Jamie Starke bio photo

Jamie Starke

I develop for my career, but I also develop for fun, and whenever I think it can solve a problem I'm having. This has lead me to create side projects, such as Rental Map and BusTimes, among others.

Consulting Newsletter Email Twitter Facebook Google+ LinkedIn Github Stackoverflow More


I’m Looking for advice as to what the best software is for creating online communities.

I’m currently trying to set up a Graduate Students’ Association in my Computer Science department at the University of Victoria.

After talking to a number of Graduate students in my department about what they think would be useful to them, I received a number of great suggestions. Based on the suggestions, I came up with 3 features that I think would be useful:

  • A Blog: Which will allow the Grad. Association to keep grad students informed about important upcoming events.
  • A Forum or discussion board: Will allow grad. students to discuss whatever they feel is important to them or their work.
  • A Wiki: This will allow grad. students to easily create useful resources for other grad students.

There are many possible choices, but it all seems to come down to trade-offs.

As A Service or Host your own

There are two major options for hosting the community. You can either choose to use an As a Service model, where someone else manages the infrastructure, or the Host your own, where you take the software and run it on an infrastructure you control.

The obvious trade off here is Control for maintenance and cost. By going with an as a service, you will decrease costs, and maintenance, but you also decrease your control. By hosting your own, you increase the three.

In the maintenance category, I would like to reduce as much maintenance as possible, as this will likely be run by busy grad students. At the same time though, if we lose all control, we are completely at the liberty of the service to decide what we can do, and how long we can keep it up.

Separate Services or an All-in-one

Again, it is possible that we can use a number of different systems (such as a blog system, a forum and a wiki), or we can find a system that does all three.

In this case we have a trade off between consistency and maintenance versus precision. Of course, if you use 3 systems, you have to deal with maintaining 3 systems, and if you have 3 systems, it is unlikely that the three systems can be consistent.

In the precision category though, any one system will likely be good at a small number of features, and will be less good a others. So by going three systems, they’ll likely be better at the particular thing they do.

For this, I’d like to make the ease of use as easy as possible. If it is really hard for the users to go from one aspect to the other, like the discusion forum to the wiki or the blog, they are less likely to do it, unless it is absolutely necessary. If it’s not possible to link to the other systems consistently, this will be particularly hard.

Community Advice

I’ve use Wordpress for blogs before, and they work pretty well. I’ve also considered CMS systems like TikiWiki, but it appears to be particularly buggy. I’ve also used Drupal, and it’s particularly bad for maintenance (which makes me die a little inside).

So this is where I look for advice from the community. What software can you recommend?