I’m hoping this year will be the year that PASS makes a substantial investment in tools – the online kind – for chapters. Just providing DNN hosting is not enough, and while I like having that option for the group or person that wants to be a power user, for most of us we’d do better with something closer to a vertical application that does a few things very very well. We’ve proven the value of that approach with SQLSaturday (if it needs proving!) and it’s maybe the most effective way to make an investment that scales. At the same time I think that for chapters they need the option to have more control over their sites – their own logo, their own layout.
I’m going to start with some features I’ve long wanted, then loop back to what the tool model looks like:
- Effective emailing. I want the ability to quickly and easily send a logo’d message with an unsubscribe link to various portions of the chapter list. That’s base functionality and we could copy the idea from how SQLSaturday mailings work.
- Bounce management. Member addresses go stale. Cleaning the list is busy work, work that tools can do for us.
- RSVP. I like Eventbrite. Maybe we could do an API level integration to continue that, but I think there is more value in building a simple RSVP system.
- Event calendaring and reminders. I want the ability to describe an event (date, speaker, etc) and then schedule a series of reminders based on that, all including automatic links to the RSVP page and an iCal attachment. Ideally it would post the event to LinkedIn and include that link too, and of course announcements on Twitter.
- A blog that supports LiveWriter. Most of the “content” on a chapter web site would fit will into the blog format.
- Sponsor management. Two parts here. One is an easy way to schedule and assign various ads to appear on the site and in emails, with click tracking,to various ad locations. The other is capturing funds. This might be similar to SQLSaturday where they pick from a list of sponsor levels,but more likely would be picking from a list of dates (with the cost attached).
- Speaker management. Make it easy for a speaker to submit a presentation once the scheduling has been figured out (and it needs to be a standard format to make the message building easier).
I could go on, but if we had those capabilities, what a time savings! I see all of those as things that are implemented as ‘back office’ functionality and accessed through something like opass.org/tools. If we build that on a layer of services, we get lots of presentation layer options.
For the presentation layer I don’t think DNN as it’s offered to chapters is good enough. Let’s look as some ideas:
- Continue to offer DNN. It’s a powerful platform and for those that take time to learn can do big things, and it’s skinnable. Add tools/widgets to support the ideas above, and come up with some smoother layouts by default. Not my favorite option, but not in favor of rip and replace at the expense of those who have invested time in their site already.
- Add an option to support WordPress. Tradeoffs here. Great tools for blogging, tons of plug-ins to do lots of stuff (like post to Twitter), not so good at member management (though there are some plugs-in that support that, like BuddyPress).
- Build a true vertical. Spend some money on making it look good (see SQLSaturday, SQLRally, but clearly NOT the PASS site) and make it first class.
In terms of time to market, WordPress wins, and it has a multi-site hosting model. It’s probably “good enough” and there is that huge market of themes and plug-ins. I think that is the starting place and then we can look to see if we need the vertical – or if we just need to write a few PASS specific plug-ins.
I think the Year of the Chapter has been too long in coming – will it be this year? Post your own ideas about what PASS can do to better support Chapters, or send new Chapter Director Allen Kinsel (LinkedIn, Twitter) a note supporting mine, either way – let’s challenge him to post a strategy and execute on it so that when he runs for re-election this fall we’ll have something to base our vote on.