Email is dead ... long live Email?

Reports of the death of email are, of course rampant, for the past, oh, 10 years or so. First, spam was going to kill email. It certainly is true that most email sent these days is spam, but that hasn't managed to kill it. More recently, facebook and twitter were considered likely candidates for killing it off. Recent studies suggest that there is a demographic shift happening - social media being more primary communications avenues for Millenials and Gen Y, and email for everyone older. I was having lunch with a friend this week who runs a small advocacy organization in Canada, that relies heavily on the use of email lists. The question arose as to whether or not it was worth thinking about shifting some of that communications traffic from email lists to the web in some form. I think that's a big question - it matters a lot what the demographics of the organization are, what the goals of the email lists are, and the direction things are going. Also, of course, lots of people are beginning to say - go where the people are, which is increasingly Facebook. I tend to shy away from that suggestion - putting all of ones eggs in a basket you have no control over always seems dangerous to me, even if the basket is free. I decided it was time to do a roundup of the discussion and collaboration alternatives that exist at this point. I'm sure I'll miss some, so please add more in comments. I'm focusing on tools that are free and open source - tools that you would install on your own server, or your own private cloud. Someone else can round up the free services. 1) Drupal Organic Groups: Organic Groups is a module of Drupal, which allows for discussions, wikis and the like. It's a very powerful tool, and combined with other drupal modules, there is a lot you can do with it. A distribution which includes OG and other tools is called Drupal Commons, and is worth a look - it's matured quite well. 2) Elgg: Elgg is a powerful open source social network tool. I've blogged about Elgg before. It's quite a powerful tool, and has everything you'd want in a private social media site - friending, profiles, groups, collaboration tools, etc. It's modular, themable, and has a very active development community. 3) Etherpad: I'm including Etherpad because although it's more of a collaboration tool than a discussion tool, you can have live chat at the same time as you are collaborating. It works best for larger groups, but it's a pretty amazing tool. There are some hosted versions you can try out.  (And from that link, you can see that Google acquired the company behind it, so some of that technology has made it into Google apps - but you can still get the EtherPad code.) 4) phpBB: phpBB (BB stands for bulletin board) has been around forever, and is still kicking. 5) BuddyPress: BuddyPress is a plug-in that adds features to a  WordPress MU site (multi site), such as profiles, groups, friending, etc. 6) Redmine: Redmine is, as you should know by now, my absolutest favorite project management software - it blows out of the water every other one I've ever tried (Basecamp, Central Desktop, MS Project, ActiveCollab, etc., etc.) It's strengths are ticket tracking and such, but it does have forums that work quite well. 7) Crabgrass: Crabgrass is a lot like Elgg, except it is written on Ruby on Rails, and also has a specific orientation to focus on groups that do grassroots organizing. 8) Diaspora: Diaspora is a Facebook alternative. You can, apparently run your own Diaspora server.  I haven't gotten my Diaspora account yet, so I don't know the feature set well, but I'm assuming there will be groups and group discussions available.


I'm also a huge fan of both Drupal and Redmine so thanks for a few new names to look into. The organic groups distribution looks worth checking out but anything that looks like it's competing with Facebook has a tough time. I guess you see this as best used for small focussed community engagement? I'd be keen to hear any examples you have.

Andy Pearson

[...] not to worry, I am not ready just yet to declare, in full force and rather out loud, that email is dead, because it is not! By far, as plenty of folks have been highlighting over the course of [...]

[...] not to worry, I am not ready just yet to declare, in full force and rather out loud, that email is dead, because it is not! By far, as plenty of folks have been highlighting over the course of [...]

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