Friday, 27 June 2008

Has Community Server lost its hearing or its bearings? Or both.

It will soon be two years since we put what was a huge amount of effort into selecting community software which would meet the needs of our website users.

Admittedly there was an element of boring "can we support it (ie is it .NET)" kind of questions which effectively auto-created a short-list but we have been more than happy with outcome - Community Server 2007.

Its functionality - forums, blogs, photo galleries and file downloads, plus a sprinkling of friends & favourites elements (although users haven't found much use for the latter) - generally outweighed the downsides - paucity of documentation, patchiness of support.

So we purchased two enterprise licenses, rolled our sleeves up and got down to rolling it out. The users have loved it and three of our titles- Flight Global, Community Care and Farmers Weekly now have thriving and active communities.

Since then Telligent (which owns the product) has shifted its focus towards the more commercial uses of its product (Personal and Business licenses are no longer available, for example). Community Server now powers the MySpace forums and can now be integrated with Microsoft's Sharepoint. Big league stuff.

That should be good news for us.

But somewhere along the way Telligent seems to have stopped listening to its existing customers.

To be fair it has always been quite difficult to get their ears: at one stage I resorted to emailing individuals only to receive auto-generated replies saying "You do not have permission to send to this recipient". Wonderful customer service.

But their most recent release - Community Server 2008 - suggests that they either haven't listened to their existing customers at all or possibly aren't interested in continuing to meet their needs.

Although it has some great new features (groups, widgetization of sidebars, a new focus on friendships), they seem not to have taken into account the way the implementations are being used.

One of the major bone of contentions is that the Photos and Documents sections have been combined into "media galleries" and in some ways that's quite attractive - media neutral, extensible and so on.

But for sites such as Flight Global which have a large user base uploading photographs to their Flickr-type personal galleries it is looking like a disaster - Telligent have removed some of the things our users really liked about it - having a personal, highly visible image gallery in which to show off their own photography, being able to watermark their pictures so that they don't get ripped off.

We are not the only ones to be concerned; there's considerable disquiet on the CS forums about the new media galleries.

I was struck by some recent blog posts from long-term supporter of Community Server - Ben Bosacker. In one he reports:

The project that I will be working on is using CS2007 and the customer has made a firm decision to not move to CS2008. The major reason that I and others are considering this is because upgrading to CS2008 is a major undertaking and it is also a major change from the original direction of CS.
And in a subsequent post he is clearly aghast at the architectural changes which Telligent has applied in Community Server 2008:
So, the bottom line here is that until CS2008 supports database storage for all objects, I cannot recommend its use to anyone. Stick with CS2007 if you have it and do not upgrade. If you upgrade, there is a very good chance that you will lose quite a few objects just like my client did. Also, the URLs for all objects have changed, which means any existing links to CS2007 or ealier objects would be broken after the upgrade. That in itself could cost you hundreds of hours of lost time to correct on large systems.
Did Telligent talk to any of their customers before doing this? Why have they not been clear about these implications of the CS2008 upgrade?

As holders of two enterprise licences (20 sites), I'm sure we aren't their largest client, but nor I imagine are we the smallest. Now that they have groups functionality on their website, perhaps they could set one up for their customers so that we can engage in a dialogue with them? Or just moan.

Actually, I think the sensible thing for me to do would be to set up a "Disgruntled Telligent Customers" community on Ning and see how we get on.

In the meantime, if you know of a great piece of community software that is based on .net do let me know. I have a feeling that there is a lot of work (again) for me on the horizon.


Anonymous said...

I'd say that your whole problem is insisting on a .net service.

I've heard good things about pluck.

Scott Watermasysk said...

Hi Andrew,

The changes made to galleries were based on feedback we heard from many customers. Some times this feedback comes from the forums and other times it is driven via feedback to the sales team and from our services clients.

We have tried to adapt CS as much as possible to meet the needs of our users. In most cases, this requires adding and enhancing features. Unfortunately in some other cases it required us to remove/combine/etc existing features.

In the case of photo/file/media galleries we saw that many of our customers were using them as a place to drop images that would be referenced else where. As part of our move to focus on users with in a community we enabled storing of images/etc as part of a users profile and focus media gallery on media that was part of the community focus.

We are going to continue to refine media galleries and hopefully bring back some of the photo gallery features such as Watermarks. We are also going to continue enhancing the user profile features including those related to images/files.

Thanks for your feedback. We will certainly keep this in mind as we finalize the feature set for 2009 and beyond.