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How to Create Your Own DDN Community
Author: Andy Carvin, A Sense Of Place Network | December 10th, 2004
Communities: Cool Tools

When you look at the DDN website, you'll see that it's made up of different topical communities. For example, on the left column of each DDN page there's a list of some of our featured communities, including Access, Content and Cool Tools. Each community is a clearinghouse and workspace on that particular topic, with its own articles, headlines, shared documents, bulletin board discussions, even blog entries. But DDN isn't limited to these featured communities; in fact, every DDN member may establish their own communities. Here's how to do it.

First Things First:
Why Would I Want My Own Community?

Creating your own DDN community isn't necessarily for everyone, but it can serve as a powerful tool for working with others over the Internet. For example, I recently created a community for the WSIS Telecentres Working Group, a coalition of telecentre activists from around the world. We'll use the space for sharing document drafts, disseminating news and research, even hosting bulletin board discussions. The DDN community gives us a shared workspace for collaborating with each other.

What might you do with your own DDN community? Well, it's entirely up to you. Here are some hypothetical examples.

Internet Literacy and Libraries. Let's say you’re a librarian in Florida and you work with other librarians across the state who all offer Internet literacy training at their libraries. Establishing a DDN community would allow you to share lesson plans, brainstorm course ideas or publish news about professional development activities.

Nigerian Infotech Mentors. A Nigerian software engineer in Canada gets the idea of creating a workspace for other Nigerian ex-pats working in the high-tech industry to create an online initiative mentoring Nigerian secondary students at home. After creating the community, she posts an announcement on the DDN discussion group and elsewhere, inviting people to participate. Using the DDN community workspace, they utilize the discussion board to plan their activities, post announcements for virtual meetings, and utilize DDN's blogging tool to host a blog about mentoring.

Bridging the Digital Divide in Guatemala. A former Peace Corps volunteer and a Guatemalan entrepreneur get the idea to host a community on public-private partnerships to bridge the digital divide in Guatemala. They use their DDN community to publish news and research, invite others to present case studies, and blog about successful partnerships. The community is primarily in Spanish.

Online Student Workspace. A team of students from different parts of the world are working together to design a website on Albert Einstein. They use their community to share Web pages and graphical elements, utilize the bulletin board to interact with teachers and parents who are mentoring the project, and blog about their project experiences to receive extra credit.

As you can see from these examples, DDN communities can be used to host virtual gatherings of people based on topical interest, geographic location or both. It doesn't matter if you're looking to create a global coalition on e-health literacy or a community user group for Internet volunteers in a small town -- anyone who becomes a DDN member may host their own community.

Creating a Community

To make your own community, start by clicking the link inside the left navigation column that says Create a Community. You'll find it about halfway down the column, in the section called Communities.

Once you've clicked the link, you'll see the page that lets you create your community. It's basically a form that's asking you to describe your new community and the features you'd like to use. Here's an explanation of the form fields:

Community Name. This is the most visible aspect of your new community. Choose a name that clearly communicates the mission and interests of this community. It's also a good idea to keep it short; nor more than five or six words max.

Alias. The alias will determine the URL of your community. The alias may not contain spaces or any symbol, with the exception of the dash. For example, the WSIS Telecentres Working Group has the alias telecentres, which gives the community this URL:

Unless your community is only one or two words, you'll have to abbreviate its name for the alias. For example, if you're forming a group called "Boston Librarians," you can have your alias be boston-librarians. But if your group name is longer, such as "Librarian Volunteers for Promoting ICT Literacy," you should abbreviate the alias to something like libvolunteers or ict-litvolunteers.

Affiliated Organization. If your community is affiliated with an organization, you can list it here. There may be a maximum of three sponsoring organizations, although only one organization can can be added initially. (Adding more orgs will be explained below.) Check the drop-down menu to see if the organization is listed already; if not, you'll have to click the link that lets you add a new organization. Once you've added the organization, simply back up your Web browser to the Add Community page and select it from the drop-down menu.

Public Community. A public community will be seen everywhere on the site (including the New Communities, Featured Communities, Browse Communities, and all dropdowns). A private community, on the other hand, will not be displayed on the website. You will have to share the community's URL with people directly if you want them to know how to access it.

Open Community. This box is checked as a default. Having an "open community" means that all DDN members are allowed to join and contribute to the community. If you wish to have a closed, or invitation-only community, simply uncheck the box.

Selecting Modules. This option allows you to choose which modules will be viewed on the main community page. The blurb module allows you to add introductory text at the top and center of your community's homepage. Featured article lets you, as the community owner, select a feature story that's in the DDN website and highlight it prominently. Latest articles displays articles that have been related to your community; they're displayed in reverse-chronological order. Resources allows you to link to other websites from your page. Discussions will set up a discussion board for your group. Documents lets you share documents, such as Word files, PDF documents, JPG images, etc. Events allows you to announce events on your community. Similarly, Headlines will display news headlines related to your community. Blogs will let community members who run their own DDN blog to post their blog headlines on your community page.

Using Your New Community

Once you've created your community, it's a good idea for you to spread the word about it. If you're planning to use this as a private workspace, you would only want to share the community's URL with people who will be working with you. If it's intended as a broader, public community, you should send out an announcement to the DDN discussion list (digitaldivide [at] mailman . edc . org) and to any other groups that might be relevant. When you invite people to join your community, be sure to give them the URL, and encourage them to click on the button at the top center of the page that says "join this community." Once they do this, they'll be able to post content on the community page. If you set up your community as "open," everyone will be able to join your community simply by clicking the link. But if your community is closed, they will have to get approved by you; the website will send you an email notifying you of the request, asking you to approve it or reject it by clicking the appropriate link.

As a community owner, or "editor," you'll be able to manage your community, changing its settings if needed. For example, you can add or remove different modules depending on the needs of your community. If you didn't set it up to include documents and now you'd like to be able to post documents, you can change the community settings. Similarly, you can add a total of three sponsor organizations to your community, if it's appropriate. To make these changes, simply click the "edit" link that appears at the top of your homepage. (Only community owners will see this link.) This will bring you to a administrative page where you can change the group's settings.

You and your fellow community members can now post news headlines, articles, blog entries, discussions, event listings and documents to your community. One thing to keep in mind, though: when you add new content to your community, you'll have to "relate" that content to your community. For example, if you look at the page that lets you add a headline, you'll see there's a form field that asks you if your headline is associated with any community. Simply select your community from that list as you fill out the form. When you submit the headline, it will be added automatically to your community homepage. The same principle applies to other content types; just look for the community drop-down list when adding content to the website.

Community editors also have the ability to relate content from other communities with your own community. For example, let's say you're browsing through the headlines on the DDN homepage and you see a new story that's relevant to your community. Click on the headline and go to the bottom of the page when it opens. You'll see something called "Related Communities." Click the drop-down menu below it, and find your community. Then click the "add" button and the content will be related to your community, placing it on your community homepage.

Communities and RSS Feeds

Most of the content that appears on each community's homepage has an RSS feed associated with it. RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, is a technique for allowing Internet users to subscribe to your content through other websites, through special software, even through email. To learn more about RSS, please read What's RSS and Why Should I Care About It?.

When you look at a DDN community -- for example, the community on Internet access, you'll see the word XML appear in the content boxes displayed in the right column. These are filtered RSS feeds. In other words, the RSS feed for headlines on the Access community will show all headlines related to that community. Similarly, the community's RSS feeds for discussions, events, blog posts, etc, will all be filtered to include community-related content. This allows your community members and others to follow along what's being posted on your community without going to the homepage - the RSS feeds bring the content directly to them. It's almost like having your own news wire feeds for your community, allowing people to subscribe to your headlines, event listings and so on.

Tell Us About Your Communities!

As your community develops and grows, we'd love to hear about it. Why did you create your community? How are you using it? What have you accomplished with it? We want our community tools to be as useful as possible, so your feedback will help us improve these tools in the future. Please feel free to post your experiences on the
DDN general discussion board.

Andy Carvin is director of the Digital Divide Network.

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