Over at SourceForge, the July Project of the Month (as elected by the community) is eXo, described as “a highly customizable, social-collaboration enterprise platform.” One of the project’s managers, Patrice Lamarque, talked with SourceForge about the project’s history and direction.
Tell me about the eXo project, please.
eXo produces a social collaboration platform for the enterprise, with software and add-ons. Large and medium-sized companies that desire social collaboration within their information system or that build an online community, social intranet, or a customer/partner portal use eXo’s platform.
The eXo platform has many social collaboration features built in, such as wikis, forums, documents, Q&A, calendars, and content management built around a social layer composed of activity streams, rich profiles, and social networking. It is standards-based, enterprise-ready, and highly extensible via apps, add-ons, templates, portlets, gadgets, Java, and REST APIs.
What made you start this?
The eXo project started back in 2001 and was released as the first open-source Java portlet container in 2002. Back in the day, it was an exploration of open source development and open standards.
Has the original vision been achieved?
The original vision of a composite application container has long since been surpassed. Over the years, we’ve built on top of the portal’s framework to add documents and content management, collaboration, and social networking.
Who can benefit the most from your project?
Enterprise customers with internal or external facing Internet portals and social communities benefit from eXo’s platform.
What is the need for this particular social collaboration platform?
Social collaboration is being adopted very quickly in the enterprise world to boost employee satisfaction, productivity, innovation, and decision-making. However, there are few open-source solutions that can compete with big-name proprietary solutions in terms of enterprise readiness and user experience.
What’s the best way to get the most out of using eXo?
While it’s a very extensible and customizable platform that can be used in a wide range of scenarios, eXo’s social platform is an out-of-the-box and ready-to-use software package. The user experience is optimized to quickly engage employees and get the full benefits of social collaboration.
What has your project team done to help build and nurture your community?
We’ve built a community website with forums, project docs, and other resources. We’ve placed downloads on SourceForge and built a marketplace of add-ons. See our recent guest blog post on SourceForge.
Have you all found that more frequent releases helps build up your community of users?
We have found that download ranks on SourceForge and proper placement in the enterprise directory generates lots of traction for us.
What was the first big thing that happened for your project?
After the first version of the eXo portlet container was coded, Benjamin Mestrallet (our founder and CEO) wrote an in-depth article that was published on TheServerSide.com. The success was overwhelming. Indeed, the eXo portal container was the first open source implementation of the portlet specification, beating big proprietary vendors to the punch!
What helped make that happen?
Tons of caffeine, months of sleepless nights, and a passion for open source.
What was the net result for that event?
Shortly after the article was published, we were contacted by the American Department of Defense, which had noticed the article. They were looking for a portal framework to build a new communication platform as part of the chain of command in war zones. They wanted to hire us to do consulting for the project. The thing is, there was no company so we were unable to bill. Hence, we jumped on the opportunity by incorporating eXo and signing up our first prestigious customer!
What is the next big thing for eXo?
At the current rate, we should welcome our 50,000th individual member by the end of the year! We’ve always had community forums. We initially started with SourceForge forums before we built a forum app into the product and started our own community website. This served as an informal support channel between individual developers, employees, customers, and partners. Last year, when we upgraded it to the latest major version (eXo Platform 4), we observed a surge in participation. New sign-ups exploded and name the “eXo Tribe” was born. Within the year, the community website went from around 4,000 to 20,000 members!
Do you have the resources you need to make that happen?
The eXo community website contains more than support forums. It’s a place where developers, partners, or eXo lovers can find quality documentation and tutorials that leverage the eXo Platform 4. A knowledge base, built and maintained by the eXo global support team, includes many walkthroughs built around advanced customer cases.
In addition, the Add-ons Center centralizes extra integrations and apps to extend eXo capabilities. Many add-ons have their own discussion space in the community. We even showcase some of them, such as the chat application and real-time video calls to instantly connect with community. And it a place where we support translation contributions from the community. To date, eXo has been fully translated into 20 languages.
And we have a full-time team to respond to community expectations and improve the website. So yes, we are in good shape to make it happen!
If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently for eXo?
It’s hard to tell because eXo has already a long history and we experimented with many things. Some worked well, others less. As with many open source projects, we neglected self-promotion for many years. Sure, we speak at conferences and participate actively in the open-source community in general, but we put little effort into spreading the word of eXo and its benefits. I guess we were too busy building the product for impatient customers. Perhaps focusing on extending the community earlier would have been a good thing to do.
Because communities generate contributions like feedback, adoption, and distribution that are critical for success. A community is great a catalyst for energy and motivation!
Any reason you can’t expand your community now?
Frankly, I don’t see anything stopping the eXo community from growing in size and in participation. This past year, hundreds of community members contributed translations via this link, making the eXo Platform 4 translation into 20 languages 100% complete. It’s the cycle of adding languages and gaining more members who contribute that spreads the word.
Is there anything else we should know?
We’ve matured into a global company (with help from 130 employees on four continents) to become both production and enterprise ready. Learn more about eXo here.
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