I have tried to build and organize several communities over the years. Not only publicly but also just keeping contacts for me.
The long history..
The first project I can remember was back some time in 1995 when I tried to help the local football club to keep track of its members. I made a nice interface in Delphi, using a normal file on a floppy as a back store. I tested the tool, it was easy to use. Until.. the day came where we filled the flat file database. Seeking and reading on a floppy works OK for 10 records. Add over 200 and things slow down considerably!
I was not discouraged, I learned from it. During this time I got my feet wet with SQL, learned how to set up a database properly, the normal forms and all. The knowledge mixed with Microsoft Access played out. The next version used the tools available in Access and was able to generate nice reports and bills. It was so useful that I made another tool to keep track of the sponsors too.
Having starting to use the Internet 1994, at the University was the next attempt to keep in touch. Leaving for the first summer vacation I figured it would be nice to be able to call or write people in case it would be needed. Having seen the problems of a central point of administration this was the first distributed attempt. Everybody could take care of their own address, as they would be best person to do it. HTML was still a bit clunky and not everybody learned it, so I put together a script in Perl that asked all the relevant details and wrote a HTML page in the public website part of the user account.
Privacy was not a part of the design. Success was OK, usefulness questionable.
I made several attempts to help set up something. 1999 for the students going to the USA from Luleå University. In 2001, the CERN students. All with varying success.
Trying to find a solution
Having moved around, living in several countries and cities, I have worked on building a solution. My Space, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ are came along but I have not been fond of the idea of moving all my contacts to some company. Especially since they all have had problems with privacy and taking care of their users.
I put a server online back in 2007 and that started the work setting up a separate solution to set up communities. I based it on a few premises. First everybody uses email, it might be out of style, but it is the basic communication of the Internet. One need a website to share information and larger files. A online calendar and contact server is important for easy updates. Editing HTML is too tedious. I tried it with a larger community, but at the end the editing just gets out of hand. Add a page and you have to change all the menus.
But there are a lot of content management systems you say! Yes, but they are all complex beast that can do a lot, and I wanted something very plain, using the tools I know. That made me write treecutter just for me. It uses Docbook and Git for content, and menus and design is generated and developed separately. It produces static content and that is enough for a community 90% of the time. It will problematic to collect content as it is.
Here I have written some pages to help deal with the tools I have built. This is for the people helping out in the communities I am trying to help, and for anyone else interested. This is work in progress.