Ask Plone users what they like best about the open source content management software and chances are a key feature they'll list along with ease of use and multilingual support is the community of experts that's grown around the product.
Having access to knowledgeable people is of particular importance to Plone users right now as the software, which is based on the open source Zope Web application framework, continues to incorporate more and more Zope 3 functionality. There's a sizable skills gap among users who are familiar only with earlier versions of the application server and not the most recent release. The community is also putting the finishing touches on version 3.0 of Plone itself due out next month.
Plone, named after a British electronica band, began life in 2000 as an attempt by the project's co-founders Alexander Limi in Norway and Alan Runyan in the United States to create a more user-friendly interface or skin for Zope 2. Plone helps users manage documents, files, and images through a Web interface and also lets them publish that content to the Internet or to an intranet. Earlier this month, Limi announced that more than 1 million copies of Plone had been downloaded so far from the Plone.org Web site.
One way of getting Plone users together is a sprint, a three- to five-day meeting where participants work in small groups to develop, test, and document new functionality for the software. The latest sprint took place in Boston and focused on improving the handling of audio and video files and images in the Plone4Artists software bundle used for creating portal Web sites.
Aaron VanDerlip, from nonprofit relief agency Oxfam America, was among the participants. The organization's Web site is based on Plone. He said the site's mettle was tested and proved strong and stable when donors flocked to make online contributions to Oxfam to help the survivors of the terrible tsunami that rocked South Asia on Dec. 26, 2004.
Looking to the future, Oxfam would like to add audio and video to its Web site both as a way to attract more donations for its relief work and to show donors how their money has been spent. VanDerlip is also keen to see a lower-bandwidth version of the site accessible to those with limited connectivity options as well as catering to the needs of people visiting the site from their mobile phones.
The Nature Conservancy, a conservation organization that works worldwide to protect ecologically important lands and waterways, uses Plone to power the ConserveOnline open forum where environment groups, government agencies, and private landowners can come to exchange views. The site also makes a variety of conservation resources available, including documents and maps and enables users to create small Web sites or workspaces to flag particular environmental problems they're working on to solicit both feedback and assistance.
The Nature Conservancy is a longtime Zope user, and that's how it discovered Plone about three years ago, according to Sally Kleinfeldt, senior technology architect, technology and information systems, at the organization. Previously, the charity had developed its own custom content management applications based on Zope and a small raft of these legacy applications are still in use. Although no decision has been made, over time The Nature Conservancy would look to rewrite or replace those applications using Plone.