Blog-based project groups and Drupal
by Shai Sachs, Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 11:30:24 AM EST
This week, Paul Benson posted an interesting diary at OpenLeft about supporting project groups on progressive blogs. The basic idea is fairly simple: quite often, progressive blog readers want to get together to collaborate on a project. Projects can range in nature and scope widely, and they can have a fixed goal (like producing a catching YouTube video) or an ongoing set of goals (like promoting progressive legislation). But they all seem to share on common characteristic: they are poorly served by the recommended diary section of most progressive blogs. Paul lists only two examples of projects that were successfully organized via diaries - YearlyKos and the Gannon investigation. There are probably a few more we could add to the pile, especially if we reached into the archives of local and statewide blogs, but I think the point stands. Blogs are a great way to share news and opinions and to incite activism; they are not a great way to organize activism.
Paul sketches out a quick-and-dirty example of what a progressive project organizing platform might look like, and I think it's a reasonable first start. There are certainly other online project management tools available, ranging from dotProject to 37 Signals's Basecamp. I would also add that Paul's critique only underscores a point I've been making here in recent weeks: that the progressive blogosphere could be exceptionally well-served by an open-source platform, especially one like Drupal.
There are a couple of Drupal modules which are particularly well-suited to the sort of project management Paul is referring to: Organic Groups and Project. The former allows any Drupal site to be subdivided into a number of workspaces for interest groups. The form of a workspace can itself be flexible - it can be a wiki, a blog, a document-sharing space, or a combination of all of these. The Project module is used to keep track of projects, subdivide them into tasks, and monitor the progress on each task, using a lightweight project-management paradigm. Project was written to support bug tracking for Drupal modules and themes, but it can also be adapted for other purposes. While I have not yet had the chance to incorporate them into the Drupal-based blogging platform I wrote about last week, it's clear that the ability to add these modules easily to any Drupal site is a major advantage to using Drupal to power a progressive blog.
There is also, I think, a larger point to be made about the use of open source software to power the progressive movement. There are many similarities between the progressive movement and most open source software project. They are both decentralized, made up of many independent actors with similar goals. It's no accident that they are both likely to run up against the same kind of collaborative challenges, which is, I think, yet another reason that the progressive movement should build upon the progress made by Drupal.