A directory of online communities? An experiment to better signpost CoPs to Internet users

Development professionals with limited time and unpredictable Internet connectivity face a significant challenge in discovering which online interactive spaces can fulfil their social and informational needs. Many individual spaces are either not well signposted or indexed by search engines. Web users have to browse a number of umbrella platforms in turn, such as Eldis Communities, to get an overview of their options.

How has IDS and partners responded to this problem?

IDS collaborated with Community Cloud (communitycloud.io) and IBP Knowledge Gateway (knowledge-gateway.org) to deliver an online directory: Communities.cc/directory.

This is an example of the semantic web in action. The three web sites exchange data in a series of machine-driven steps, without human intervention.

This resultant directory output enables a user to browse over 700 individual online social spaces. Initially this is from two main sources: Eldis Communities (community.eldis.org), and Knowledge Gateway, however the intention is to include other partners, invluding Dgroups (dgroups.org). It also enables us to manually add groups that exist elsewhere e.g. on independent Southern platforms.

The screenshot below shows what the directory looks like:

Why do directories add value?

Although Eldis communities and the IBP Knowledge Gateway are both significant individual destinations helping international development practitioners form virtual communities of practice in their own right, they cannot provide an ‘overview’ of the landsacpe of online communities relevant to any a person trying to find the right place for them to participate. Browsing each site individually is onerous – whereas a directory offers the choice to browse both within a specific service as well as across them.

How it works

Using its Open Data Interface (ODI) IDS has expose the meta-data about our publicly visible Eldis communities groups via our Solr index to colleagues at Community Cloud. We did this by converting the data into a searchable XML index which is then exposed through Solr API in a machine-readable form at a different URL.

From the Solr API, the data moves to Communities.cc, a global directory of virtual communities related to international development. The move once again happens through automation: a process, residing in the cloud, periodically reads the Solr API, converts the data into a format meaningful to Communities.cc and posts it to its API. A similar process reads information from IBP Knowledge Gateway API and pushes it to Communities.cc directory API as well.

We have also mapped our thematic and other category structures with theirs so that users can browse by subject or geographical region.

Finally, Communities.cc exposes the community information through the web site, http://communities.cc/directory, as well as through its API, that allows reading its catalog, either in full, or partially for specified tags. Thus, a web site or a user reading information from Communities.cc benefits from unified tagging and a wider choice of community information coming from multiple sources.

Try it yourselves

The Communities.cc application has its own API meaning that third parties can query it to present some or all of the data in other locations online. The documentation is available via Github. Please contact hi@communitycloud.io for more information.

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