to use out-of-the-box. On the other hand, a savvy developer can turn Drupal into one of the most easy-to-use, powerful platforms for blogging around. If you have any doubts, I'd suggest you visit OnSugar and create a free account - the system is a hosted, Drupal-based blogging platform, and in my opinion it is at least as user-friendly as Wordpress, if not more so.
While I don't know if I'll ever be able to put together something as nice as OnSugar, I'd like to give it a shot. In the next few weeks, I hope to release a simple Drupal-based community blogging platform, which will include some (but not quite all) of the features many of us are already familiar with in most progressive community blogs. The platform will be released on drupal.org under the GNU General Public License, like all other Drupal contributions, so that others can download it and try it out. The hope is that this platform will improve over time, with the help of other progressive Drupal developers, progressive bloggers, readers, and anyone else who is interested. Below, I've outlined a prospective, best-case-scenario roadmap for this platform. I'd love to get feedback on this, so if you have critiques for the roadmap, if you'd like to help out - or if you're already working on a similar Drupal-based platform - please let me know!
Stage 1. Basic community platform
In this stage, we will develop a Drupal installation profile which contains the basic features needed for a progressive community blog. In particular, readers will be allowed to create new user accounts, and to comment and post their own blog posts using those accounts. Recent user blog posts will appear in a sidebar. Users will also be able to vote on one another's comments, and administrators will be allowed to front-page a diary or promote users to be front-pagers. One thing we might not include in this release is the ability to recommend diaries, and for recommended diaries to appear in their own sidebar block.
Stage 2. Platform enhancements
In this stage, we will make incremental improvements to the platform, in order to develop features which are similar to (or slightly better than) those of the basic Soapblox platform. These features will include recommended diaries (if they didn't make it into the first stage), user profiles and WYSIWYG editing. We will also include features that give administrators some options for tweaking the look-and-feel of their site, including specifying a color scheme, easily trying out new themes, and managing their sidebar blocks. At this stage, we may also consider adding functionality to allow bloggers to import their blog posts and comments from other platforms - like Blogspot, Soapblox, and Wordress - without much effort.
Stage 3. Hosted platform
Assuming that the platform has gained a toe-hold among progressive bloggers, we will begin to explore deploying the software on a hosted platform. The challenge at this point will be more of a business model challenge than a technical one - the question is how to finance hosting and software maintenance at a cost acceptable to most bloggers. One option is monthly fees, but it's possible that the fees required to maintain the system would be too high to be acceptable. Another option is dedicated advertising space, a percentage of merchandising sales, or some other shared-revenue approach, as I discussed last week. This stage will likely be a crucial one, in terms of making the platform widely accessible, as it will provide bloggers with a turnkey solution that lets them get a Drupal-based progressive community blog up and running with minimal effort.
Stage 4. Turbocharged community
At this stage, it will finally be possible to begin taking advantage of some of Drupal's more powerful community features. These include Open ID login; community calendars; lightweight intranet features that facilitate the work of committees or project teams; libraries of appropriately-licensed embeddable images and videos; polls and anonymized survey/data gathering tools. It would even be possible to add some e-activism features, similar to those at FireDogLake, and, if the appropriate state-level data is available, to create state-based e-activism tools. This stage would likely have several sub-stages; many of these features are uncharted waters for local blogs, and would require careful requirements gathering and testing before rollout.
Stage 5. Built-in financial stability
There are a number of ways in which Drupal can help bloggers earn more money, and this stage would focus on that problem. A DailyKos-like "advertising-free" subscription module would help bloggers earn dedicated revenue from a loyal customer base. Modules which automatically display "buy now" links on book reviews and similar posts could help bloggers earn more commissions from merchandising sales. More exotic possibilities are also available. For example, bloggers could write e-books and sell them directly from their site using Drupal's Ubercart module. Or, the system could integrate with Mochila, and allow bloggers to profit by reselling their work and even (with appropriate permission, profit-sharing, and so forth) their readers' diaries.
Again, if you have thoughts and suggested improvements for this roadmap, please drop a line in the comments! I'd also be interested to hear from developers who might be willing to help out, or who have already started building something similar.