Month: May 2011

Screencasts highlight upcoming Alfresco Share features

[UPDATE: Due to the popularity of this post, Thorsten had to relocate his screencasts to this page, so I’ve removed the individual links and added a link to the entire collection. I’m also adding bullets for two new features he recorded screencasts for since the original post]

I came across this today via Twitter. Thorsten Schminkel (@schminkel) has posted a collection of screencasts that highlight new Alfresco Share features currently checked in to Alfresco Community head. Each is about a minute or less–just enough to get the gist of the following features:

  • Trashcan
  • In-place file name editor
  • Video preview
  • Manage system users
  • Change logo
  • Image preview dashlet
  • Drag-and-drop import
  • User-defined document library sorting
  • Like counter
  • Email notification configuration
  • User import via CSV

The latest official release of Alfresco Community is 3.4.d. Last month Alfresco released a preview release called 3.4.e meant to give everyone a first look at the new Activiti integration. None of the features Thorsten shows in these screencasts are available yet in an official release. Look for an official Community release to happen in late Summer or early Fall with an Enterprise release by the end of the year. If you can’t wait, you can do what Thorsten did: Check out the latest Community code from subversion, build it, and have fun playing with these and other new features.

Alternatively, functionally similar versions of some of these features have already been implemented by members of the community for versions of Alfresco in use today:

Thanks for doing those screencasts, Thorsten, and let me know if you create any more so we can add them to the list.

Alfresco DevCon 2010 presentations now available

I’ve uploaded most of the presentations from Alfresco DevCon 2010 to SlideShare. The easiest way to get to them is to use the DevCon 2010 tag.

You may be thinking, “Damn, the conference was seven months ago, why do I care?” and to that I have two responses. First, sorry. We’ll do better this year. Second, the collection includes some really helpful resources on a variety of topics. I think every one of them could help someone out there on projects today.

Here are some of my favorites:

Okay, that’s half of the sessions, but it is hard to narrow them down. Anyway, take a look and favorite the ones you really like. Also, if you are planning on attending DevCon this year, feel free to give me feedback like, “More sessions like this would be great,” or “Maybe not so much of this one this year”. That will help me plan the conference tracks and content.

Getting involved with a local Alfresco community

Even though there are still two weeks to go in this year’s Alfresco Community Survey, I couldn’t help but start to review the 1200 or so responses we’ve received so far. There are some great insights and suggestions coming through, but there’s one I wanted to jump on right away: It’s clear that a significant portion of the Community would like to see more local, Alfresco-focused, non-marketing,  gatherings (aka, meetups). And I’m right there with you. I think it is extremely important that local groups of people interested in Alfresco are able to get together regularly to share tips and tricks, to network, and to have fun. In this post I want to outline my perspective on events, my plan for local meetups, and some ideas on how to get involved with a local Alfresco community.

Alfresco Community Meetups are different from other events

Alfresco drives many types of events worldwide, including presence at third-party conferences, lunch-and-learns, training, and webinars. We also do an annual developer’s conference called Alfresco DevCon. Last year DevCon was in New York and Paris. We’re starting to plan for this year’s DevCon. We’re still finalizing cities and dates and I’ll let you know when that happens.

The events I’ve listed so far are completely driven by Alfresco. But there are several groups around the world that get together and talk about Alfresco on their own. These are grassroots, locally-organized meetups. Some meet more regularly than others. Some are a handful of people getting together for an informal happy hour while others are large groups with formal agendas, name tags, and everything.

In addition to these locally-run meetups, in the past, Alfresco has conducted “Community Meetups” that were really more like mini-conferences that happened in multiple geographies. These were fun and informative events, but they can’t happen with the frequency and scale that locally-driven meetups can.

Going forward, I’d like you, the community, to drive local meetups. And I’d like to see these happening more frequently, in more parts of the globe, for technical and non-technical audiences regardless of the Alfresco product they use. I want more people to feel that sense of family that I feel when I walk into a room full of people who share the same hopes, joys, and frustrations with Alfresco.

Local Alfresco communities should be driven by the local community

In short, I don’t want Alfresco to own, control, or constrain local Alfresco communities in any way. Ideally, anywhere there are two or more people that care about Alfresco, a local meet-up would form and those people would get together fairly regularly and, hopefully, grow to include others over time.

Alfresco’s role is to foster and support these local communities. I think we can add value in the following ways:

  • Alfresco can serve as a “connector”, matching up groups of interested community members with people willing to organize the local community
  • Alfresco can supply presentation content and, in some cases, people to deliver it in-person
  • Alfresco can help promote your meetup and drive attendance
  • Alfresco can support communities with Alfresco-branded giveaways and other small incentives

What we lack is the hyper-local perspective into the topics the local community is most interested in, the ability to know all of the cool projects going on in your area, and the feet on the ground to make every meeting a success. That’s where you come in. Local community events shouldn’t be driven by Alfresco’s Marketing team–they should be driven by you, the community, and Alfresco will do everything we can to support you.

So, as part of this, I’ve been reaching out to various communities around the world. If they haven’t met in a while, I’m encouraging them to get together, even if it is an informal meet-and-greet. If it is a group that was just thinking about getting together, I’m asking them to take that first step. And, if it is a group that has been meeting a while, I’m asking what, if anything, you need from me to keep it going.

How can you get involved?

This wiki page is the master list of existing local communities we know about as well as communities that people are interested in forming. If you are participating in a local community or are interested in forming one and that’s not reflected on the list, please update the wiki page.

Take the first step

If you are lucky enough to live near an established community, sign up and attend. If there isn’t a meeting happening any time soon ask the innocent question, “Why isn’t there a meeting happening any time soon?”. Maybe you’ll be the spark that gets it going again.

If you want to organize a meetup, it’s pretty easy. Decide on a time and a place, then let everyone know about it. You can use sites like or Google Groups to facilitate sign-up and collaboration, but that’s not a requirement.

If there isn’t a meetup already organized near you and you’d like to find out if others are interested, go to, search for your city, and add your name to the list.

Decide where to take it from here

That first meeting doesn’t have to be a big production. It isn’t much work to get together and talk about what you are doing with Alfresco. While you’re talking, you may want to:

  • Set a focus. Is the goal to network, to learn from others, or something more specific? For example, I have been talking to multiple communities about organizing Alfresco-focused hack-a-thons/code sprints that would have a goal of creating new or contributing to existing Alfresco community projects.
  • Decide how often you want to get together. Meet too often and you’ll burn out the group. Don’t meet often enough and your group will lose interest. Somewhere in the neighborhood of monthly or quarterly is probably best.
  • Decide on an agenda for future meetings (or whether to have an agenda at all). You might have an end-user focused group that discusses tips/tricks for using the product and walks through case studies. Or, you might have a more technical group that dives into the details of a different part of the platform each meeting.
  • Establish ground rules. Maybe for your group, the rules are there are no rules. Or maybe a couple of common sense ground rules would help. It depends on the focus you’ve set. For example, you might want to ban blatant sales pitches and recruiters.
  • Pick an organizer. Someone needs to be on point for reminding the group about upcoming meetings. If you’ve decided on a more formal sort of group, that person will also need to facilitate setting the agenda and find people to speak. I’d recommend rotating this responsibility every 3 to 6 months, but you can decide.

Keep me posted

If you get a meetup going I want to know about it so I can support your group in the ways I’ve outlined above. Who knows, maybe I’ll even show up in person at one of your meetings.

Take the 2011 Alfresco Community Survey

When I announced my new role as Alfresco’s Chief Community Officer I mentioned that I would be asking you, the community of end-users, developers, partners, and Alfresco employees, for your input on how to make the Alfresco Community the example for all other commercial open source companies to follow. Obviously, I’ll take feedback in any form I can get it, but what would be great is if you would take 15 minutes to complete this survey. If you complete the survey by May 31, 2011, you could win one of two $250 Amazon gift cards.

Now, I know surveys can be a beating. But the information it helps me gather will allow us to plan all kinds of great things for the Alfresco community, from events to community tools. So, please speak up and give me your opinion and I’ll promise to listen and then to push for changes that matter most to the community. I’ll also summarize and present this data back to the community. If we do this year after year, we can hopefully see some cool trends emerge as we make progress.

Will Abson’s Wonderful World of Dashlets

Back when Alfresco first launched Surf, the framework on which Alfresco Share is based, a handful of us went to Chicago to hang out in a conference room on a ship in the harbor where we did a deep dive on the framework and then came up with proposed add-ons that would leverage it. I was at Optaros at the time. Our add-on was the Alfresco Share microblogging component and we also did some Surf Code Camps. The goal, of course, was to get the word out about Surf and encourage others to develop and contribute Share customizations.

The deep dive was great and the code camps that followed were valuable and well-attended. What I think the approach missed was that you don’t need to be a Surf expert to code some simple dashlets. We were handing out “How to Fly the Space Shuttle” when we probably should have started with “Building and Launching Your First Model Rocket”.

That’s why Will Abson is my current Alfresco community hero. At this year’s Alfresco Kickoff meeting in Orlando (notes), Will showed a project he and a few others have been working on called Share Extras. Share Extras is a collection of small projects ranging from “Hello World” dashlets to custom theme, data lists, and document action examples.

For example, the list of what I’d call simple, mash-up examples includes things like:

  • Twitter Feed Dashlet – Shows a specific Twitter user’s feed.
  • Twitter Search Dashlet – Shows a Twitter feed based on a hashtag.
  • BBC Weather Dashlet – Shows weather feed from BBC.
  • Flickr Dashlets – Shows flickr photos in a slideshow.
  • Google Site News – Shows the last ten blog posts from Google News.
  • iCal Feed – Shows entries from an iCal feed.
  • Notice Dashlet – Stores/shows arbitrary text, like what you’d use for a maintenance message or an announcement.
  • Train times – Shows the National Rail train schedule.

From there, you can move on to more extensive examples. For example, rather than simply displaying data from public services, these examples start to store/retrieve data in the underlying Alfresco repository:

  • Site Tags Dashlet – Displays a tag cloud consisting of tags used in your site.
  • Site Poll Dashlet – Uses a custom data list type called Poll to configure a simple poll. Shows results in bar chart.
  • Document Geographic Details – Adds a map using the document’s geocoding metadata just below the permissions section.
  • Sample Data Lists – A simple data list example that lets you capture info on Books (author, title, ISBN).
  • Execute Script Custom Document Action – Shows an example of adding a custom action to the action list that runs server-side JavaScript against a node.

The nice thing is that (almost) every one of these extensions deploys as a self-contained JAR file. Will’s build assumes you are running the repository and the Share web apps in the same container, so it deploys the JAR to $TOMCAT_HOME/shared/classes/lib, but you can obviously tweak that if your config is different. The ability to run everything out of a JAR, including what would normally be file system based resources like CSS, client-side JavaScript, and images is a relatively new feature (3.3, I think). It’s much nicer than fooling with AMPs.

Here is a list of my five favorites from the collection:

  • Node Browser – A port of the Explorer client’s node browser to the Share UI. I like this one because it brings an extremely useful developer tool into Share, which is where most of us are spending time these days. It also shows how you can plug your own tools into Share’s admin console.
  • Red Theme – A simple custom theme example. This is on my favorites list because creating a custom theme is something that is requested often and should be easy to do. Follow this example to create your own.
  • Site Geotagged Content Dashlet – Adds a dashlet that shows a map of geotagged content contained in the document library. I can’t help it. I like maps.
  • Site Blog Dashlet – Dashlet that shows site blog posts. This is a favorite because it plugs a hole in the product. If you’re going to use the blog tool in a Share site, you’re going to want to show those posts somewhere and a dashlet makes a lot of sense.
  • Wiki Rich Content – Automatically puts a table of contents at the top of a wiki page based on the headings contained within the page. Also does a nice job with pre-formatted text. This is another example of a feature that should probably be in the core product.

The Google Code project includes screenshots for each of these projects, but it is really easy to do a checkout on the code, import the projects into Eclipse, create a file in your home directory to override the tomcat.home prop, then run “ant hotcopy-tomcat-jar” to deploy one and see it in action for yourself. I tried them all out on Alfresco 3.4d Community and they worked great. I think all but one or two will work on 3.3.

The Share Extras project includes a Sample Project with a folder structure and Ant build that you can clone and use as a starting point for your own development. If you create something cool, you should share it on Google Code and then let me know about it. Or give it to Will and he can add it to his ever-growing pile of cool Share add-on examples.