[theforum] weo 2b: to OSS or not?

David Kaufman david at gigawatt.com
Mon Nov 8 20:07:10 CST 2004

Elfur Logadóttir <elfur at elfur.is> wrote:

> .:| Madhu Menon <webguru at vsnl.net> wrote:
> .:| > The "start from scratch"
> .:| > approach is not always a good one, especially if you're
> .:| not going to involve the original developer(s).
> Is anyone really considering starting from scratch?
> I'm not. I'm considering using drupal out of the box, with the
> developed modules that can be downloaded from their website.

Well, you are right.  If (but only if) Drupal or any other canned
solution *meets* the requirements, and doesn't require extensive
customizations, then absolutely that is a huge win.  But I don't
know if it does meet our requirements, cuz there's no spec that
one can point to, that defines all of them.  And there's no spec
because there are contending goals being discussed.

Everyone seems to think Drupal will achieve the goal of moving WEO by 
replacing WEO (and improving it the bargain).  But I'm doubtful, perhaps 
even cynical, that replacement of WEO with a canned CMS can be completed
in the time we have.  This is from experience.  At work people are 
always suggesting using a canned discussion board or a blogging tool or 
Wiki or shopping cart to replace some custom application, and they 
hand-wave at all the specific functionality that the custom application 
was built specifically to provide, that other people's discussion 
boards, wikis, blogs and shopping carts *don't* provide.  Maybe Drupal 
can be configured, with nothing more than a plugin here and stylesheet 
there, to do everything that WEO currently does, but I doubt it.  WEO 
already does do everything WEO does.  It needs no customization :-)

With the debate that we usually see around here, (okay, guilty as 
charged) and especially with the participations levels we have had, I 
doubt any but the most minor Drupal customizations can be implemented in 
time for us to move... and leave ColdFusion behind.  I'm proposing the 
more modest goal that I know can be achieved on time: Uprooting WEO and 
moving it (essentially) as is.

Maybe Drupal is Socool that participation levels will skyrocket, and all
the requirements can be gathered and configured and met as many here
believe they can, in the time we have.  I'm thinking defensively, not
optimistically.  That's my job.  Pleased to meet you, I'm the Voice of
Reason, heheh.

Does Drupal offer user management features similar to what WEO does now?
If not, would all evolt member have to re-register?  Can it support our
current article workflow, which as I understand it, goes something like:

    1. member-only submission
    2. notifying content group of new submissions
    3. restricting read access to content-users for review
    4. allowing content group and original author only to revise
    5. notifying content group of all revisions
    6. allowing content group to approve and publish
    7. notifying content group of new articles published

I believe there are similar stories for newly submitted deo links and
apparently complaint-comment messages posted to articles.

> There might be a few things that would need a module rewrite/creation
> ... And i think those things should wait until afther the transfer is
> complete - absolutely.

Not knowing all of what WEO does behind the scenes (and even less what
drupal does, or can be made to do) I'd guess there is a high likelihood
that some code customizations would be *needed* to be in place, before
the transfer.  I mean missing "blocker" features that would prevent the
system from being useful without them, like for instance, if Drupal had
a member submission feature, but no way for the author to revise his
submission prior to approval.  That would kind of cripple the workflow i
see happening on the content list.  Content members would not be able to
advise the author what changes to make, for publication to be approved.
They'd have to go in and make the changes themselves.

> .:| From: David Kaufman
> .:| That was exactly my point, too.  If we expect to move off
> .:| of the current server in 90 days, we don't really have time
> .:| to dick around debating new features, new publishing workflows,
> .:| and writing new software.
> Right. Which is why i thought we would migrate to a CMS like
> Drupal/Zope or any other out of the box. And add to that as time goes
> by.

But that would only work if the missing features were optional features,
that we could live without until "time went by" and we had time to code
them.  My experience is that users get quite testy when you take away

In the example scenario I made up above, for instance, the Content
group, being volunteers, might just

a) decide not to review anything since they will be expected to rewrite
themselves any articles they feel need rewriting, with the result that a
backlog of articles never gets reviewed and approved or

b) go ahead an approve articles that they really feel need revision
because suggesting revisions mean more work for them, not the author,
resulting in a lower standard of published articles on the site

I think we have to port and run, because we have code that runs, that we
can port, and provide the exact same features on the new server 90 days
from now that users now enjoy on this server.  We can also install
Drupal and begin testing it and developing the parts that are missing, I
just doubt that any canned system is going to have the same features
that have built into WEO, specifically to meet evolt's purposes.  If it
did, that would be quite a content management system (or quite a
coincidence).  The fact is that most users of web-based CMS's are single
users, using the CMS to manage small to medium size sites, possibly with
features to support interactions with many anonymous visitors and some
registered users.  This is how you are using it, right?  You like it
because it meets *your* needs;  All software is custom software.  Drupal
just happened to be customized for people like you.  Software gets
developed to deliver the features that the majority of users want.

But having evolt admins as 100% it's users, the WEO backend code was
developed to meet just the needs of evolt admins, and contains features
that individual webmasters would never want (like notifying one user
group plus one member of one kind of update, and fixing some bug where
the admin group must be notified via a message to a mailing list, but
the mailing list software bounces machine-generated notices because they
look like spam, or some such.  Or bounces to that list need to be caught
and resent or else no one knows about the article at all.  The things 
WEO does, I can tell you without ever having logged into the backend, 
the things it's users needed it to do.  New code either means a new 
implementation work, new bugs and a testing period.  Or worse, no spec.

> Then the 'only' thing we'd need to focus on for the next couple of
> months is the migration of the data, which i realise will be PITA any
> which way you go.

Migrate the data after we launch?  Which data do want to explain to
users is going to be missing for "a while", the article that an author
wrote last year, and is so proud of that he has a link to it on his
resume, which he just sent to 100 employers because he's out of work
and job hunting?  Member usernames, passwords and pictures, links to
their articles?  TheList archives?  The Tips in the Jar?

I don't want to tell any users that our new server does less than our
old one, or is incompatible with our old data.  We're supposed to be
professional web developers.  If we massively redesign our site and we
don't provide the level of functionality we had before, don't republish
all of our existing content, or we fail to sensibly redirect to the new
location of the content when folks follow google links onto the site,
wouldn't we look like amateurs?

> .:| I'm normally the loudest evangelical proponent of OSS
> .:| solutions, but in this case [...]
> .:| I think we must consider the
> .:| easiest, quickest option, which is to just run the same
> .:| system we have now, by porting it to ColdFusion for Linux
> Right. I suppose this could be done as an interim solution ... But, I
> don't know .... My problem with evolt.org right now is its dullness
> and out of dateness. I thought it would be a good idea to somehow
> rekindle some enthusiasm.

That's all I'm suggesting!  90 days is an interim :-)  and if we need a
little more time after that (like two years :-)) to complete the
development of the new Drupalized Evolt, *then* is when we have the
luxury of selling no wine before its time.

> .:| I fear that much of the current debate *presumes* that a complete
> .:| rewrite is GOING to be performed before 31 Jan, and seeks to pick
> .:| a platform first, and then spec new features for a ground up
> .:| rewrite.
> Again, is anyone really considering rewrite? Aren't we considering
> off the shelf stuff?

okay, you're right.  no one is suggesting rewriting the code from
scratch.  Again, I just doubt that any off the shelf solution is going
to meet the complex needs evolt appears to have.

I don't like doing specs.  But whether you build or buy, you still don't
know *what* you need to build or buy to meet your requirements until
you've gathered those requirements.  Maybe lots of features of the
current WEO are not *requirements*.  Maybe no one uses many of them
and they can be cut.  But others are absolutely needed.  So a list needs
to be compiled of what WEO does now, and what Drupal must do in 90 days 
be a usable replacement for us.  Including all those niggling details 
workflow, user management, and migration of existing data.

Specs *are* scary.  If they're not thorough and well thought out, than
they are a waste of time.  Doing them right takes time and effort, and a
very boring sort of time and effort, too.

That's why I like the specs that say:  Do what www.evolt.org does right
now.  Boom.  Spec done.  Code can begin.  Or Drupal customization can

Someone go make a list of everything WEO does, so we can cut it to only
what it must do, and decide if Drupal does that... Drupal experts?  WEO
admins?  Evangelists of all types?  Are there multiple levels of weo
admin users?  I've heard the ominous term "godmin" bandied about... Is
such a Deity Mode a must-have feature of evolt?

> .:| ...Can we really hope to iron out all the new
> .:| features being proposed, write all this new code, integrate
> .:| all these OSS tools, fix the inevitable bugs
> .:| and problems and convert all of our existing data, all
> .:| while also moving to a new O/S and hosting provider?
> .:| Isn't that like converting your car
> .:| from gasoline to hydrogen, while driving it down the highway?
> And also, what new features have been proposed, really?

Changes to the article approval process mostly.  And I agree that some 
sort of community-based rating system would be ideal, but not to achieve 
a move.  Mostly though I meant all the feature negotiations.  When you 
implement a website, and your clients asks for search engine 
optimization and you deliver meta-keyword tags, but they meant the 
service of manually submitting the site to search engines and promising 
page 2 or your money back, that's when a feature negotiation occurs. 
When expectations are not met by the delivered product, the debates that 
must be resolved when the implementer says, Drupal doesn't do feature X, 
and it has to be decided whether Feature X was any good anyway, or can 
be cut.  And people propose feature Y instead, and others suggest new 
and clever ways to achieve functionality X outside the box, without 
feature X in Drupal, and in the meantime the lack of feature X holds up 
development progress.  User management requirements are famous for 
holding up projects.  Everyone always makes assumptions that the next 
one will do what their old one did, or that they all attempt to do the 
same things, which they don't.  They never do.  User management in a 
shopping cart is fundamentally different than user management in a Wiki, 
Discussion board, Blog, ...or Evolt.

Having gotten all that doomsaying out of my system now.... I must say 
though that just the *suggestion* of Drupal seems to have drawn lurkers 
out of the shadows with renewed energy and vigor.  Methinks maybe we 
should harness that enthusiasm, enlist the help, and cash in on the 
mindshare, before I kill with pessimism.  So in that spirit, I'll hereby 
rescind my earlier contrary comments, get on board, and catch the Drupal 

After all, this many Evolters cannot possibly be wrong!  It must be 
exactly what evolt has needed, if for nothing more than the coolness 
factor oozing out of everyone posts who's used it... :-)

-dave, resigning his bid for Scope Czar, and downloading Drupal...

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