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A College Online Newspaper Suite as Open Source? 33

Posted by Cliff
from the why-not? dept.
Gurami asks: "I'm a part of a student run team at my school that develops a student website, like those found at many schools, that offers news and services to the college community. Recently, we agreed to create a web based set of apps for a new online student publication. It allows the editors of a publication to manage assignments (articles and media), layout, advertising, workloads, contact information, and some other neat things related to online newspapers/publications, in PHP. Our question is: Is there a market for this sort of web suite, would we be able to package and sell it, or open source it, and sell setup and maintenance services for it to college and university student groups?"
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A College Online Newspaper Suite as Open Source?

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  • Since most educational institutions have a ready supply of free development labour in their CS departments :)

  • Well.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cybermace5 (446439) <g.ryan@macetech.com> on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @11:42AM (#5040444) Homepage Journal
    Not really.

    From my experience, the people running the school paper websites are doing it because they want the experience. What looks better on a resume: "Developed custom applications for automatic formatting and publishing a news website" or "Found free software to do my job so I could play more Everquest"?
    • What looks better on a resume: "Developed custom applications for automatic formatting and publishing a news website" or "Found free software to do my job so I could play more Everquest"?

      "Found free software to do my job so I could write a GPLed Everquest clone."

  • OpenACS (Score:4, Informative)

    by AndyElf (23331) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @11:59AM (#5040541) Homepage
    You REALLY should look at it. This is a great tool when it come to on-line community building. See at their site [openacs.org]. FWIW, Greenpeace web site is running on it. It is fully open-sourced, supports both Oracle and PostgreSQL, has a very well-organized development process, quite detailed documentation, etc., etc., etc.

    Last, but not least, they can benefit from worthy contributors.

    As a let-down of sorts -- it is not PHP.
  • Dont limit it to college only and yeah sure why not. Colleges may not jump at the bit since they have such a wide pool of experience to tap for cheap or free when compared to the private sector, and could easily develop their own suite for their own use, however, non-profits and local organizations looking to put out a respectable print newsletters may be very interested in something such as this. Especially if it helps collaboration among geographically disperate individuals, it could help small (or big who knows?) non-profits get good corrodinated news print out for something very cost effective over conventional project collab software.
  • Maybe not for college websites, for reasons that other posters have stated, but perhaps if you aim towards towns and counties there might be interest.

    Just a thought...

  • I'd say yes. At least I'd be interested in this sort of project (although I'd probably download and install/maintain it myself as I have no cash-on-hand) for re-designing and running my ezine (http://megaversal-dispatch.rpgcn.homelinux.org).
  • (God, I hate that cliche, but it fits here.)

    You're not thinking about it *big* enough.

    Not only do I think you could find a market, I think you're selling yourself short thinking of only student-run university/college newpapers, and of the scope of what your application could do.

    First, consider this: While there's a lot of generic content-management solutions out there in PHP, Cold Fusion, etc..., (I know. I wrote one myself.) There are few, if any that are geared towards and encompass the workflow of news publishing -- assigning stories, investigation/reporting, submitting stories, editting, fact-checking, etc... (I'm sure I'm missing a lot, because I never worked for a school paper. I'm a conservative; they wouldn't let me. ;) )

    Second, consider this: A newspaper's online product is usually secondary to their print product. But a lot of smaller places, like a college or university, probably doesn't have an application to manage the print production. With the appropriate process change at the organization, and the proper sales spin, an app such as the one you wish to create could be used to manage the print creation process as well.

    Third, consider this: There are a number of other potential buyers for this type of product: from High Schools or local School Districts, to small-to-medium hometown newspapers, local radio or TV stations (that are not owned by someone HUGE.) that offer their news online, Catholic Diocesan newspapers... virtually *any* organization that creates a printed newspaper and/or offers a news product on the web.
    I do wish you luck. All I ask is that when these Ideas of mine *do* make you a few bucks, you send a big fat check to me at:

    Ed Zahurak
    121 Barnhart Street
    Johnstown, PA 15905

    *grin*
    • Third, consider this: There are a number of other potential buyers for this type of product: from High Schools or local School Districts, to small-to-medium hometown newspapers, local radio or TV stations (that are not owned by someone HUGE.) that offer their news online, Catholic Diocesan newspapers... virtually *any* organization that creates a printed newspaper and/or offers a news product on the web.

      In fact even that is limiting, as there are also sorts of organization that produce news-like publications. Most decent sized non-profits have some sort of newsletter (heck, even my fraternity in college hada an internal newsletter). Also, any organization that uses a collaboritve effort to produce a text product might be able to benefit.

      I work for an audit organization and our work consists largely of drafting workpapers, reviewing documents created internally and externally, drafting a report - revising the draft, and issuing a final report based on comments from those who read the draft. (I often think of my job as analogous to a journalist, though on a longer deadline.) There are proprietary solutions to help auditors manage their documents, but I don't find them very satisfactory and since they are closed source they can't be tweaked to accomaodate the ideosyncracies of my organization.

  • Having worked at a highly-trafficked, independent online magazine (that is still in existence) I can say that yes, I'm sure that there is a need for this sort of CMS/collaboration tool.

    Not to say that it hasn't been done before. Many CMSs can be made to manage tasks, etc. if they haven't already.

    Some people complain about the amount of content management systems. I say bring 'em on! I want to see the differences for my own eyes of Vignette, Interwoven, Zope, Bricolage, OpenACS, OpenCMS, and YES, even your php suite of tools.

    Managing content is getting easier and easier these days. But running a publishing process is much more than helping computer-dumb writers publishing their stories to a HTML template. It's assigning stories, moving revisions from each step in the publishing process: legal, art, editor's desks, fact-checking, etc.

    Whether it's for a university or Time magazine, I think that having CMS tools address these traditional publishing processes is a good idea.

    and yes, I think you *SHOULD* open-source it!

  • Please Yes (Score:2, Interesting)

    When I was working for my college newspaper, we used College Publisher [collegepublisher.com], and I was NOT impressed. It was a relatively small college, so there wasn't really a source of free labor in the CS department, and the powers that be thought the best choice was to pay for hosting at College Publisher so they could slather our site with their ads for credit cards, etc. and offer us "valuable syndicated content" that nobody read.

    I would have loved something built from the ground-up for our purposes, particularly if it offered similar features (article submission/review/revision process, for example) without all the nonsense College Publisher gave us.

  • There is a market (Score:2, Informative)

    by strudeau (96760)

    I work for a college newspaper.

    There is definitely a market for software to run college newspaper websites. Two companies that provide services are College Publisher [collegepublisher.com] and Digital Partners [digitalpartners.com]. As far as I can tell, College Publisher's tools and terms are pretty awful. Digital Partners is better. Most of their stuff is written in PHP, their template system allows for more flexibility and their terms (on things like ad revenue sharing, costs, locations of banners, etc) are a bit more reasonable. Our paper uses Digital Partners, and they seem to be growing rapidly. I think we could do better on our own if their were resources (or willing talent) available -- I'm too busy keeping things running to develop a project.

    I think a cooperative effort of college papers to produce an open source content management system to for publishing a paper online would be a fantastic project. If work begins on this, please let me know (strudeau takethispartout AT umich dot edu) ...

    This could be built in many ways on top of many open source CMS solutions (OpenACS, Zope, midgard, etc). One project that might be worth looking at is PROPS [sourceforge.net] which is designed specifically for newspapers and seems to be pretty simple and workable ... written in php.

  • "I'm a part of a student run team at my school that develops a student website..."

    And the school owns the code and the site and etc...

    This has happened before. Sounds like you have a good idea here - don't let someone else own it before you get a chance to start it.

    Duke

  • by omega9 (138280) on Wednesday January 08, 2003 @01:26PM (#5041288) Homepage
    Someone mentioned PHP-Nuke earlier and I couldn't agree more.

    There are three of us in our MIS office, and between the three of us we are responsible for everything from backups to phones. When I first started there was no system for online information delivery. Initially we tried writing our own custom pages but it eventually became obvious that a prebuilt CMS would benifit us greatly. I'd had experience with PHP-Nuke before so we decided to give it a shot and it has been perfect for our needs ever since.

    Which ever package you potentially decide on it's likely you'll desire features that are not included. This turned from being our motiviation to create a whole site to creating custom modules for Nuke. Nuke gave us the base, and so far I've finished a staff/faculty information module, started an online scheduling application, and I'm currently working on moving our paper based critique system to a module as well.

    Unless you're looking to develop something soley to try and market, it's difficult to find a reason to start from scratch. A freshmeat search turns up a healthy ammount of people doing their own thing so you can scope out your competition. Otherwise, find the one you like the best and mod the hell out of it.
    • It's not reinventing the wheel - doing what they want in Nuke would require a bunch of patching to the Nuke storycode.

      Nuke lets you post stories and present them in a logical Slash-type layout. In fact, I'm almost sure it was "inspired" by old Slash. What they have created is something of a hybrid between a Content Management System, and a Workflow Management System, which I imagine lets stories pass through the various departments in the back-end befiore finally hitting the "publish" stage and going into the portal front-end.

      Nuke will not fill the need for what they have created - not without essentially rewriting it, in which case, they did the right thing in starting over and not adding all the other crap that Nuke does that a "Newspaper Portal" wouldn't need.

      • I agree, php-Nuke is great if you want a site that basically is /. except written in php instead of perl. But if you want to have anything to functions much differently its almost easier to find something else than to try and make nuke fit your needs.
  • SINapse (Score:2, Informative)

    by NBrooke271 (260498)
    The University of Oklahoma has a nice open-source package availible to do what you've described: SINapse [sinapse.org], the PHP backend for the Sooner Information Network [ou.edu]. Very effective and freely availible [sinapse.org].
    • Interesting you bring this up, as the student group I am in developed this backend before we started on the publishing system!
  • by OnyxRaven (9906)
    I'd say if the content and workflow management works well, and has lots of publishing-type functionality, there is a big market of small companies or sites looking for easy to use, cheap, extensible solutions. I know I am. We've written a system of our own, but with us not being experienced with the ins and outs of content management, it feels kludged together.

    Any online/print magazine or newsletter just starting up would benifit greatly from a slick solution, especially if it was open source.
  • A company called UWire went bankrupt doing this.

    Additionally, there is a lot of resistance to open-source solutions in the network administrations on college campuses. Most colleges have Novell or Windows based infrastructure everywhere but the science and computer/engineering schools.

    Instead of rolling your own, check for software others have written. OpenACS is a good start, but there's tons more. Search Freshmeat [freshmeat.net].

    • A company called UWire went bankrupt doing this.

      I don't know whether they ever went bankrupt (far as I know they've been owned by Student Advantage, those discount card people, for about 5 years). But they're not a content management system, they're a membership organization - similar to AP - that allows college newspapers to exchange stories.

      Additionally, there is a lot of resistance to open-source solutions in the network administrations on college campuses. Most colleges have Novell or Windows based infrastructure everywhere but the science and computer/engineering schools.

      This description fits a lot of small schools but certainly not the huge ones. Most of them find their needs far in excess of what the commercial vendors (other than Sun and a handful of other unix vendors) can provide.

      Either they roll their own (lots of key standards and toolsets, such as IMAP, LDAP, etc. came about this way) or they draw on the successful experiences of their peers, using open source software developed elsewhere.

      It's the same way with college newspapers, from what I've seen. The little ones use commercial packages or services. The big ones cobble together their own.

  • I'm the primary author of PROPS [sourceforge.net], which is an Internet publishing system (CMS) designed specifically for online newspapers, magazines, and other such publications. It is written in PHP4, and is free software released under the GPL.

    While our package still has some rough edges (it is at 0.6, and I consider the code to be of alpha quality) the software is in use on a number of live newspaper sites. As I've had my hands full with some other projects, it has been a while since I have had a chance to work on the code, however some other developers have recently been pitching in, and so I am hopeful that it won't be too much longer before we have a polished product ready. Any help toward that end would be greatly appreciated. In addition to programming help we welcome contributions of documentation, interface design, packaging, QA, support, demo templates, translations, etc.

    We would also certainly be interested in cooperating, communicating and sharing code with any other open-source newspaper CMS teams, especially those who are working in PHP.
  • You might be able to sell your system to people doing similar things--but other colleges? Perhaps not. I am the student body webmaster for my college and I put together a few iterations of a SQL-based content management system for putting the student newspaper online. I started with PHP templating and graduated to XSLT, and then--I ditched the whole thing and switched to PDF files indexed with ht://dig.

    Why? Well, the newspaper is sent to the printers in PDF format, so why should I waste hours each week scaling and cropping photos (or writing automation for it), stripping out 'smart quotes' and other web-unfriendly characters only to end up with something that looks mass-produced when I can serve up the pages as they were printed?

    One thing that became a problem right away with all the web applications I was writing was that I was the only one who knew how they worked, and how to use them. One thing that might test your dedication to such an endeavour is realizing that you won't sell much without good documentation, compatability (not everyone keeps their PHP installations up-to-date or compiles with the same settings), and an easy installation procedure. Systems that you've developed in-place won't have these things naturally. Anyway, best of luck--at the very least it will look good on a resume.

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