A Christmas Coding Challenge: OLPC News Community Platform


olpc news forum
Blue is not the OLPC color

Are you handy with HTML? Know CSS and MT3.2? And do you name colors using hexadecimal notation? Then I have a Christmas Challenge for you:

Help me create a cohesive OLPC News Community!
Right now I have two semi-separate OLPC News communities, neither pretty:
  • Blog: community-wide news, commentary, and opinion that feeds off and into the forum. A year old, but stale in its functionality.
  • Forum: an intense community discussion, where the voice is local, lively, and disparate. And its only a week old, but it looks it.
I want to coordinate both platforms into one cohesive look. A place where this random collection of voices can unify into a community of dedicated grassroots XO laptop users and promoters.

Share this dream with me. Help build a global XO user group, one platform at a time, by leaving your suggestions, ideas, and if you're a web designer, your contacts in the comments below.

Update: I forgot to mention that I am willing to pay for the help too. Maybe in the form of an XO, eh?

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UI and menu design is part of my daily job.

But I have no experience in web design...

If I can be paired with some mad web programming guru, I can help with some new look.

Ah, so you can make the site look cool, and then I'll need someone to make that look a reality, eh?

Pretty much...

I will see if I can get my friend to help out.

i am a webdesigner. I have some experience in ui and some in css but I am not an expert in neither

Presentation of information is something of a specialty of mine. (College teacher for more decades than I care to think.) I can do some css, do think of colors in hex, but have severely minimal script knowledge of any kind (javascript, php, etc). So I don't know if I have the mad coding skillz a project like this will need. (If you check my homepage link, it goes to my blog, where I pretty much coded the look and organization of it.)

I'd love to help if I can.

I think the solution is simple Wayan.

You need a site that has the forums front and center with the blog (aka bulletins) to the left or right or on top. These bulletins would be short, similar to myspace bulletins.

Just as with everything else on the internet, if it's a good idea, it's been done before. But actually, i can't think of good ones. Anyone else have any suggestions of other websites to copy?

here is my first attempt

it is not beautiful but it is really functional. You can create a custom css to make it beautiful

It doesn't integrate directly w/ Moveable type as far as I can tell but does have a blog feature

What a great start Brian? This is definitely on the right track.

What about eliminating "photos" and having a downloads section? I think the forum should be the standard page you get to when you type in the url.

Anyone else have any ideas?

And here's my initial site design idea: http://www.olpcnews.com/images/olpc-news-site.jpg

Whatcha think? Can you do it? Does the XO bounty help?


I think your layout is a functioning layout. I do think size of the windows and how you would implement them could be more designed.

Here is my quick draft for temp forum look. Mostly just color change.


a cms that can do muliple blogs and discussio forums is drupal. or you could do mt and use vanilla forum.

sorry for the bd typing. i'm on the olpc just got it today!

make the layout width narrow enough to be displayed completely on the xo laptop screen which by the way is small. currently the olpc forum doesn't fit on the xo screen and this makes doing xo research on the forum very difficult with the xo.

If you could address this width problem I think the website would be great. and if you read this article http://news.yahoo.com/s/pcworld/20071220/tc_pcworld/140698 you might think that a lot of the future students of the xo will be english speakers from american schools. therefore this new site will be a crucial reference tool of the olpc project.

Thanx again!!!

How about dropping forum and blog (mid term) and just using a wiki?

The good thing about a wiki is that you can clean up and fix wrong stuff. Reduce information overload to what's correct and necessary.

See http://moinmo.in/ for a Wiki engine implemented in Python.

I've been working with drupal for the last year (in my spare time). It has some features that would be great for this site. http://drupal.org/

What I keep thinking about is drupal's book function, which is how they keep track of all their how-to info. I think it would be great if we could save all the step-by-step and how-to info we generate in a separate place. It's not exactly a wiki (because it should be edited/moderated), but it's generated by the users.

It also has member blogs, tagging, forums, digg-like features, image handling, nice menu functionality, and more. Whatever you want/need in a site, the chances are that someone in the world-wide community of drupal developers has done it already.

In fact, the drupal community is a great model for olpc news. While we're not working on code, we're focusing on using the whole olpc package: hardware, software, concept. In it's own way, that's probably as complex as developing code.

Though we're mostly in the US at this point, as the olpc is more widely distributed, our group will grow global. Drupal has strong local and global groups, and the system handles localization (that is translation) quite well.

Drupal is run by volunteers, and the ethic encourages independence. They have created a fantastic cms that improves with each member's contributions, yet the whole community is still guided by its founder's vision of what a cms can be and should do.

The license for drupal requires that all custom modules go back to the community. That means that when IBM, Sony, or FastCompany tweak drupal for their needs, the whole community benefits. In the same way, what we do here will benefit everyone with an xo. While it might be too complicated for kids, the adults who are responsible for teaching and maintaining the computers/networks will need a place where they can find how-to, friendly support, and new ideas.

I'm not a coder or a designer, but I know a bit about how drupal works, having messed around with more than half a dozen small sites. I'd be delighted to work on putting together a drupal site for olpc news.

By using wordpress and bbpress you could combine the to using a single database. That's cool because users don't need separate usernames and passwords, only one of each :) Just making a suggestion...

Drupal is an interesting choice - I've been told that would be a good way to integrate MT and the forums by multiple people. Here's the only quandary - would it be able to maintain my current link structure (for those long tail google searches)? Also, would I need to import MT data into it?

I do expect the forums to be narrower so they can fit on an XO screen, as OLPC News does today.

So, kids the clock is ticking and the XO bounty is awaiting. Let's see some graphic comps of your ideas...


Huh - that's a cool idea. I would love to have one user login for both the forum and the blog - make your and my life easier.

The BIG Question: would I be able to import all the forum entries into bbpress?

According to this page http://www.iteisa.com/phpbb2bbpress/ it should be a piece of cake exporting phpBB forums to the BBPress Format.
I'm sure there are similar procedures to be found for other forum types.
Another advantage you get using WP and BBPress is that it's very easy to customise to your needs since there are like a million plugins :)

Wayan, for HTML color codes, try this:

According to FedEx my XO arrives later today, so I am very excited!!!

I manage several websites, but most with very simple HTML. The few I have inherited from others with CSS and VB code are just a pain to deal with. I would not recommend it. I suggest you focus on content not style.

Most people will read the blogs through an RSS feed reader, so they wouldn't see your website unless they click through.

http://kuler.adobe.com allows you to create color themes. Very nice!

this post: http://www.olpcnews.com/content/ebooks/the_lightbook_ebook_reader.html
shows your problem and it's solution.

problem: There are comments to the article here and on the forum. The article is cross-posted on the forum.

solution: I suggest you post the articles here (like you do now), close the comments here and create a forum there for each article. Then link the two like at the bottom of that article. (ie instead of going to comments you go to the forum). The first article in the forum would be a summary and a link to the article.

this page looks good and works well the way it is, it's just hard to follow the comments.
the forum works well the way it is. You just need the always link the two.


I have to say that one of the most annoying things for me is to read a blog, want to post, and realize I have to sign in to do so. 90% of the time, I leave the blog w/o commenting. Making the forum the only place to comment would do that - the forum has to be sign-in first. Blogs do not.

For me the two play a different role. This blog is a distilled, public face for OLPC News where I play the editor to distill the conversation for the lay reader. The forum is more a wild conversation among a community, every one is their own editor, and y'all can get lost int he details of an idea.

So as to the Lightbook post, I started the conversation here and keep it limited to the topic at hand. Over at the forum, it can go any way it wants and Martin or you can add to it in ways blogs do not support and would be too confusing for the lay reader.

ok. I guess I misunderstood the purpose of the forum.

What software powers this blog?

An ancient MT3.2

One non-technical comment: as the forum grows in size and range of topics , plus volume of messages, the blog may need to be the community newspaper. We'll need people to summarize discussions and point people to topics of note. That would provide easier entry for new folks and help the rest of us avoid info overload.


You can migrate MT in to drupal with all comments and links intact. http://drupal.org/node/860


That is exactly what the blog will be come, the front end for the forum - a distillation of its knowledge and hottest topics. A way for outsiders (newbies, press, etc) to get the high level ideas.

At the same time it will be a starter for new ideas, themes and topics for the forum. A shared experience for community commentary.

I like Bryan's general layout. Everything is there, visually accessible without any digging, but also without screen clutter. Obviously, as he says himself, design, typography, colors could use a bit of work.

Wayan's is also good, but a bit harder to get a real feel for, given the screen resolution.

I second the folks who say keep blog and forum as separate functions, and also separate from a wiki. To me, wiki is for reference, forum is for discussions around a topic, and blog implies current events, so to speak.

Having a olpcnews.con (e)jabber server to use the XO's Chat activity with others would be nice too.

I agree that Drupal would be a good option for powering the site. It can very easily handle the layout Wayan and Bryan suggested.

Although Wayan wants to keep the forum and blog separate, there is a module being developed to integrate SMF (the software being used for the forum) with Drupal (http://drupal.org/project/smfforum). That leaves the door open for the possibility of integration in the future. With different permission groups and the integration of SMF, Drupal could give us the option of having one login ID for both the blog and the forum, and only allow some users to post to the blog (while others can post to the forum and comment to the blog).

Drupal also has many pre-made themes (http://drupal.org/project/Themes) which can be tweaked, rather than having to go through the labour-intensive process of building a new theme.

I've setup a few websites using Drupal, so I'm happy to throw my name into the poll of posisble builders :)

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