The Site Making Process : Colophon
Creating a site like The Open Source Weekend needed a lot of effort and research which meant a lot of sleepless nights, online conferences, forum discussions endless cups of coffee, and a lot of work. The idea for the website was conceptualized around October 2007, with the initial objectives being laid down. This was a time when most of the brain-storming was done by the members of this project. It consisted of geeks (and friends) who had been using free / open source software for a few years, and wanted to spread its philosophy. Our team worked on this brainstorming further in November and December of the same year we wanted to get the best ideas everyone had, and chalk out everything beforehand, rather than deciding along the way.
November-January was also a time most of the members were having exams at school, so there was some lull in development activity. Work picked up pace again in February, when research for the topics to be covered was done. This was basically about getting background information on the content to be covered; since about using the software themselves, the members had experience. After this information gathering, work started in earnest the design team consisting of Varun, Arjun and Lars began designing the site, while researching about the interactivity features to be included on the site; while the content team consisting of Ankur, Prashanth and Vivek started writing the heaps of pages of content. Inputs from the team coach, Ms Pallavi on the overall site; and technical inputs the assistant team coach, Anurag kept us on track and motivated, All through this process, we sought feedback from fellow school students by showing sample designs and content to them, learning valuable inputs from them on how the average user would find the content.
We also sought primary content in the form of interviews from the people who matter, and were delighted to get a strong response from the people who matter. The methodology adopted was of doing email-based interviews. Bruce Perens, one of the founders of the Open Source Initiative group, accepted out request for an interview. An even greater (sweet) surprise came for us when Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, agreed to help us out with an article on need for software to be free. Although Mr Stallman did not agree to give an interview on the grounds that he supports the free software movement more than the open source movement, his feedback on that article of ours helped us iron out some ambiguity in terminology that we had. He also gave us the permission to use quotes from an article of his. And not to forget, our face-to-face interview with Rishi Amrit a developer on the Octave open-source mathematics software project. This wide response from three such important people deeply touched us, and convinced us even more about the community nature of free / open source software.
During this whole time, the content and the design team worked together to ensure that the content would integrate seamlessly; and at the same time, apply to the copyright and trademark owners of content (especially images that we were using) for permission. We tried, as far as possible, to use images which were licensed under the liberal Creative Commons license. We also used stock images from sites like SXC, with permission under their license agreements. As we neared the deadline more and more meetings were held, and integrating the content began.
The last week was the most hectic of all for us, with a lot of testing, fact checking, polishing up the content further and content integration began. Feedback from our team coach and assistant coach, were taken and incorporated. We tested the site on our own private Linux-based servers too see if everything was working, and working across multiple browsers to see if any pages were rendering incorrectly. We must confess, that there were times when we ran into problems Internet connections going down (these were a major headache, in a country like India), deadlines being overshot but in the end, we succeeded in putting this site together. We hope that The Open Source Weekend would be a valuable resources for students in particular, and the computer-savvy public in general, for making a better choice when it comes to software.
The Technical Bits
We initially thought of combing this section with the general talk on how we made our website, but in our case we felt the need to keep this separate because this in itself goes a long way in showing how open source software can be used. We used a lot of online collaboration to get the project done, for although five of the six student team members were in New Delhi (and one was in Denmark), New Delhi is a city which is almost twice the size of Singapore and with members staying in quite diametrically opposite parts of the town, online collaboration was a more time-saving options. Now that doesn't mean we're geeks who stare at computers all the time, for we did have face-to-face meetings too. Here is how we 'ate our own dog food' when it comes to using open source software, which we have covered on our site itself:
Vanilla Forum (for brainstorming): We spoke of the Vanilla Forum in our site, and that is something we used ourself. We ran the Vanilla forum software on our own private servers, and with that, had a mailing list type option where we could login, read and post new ideas. This was particularly useful during the months when we were having exams at school, as it gave us the freedom to login and check progress at our own convenience; with the software taking care of managing all posts.
Pidgin Instant Messaging (for conferences): As we said earlier, at times, it was difficult to arrange physical meetings so we used the leverage of the online world. In hindsight, it helped us a lot, as we had conference logs through which we could search. It also helped Lars, who stays in Denmark, to collaborate with the rest of us. Our members used the Pidgin instant messaging client, which we have also covered on our site.
OpenOffice.org (for content editing): Content writing and editing was done using the open source office suite OpenOffice.org (we can't . So while we did do research, and edit content offline, but we also need to collaborate and share. We achieved this by using the Google Docs plugin for OpenOffice.org, which allowed us to directly upload and share documents with each other, without leaving the OpenOffice.org environment which we are comfortable with.
GIMP (image editing): Most of the images on the site were editing using the open source image editor for most of the images used on this site.
Audacity (for podcasts): Podcasts used in our media section were recorded using Audacity; and online player used, called XSPF Player, is also an open source project.
...and of course, Mozilla Firefox for all our surfing needs.