Tag: Alfresco Meetup

Alfresco virtual meetup via Google Hangouts on July 2

On Monday, July 2 at 13:00 US/Central 19:00 London time we will have the first-ever Alfresco virtual meetup using Google Hangouts on Air. Planned panelists include Luis Sala, David Draper, Chris Paul, and myself. We’ll be talking about some cool side projects these guys have going, including a low-level JavaScript client for Alfresco called AlfJS, a Share Activities Browser Plug-in, and a look at Alpaca, a client-side forms and templating engine.

The meetup will be broadcast live on the Alfresco Google+ Page and recorded for later viewing on YouTube. Join us!

9 Things You Must Do to Have a Good Meetup

I spend a fair amount of time encouraging the formation of local community meetups around Alfresco and, when I can, attending many of these in all parts of the world. Alfresco meetups are especially fun because I get to meet people I’ve previously only known through the forums, IRC, or twitter.

I’ve started to identify characteristics of successful meetup groups. I thought I’d share them here and maybe others will add their ideas to the list.

Set an (interesting, relevant) agenda

Some meetups are staunchly anti-agenda. They exist because it is fun for people in the same or similar profession to get together to socialize. These have their place. For Alfresco meetups, however, I think it makes more sense to have a set agenda for each meeting. Sure, the agenda can have a “socializing” item on it, but I don’t think an Alfresco meetup that is based purely on socializing will last.

It’s also important that the agenda be interesting and relevant to your local community. I can’t tell you what that agenda is. You as a local community organizer should know. If you don’t, ask your attendees. Your attendees might be mostly technical. If so, you may have a code-filled agenda. Or, you might be completely non-technical so your agenda will be about end-user issues and solving business problems with Alfresco. I’ve been to some meetups that have a mix of both, so they start with a general interest topic and then split into technical and non-technical breakouts. The key is to know your group and what is going to work for them.

It shouldn’t be up to you to set the agenda for every meeting anyway. Make it a group effort. Or maybe rotate the responsibility.

Share responsibility

Speaking of that, find ways to get more people involved. A lot of these groups start out because one person is particularly passionate about a topic. That’s fine in the beginning, but look for ways to get others involved. It’s less work and it forms a stronger nucleus when others share the burden of the work that goes into consistently providing a quality meetup on a regular basis.

Provide food and drinks

It’s an easy win. A lot of times these meetings happen over lunch or dinner. Providing something to eat and drink helps people make the decision to come to your meetup when they are torn between their usual lunch spot and your meetup. Plus, pizza and beer are cheap crowd pleasers. Of course not everyone drinks beer so it’s a good idea to have something else on-hand, but you get the point.

In small groups, depending on the makeup, you might rotate refreshment duties. Or, try to get someone to sponsor your group and let them pick up the bill.

Foster connections

One of your roles as a community organizer is to act as a connector. You have a unique insight into each of your attendees’ motivation for attending the meetup so when you see two or more people that can help each other meet their goals make that introduction. The more connections you can make the more likely it is those people will return.

You might also consider setting up a channel for collaboration that can happen between meetings.

Publicize your meetup

Once you’ve set a time and a place for your meetup, you’ve got to get the word out. Many local Alfresco communities use meetup.com but there are alternatives. Regardless of where you host information about your meetup, make sure you are listed on the Local Communities wiki page.

If you are a partner and you are hosting or helping organize the meetup, contact your clients that are in the area and give them a personal invitation. You might even follow up on the day of the meetup to make sure they are coming.

If you let me know about your meetup I can help get the word out by inserting a blurb about it into Alfresco’s “Event Roundup” that goes out each month. I can also tweet about your meetup on my account and Alfresco’s.

I think sending out tweets a week prior, the day before, and the day of works pretty well.

Prohibit hard sales/recruiting pitches

If it turns out that your meetup is just an excuse to sell people your products or services, or people are descended upon by packs of rabid recruiters the minute they walk in the door, you’ll kill any chance you have of building something cool and long-term. No one wants to take time out of their personal schedule to hear a sales pitch. If you are a partner hosting the meetup, pay particular attention to this. People may walk in the door skeptical–you don’t want to confirm their fears with a hard sell.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t mention who donated the space or who paid for the sandwiches. If you want to keep getting free space and sandwiches you’ve got to do that. Just be cool about it. I think giving a sponsor two minutes to talk about what they do while everyone is grabbing a drink is reasonable.

As the meetup organizer it is your job to work with the rest of the group to establish ground rules about acceptable behavior and to swiftly (but professionally) deal with people who act outside the norms of your group.

Pick a central location

I live in Dallas, which isn’t just a city, it’s a “Metroplex”, which, roughly translated means, “No matter where you decide to have your meetup, someone’s going to drive an hour or more to get there.” That can make picking a meetup spot tough.

Especially when you are starting out, look at who’s coming and where they are coming from and try to pick a central location. You can try a different location for each meeting, but I’ve found that you will end up just getting a different set of attendees each time based on where the meeting is. There’s no easy answer. The best advice is to pick a central location, near main arteries and mass transit, make sure your start time comprehends traffic patterns at that time of the day, and make your agenda compelling enough that someone will want to make the journey.

Welcome everyone

It is important that everyone feel welcome at our meetups. This idea of inclusiveness is comprehensive. It covers everything from your relationship with Alfresco (Enterprise customer, Community user, partner, employee) to your demography (age, race, religion, sex, orientation). Everyone shares in the responsibility of fostering a welcoming atmosphere and raising the issue with the group its leaders if something is out-of-line.

Have fun!

Last, your meetup has got to be fun. We all sit in mind-numbing meetings as part of our day job. Why would we want to spend  personal time in yet another one? Part of this is about encouraging interactivity. Don’t just have presentation after presentation. Ask the attendees to share short stories about their projects or implementations. Maybe set a common goal to develop an add-on for the community and challenge another local community to do the same.

If you are organizing local community groups around Alfresco and you haven’t yet introduced yourself to me, please do so. I can also hook you into our community of community organizers, which we call Team LoCo (I stole the name from Jono Bacon). And, if you have additional thoughts on what makes a great meetup, please share them in the comments.

Last-minute San Diego Alfresco meetup on 7/13

A few of us are getting together in San Diego tomorrow (7/13) at the Hopping Pig to wallow around in some Alfresco topics. Want to join us? Hop over to the Orange County/San Diego Alfresco Meetup Google Group to let us know you’re coming, to check on logistics, and to be advised of last minute changes. This is an informal networking/planning type of meetup, so there is no formal agenda for this one.

Top Five Alfresco Roadmap Takeaways

Now that the last of the Alfresco Fall meetups has concluded in the US, I thought I’d summarize my takeaways. Overall I thought the events were really good. The informative sessions were well-attended. Everyone I talked to was glad they came and left with multiple useful takeaways.

Everyone has their own criteria for usefulness–for these events my personal set of highlights tend to focus on the roadmap. So here are my top five roadmap takeaways from the Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and LA meetups.

1. Repository unification strategy revealed

Now we know what Alfresco plans to do to resolve the “multiple repository” issue. In a nutshell: Alfresco will add functionality to the DM repository until it is on par with the AVM (See “What are the differences…“). What then? The AVM will continue to be supported, but if I were placing bets, I would not count on further AVM development past that point.

This makes a lot of sense to me. We do a lot of “WCM” for people using the Alfresco DM repository, especially when Alfresco is really being leveraged as a core repository. It also makes sense with Alfresco’s focus on CMIS (see next takeaway) because you can’t get to the AVM through CMIS.


Clearly, CMIS is an important standard for Alfresco. (In fact, one small worry I have is that Alfresco seems to need CMIS more than any of the other players behind the standard, but I digress). Alfresco wants to be the go-to CMIS repository and believes that CMIS will be the primary way front-ends interact with rich content repositories. They’ve been on top of things by including early (read “unsupported”) implementations of the draft CMIS specification in both the Community and Enterprise releases, but there a number of other CMIS-related items on the roadmap:

  • When the CMIS standard is out of public review, Alfresco will release a “CMIS runtime”. Details are sketchy, but my hunch is that Alfresco might be headed toward a Jackrabbit/Day CRX model where Alfresco’s CMIS runtime would be like a freely-available reference CMIS repository (Alfresco stripped of functionality not required to be CMIS compliant) and the full Alfresco repository would continue as we know it today. All speculation on my part.
  • Today deployments are either FSR (Alfresco-to-file system) or ASR (Alfresco AVM to Alfresco AVM). The latter case is used when you have a front-end that queries Alfresco for its content but you want to move that load off of your primary authoring server. In 3.2, the deployment service has gotten more general, so it’s one deployment system with multiple extensible endpoint options (file system, Alfresco AVM, CouchDB, Drupal, etc.). Alfresco will soon add AVM-to-CMIS deployment. That means you can deploy from AVM to the DM repository. Does it mean you can deploy to any CMIS repository? Not sure. If not, that might be a worthwhile extension.
  • One drawback to using DM for WCM currently is that there is not a good deployment system to move your content out of DM. It’s basically rsync or roll-your-own. On the roadmap is the ability to deploy from DM instead of AVM. This is one of the features the DM needs to get it functionally equivalent to what you get with the AVM. I wouldn’t expect it until 4.0.

3. Shift in focus to developers

Alfresco WCM has always been a decoupled system. When you install Alfresco WCM you don’t get a working web site out-of-the-box. You have to build it first using whatever technology you want, and then let Alfresco manage it. So, unlike most open source CMS’, it’s never been end-user focused in the sense of, “I’m a non-technical person and I want a web site, so I’m going to install Alfresco WCM”. Don’t expect that to change any time soon. Even Web Studio, which may not ever make it to an Enterprise release, is aimed at making Surf developers productive, not your Marketing team.

Alfresco is realizing that many people discard the Alfresco UI and build something custom, whether for document management, web content management, or some other content-centric use case. To make that easier, Alfresco is going to rollout development tools like Eclipse plug-ins, Maven compatibility, and Spring Roo integration (Uzi’s Spring Roo Screencast, Getting Started with Spring Roo ).

Alfresco has also announced that web scripts, web studio, and the Surf framework will be licensed under Apache and there were allusions to “making Surf part of Spring” or “using Surf as a Tiles replacement”. I haven’t seen or heard much from the Spring folks on this and I noticed these topics were softened between DC and LA, but that could have just been based on who was doing the speaking (see “What do you think of Alfresco’s multi-event approach?“).

Essentially what’s going on here is that Alfresco wants all of your future content-centric apps and even web sites to be “CMIS applications”, and Alfresco believes it can provide the best, most productive development platform for writing CMIS apps.

4. Stuff that may never happen but would be cool if it did

This is a grab bag of things that are being considered for the roadmap, but are far enough out to be uncertain. Regardless of if/when, these are sometimes a useful data point for where the product is headed directionally.

  • Native XML support. Right now Alfresco can manage XML files, obviously, but, unlike a native XML database like eXist or MarkLogic, the granularity stops with the file. Presumably, native XML support would allow XML validation, XPath and XQuery expressions running against XML file content, and better XSLT support.
  • Apache Solr. I think the goal here is to get better advanced search capability such as support for faceted search, which is something Solr knows how to do.
  • Repository sharding. This would be the ability to partition the repository along some (arbitrary?) dimension. Sharding is attractive to people who have very, very large repositories and want to distribute the data load across multiple physical repositories, yet retain the ability to treat the federation as one logical repo.

5. Timeline

Talk to Alfresco if you need this to be precise, but here’s the general idea of the timeline through 4.0 based on the slides I saw:

  • 3.2 Enterprise 12/2009
  • CMIS 1.0 Release Spring 2010
  • 3.3 Enterprise 1H 2010
  • 4.0 Enterprise 12/2010 (more likely 2011)

Thanks, Alfresco, and everyone who attended

Lastly, thanks to Nancy Garrity and the rest of the team that put these events together. I enjoyed presenting on Alfresco-Drupal in Atlanta and giving the Alfresco Best Practices talk (Alfresco Content Community login required).

I always enjoy the informal networking that happens at these events. There’s such a diverse group of experience levels, use cases, and businesses–it makes for interesting conversations. And, as usual, thanks to the book and blog readers who approached me. It always makes me happy to hear that something on your project was better for having read something I wrote. It was good meeting you all and I’m looking forward to the next get-together.

What do you think about Alfresco’s multi-city event approach?

Alfresco is getting big enough to warrant a regular get-together. So far, the approach has been to have multiple, smaller events rather than one big one as is done by traditional vendors. Over the past few weeks I’ve been wondering if the multi-event model makes sense. I get the concept: Theoretically it boosts attendance and helps attendees contain costs because people don’t have to travel as far–the conference comes to you.

But there are a few problems with the approach:

  1. you can never pick enough cities in the right places to reduce the travel burden to zero for everyone,
  2. partners and sponsors have to attend multiple events to get full coverage, and
  3. it’s tough to ensure consistent delivery of information across multiple events.

Regarding the first two, I would think anyone contemplating an Alfresco rollout (or already a paying customer) would be able to find budget to travel to a conference, even in times such as these. Integrators also make up a significant portion of the audience, but I think they would also be able to justify the trip based on the valuable lessons learned, new ideas sparked, etc. I would also guess that partners and vendors might be more willing to sponsor the conference if there were a single event rather than multiple smaller events because they get more eyeballs for one spend.

If these were the only two issues, I’d say it doesn’t matter. You’re either going to travel to the conference or you’re going to get lucky and not have to because the event is in your city. And partners who can afford sponsorships can also afford to send people to multiple cities to get the coverage they want (thanks, Optaros).

The third problem needs fixing. As someone who saw the same agenda delivered three times, I was struck by how different the morning sessions were in each of the three cities:

  • If you missed Washington D.C., you missed John Newton’s unique spin on CMIS, his statement that in Alfresco 4.0 he would “finish off the Explorer client”, and his thoughts on the cloud.
  • If you missed Atlanta, you didn’t get to hear Michael Uzquiano talk about the future of the product he manages, Alfresco WCM, and Alfresco’s plan to converge on the DM repository going forward.
  • If you missed LA, you didn’t see Luis Sala’s Amazon EC2 demo and you didn’t hear Dr. Ian Howells’ take on where the ECM market is heading.

In all three cases the content was similar (Alfresco is growing, CMIS, Records Management, and the cloud are important, the roadmap is exciting), but the delivery and the talking points were very different because the speakers each have their own unique perspective, careabouts, and role within Alfresco. Is that a big deal? Maybe, maybe not. The point is that the three events were decidedly different, and in hindsight, were travel not an issue, you might have picked one over another based on who was speaking on which topic.

I definitely don’t want to take away from the events and the planning and coordination it must have taken to pull them all off. I’m just thinking out loud and wondering about your opinion:

  • Would Alfresco be better off having a single event or should they continue with the multi-city approach?
  • Would your opinion change if you had to pay a significant registration fee to defray the cost of a larger venue? (I have no idea how the costs compare between the two models, I just assume a big room in Vegas is more expensive than three small rooms in assorted Marriotts).
  • What if Alfresco dove-tailed the conference with a broader conference like JavaOne or SpringOne? Aside from the obvious cross-pollination possibilities, does it make it easier for you to justify the expense?

Alfresco Best Practices Masters Class shaping up for Fall Meet-ups

Peter Monks (Alfresco), Russ Danner (Rivet Logic), and I have been working on compiling course content for the “Alfresco Best Practices” Masters Class that will be given at the Alfresco Community Meet-Ups around the world this Fall. I’m a bit worried, though. If you’ll forgive the somewhat graphic mixed metaphor, the three of us have done this huge brain dump and now we’re stirring it together in the hopes that we can firehose the audience and have some of it stick. There’s just a lot of stuff to cover in very little time. (I’m sure between now and then we’ll get it to be less of a hose down. And, whatever we don’t get to in the session will be made available online for your reference).

Our plan for the talk is to cover the material in the same conceptual order that your implementation will go through. We’ll start by understanding the most common business use cases for Alfresco. Then we’ll talk about the pieces of Alfresco that you have to work with, and sort of line those up against the common use cases. From there, we’ll dive in to best practices for each of the pieces, roughly in order that you’d touch them (start with content modeling, move to writing code, then deployment, then keeping everything running). We’re going to share best practices on extensions, UI customizations, WCM, Surf, backup/restore procedures, and on and on.

Hopefully, regardless of where you are in your implementation, you’ll be able to come away with at least a handful of tips, tricks, or things to avoid that will make your project more successful.

Russ will deliver the material in Washington, D.C. and I’m taking Atlanta and L.A. I’ll also be in D.C. to steal ideas from Russ’ delivery that I can pass off as my own. Toni de la Fuente will be giving the talk in Madrid (and translating the deck into Spanish). I’m not sure who’s delivering the material at the other European events.

In any case, I’m looking forward to it. If you’ll be attending any of the North American meet-ups, be sure to say hi.

Highlights from the Alfresco Meetup in Chicago

Other than the drenching I received between the blue line and the hotel (both coming and going) I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Chicago with the Alfresco crew last week. I ran into some Optaros customers, past colleagues, blog and book readers, and even some consultants from another firm who told me they came across some code I wrote for a client many years ago that they now support. (It was a custom Documentum WDK app for a certain carbonated beverage company that was actually pretty cool at the time, but I’d love to re-do it on an open stack).

The day was well-spent with Matt Asay kicking off with a state of the union, of sorts, followed by a couple of sessions from Michael Uzquiano, Alfresco product manager. I thought Uzi’s discourse on the macro- and micro-economic climate was interesting, but a bit arduous. Yes, we’re in some tough times and that’s good for open source. Check. Next slide. My favorite part of his talks were on the Alfresco roadmap (see Highlights, below).

Ed Wentworth, from Orbitz, gave a cool talk on how they’re using Alfresco. Ed’s team is implementing what I think is a best practice pattern: Services-Oriented Content Management. Orbitz has a lot of dynamic sites built on content chunks, not complete, fully-baked pages. So they leverage Alfresco’s strengths as a core repository, and then expose the repository as a service to the front-end (and to other services). They use the web client only for atypical or administrative interactions, and custom Share components and Surf apps for content authoring.

Orbitz also leverages an “Enterprise Content Bus” comprised of a ServiceMix ESB, BPM, and a rules engine (more info on ECB here and here). The ECB is primarily focused on orchestrating content-centric processes like content routing and delivery. Not everyone is going to need an ECB but if you’ve got anything that resembles a content production pipeline, it can really make your processes much more flexible with less code.

TSG did a cool demo on an open source solution for annotating attachments (screencast). It looks like it is still in dev mode but it’s got a great start and hopefully they’ll continue to enhance this and make it available to the community.

I did the Alfresco-Drupal CMIS integration demo (screencast) which seemed to go over well. Most people in the room acknowledged that they have more than one CMS, so there was interest something that could enable multiple web sites talking to one or more back-end CMS repositories using a standard API (CMIS).

At the end of the day a sort of “Everything you wanted to know about Alfresco but were afraid to ask” roundtable formed which was cool. I tried to demo the Alfresco-Django integration we’ve been working on. It worked on the plane and works now, but the demo gods chose that very day to expire my Alfresco license, and although hard to miss, I didn’t notice that as the root of my problem until after the meeting. It’s all good now so if you’ll be at the San Francisco event next week and want to see Django and Alfresco working together, let me know.

Highlights of the Alfresco Talks

  • Alfresco now has 1000 paying customers. Matt says it took Documentum many years to get to that point. With the price disparity, obviously, Alfresco needs many more customers than Documentum to thrive, but still, that’s quite an achievement.
  • There’s a Groovy renderer coming to Surf after 3.2.
  • Speaking of Surf, I’m not sure when it is coming, but Spring WebFlow is now being integrated into Surf which is much-needed.
  • If you’re looking for CMIS resources, CMISDev.org is a new site aimed at pulling a lot of that stuff together.
  • 3.2 Labs targeted for June
  • 3.2 Enterprise targeted for September 2009
  • 3.3 Labs/Enterprise targeted for 1Q 2010
  • 4.0 Labs/Enterprise targeted for 2nd half of 2010

The 3.2 release is shaping up to be pretty major. Here are some of the things planned for 3.2 that caught my ear:

Surf Mobile. This is an addition to the Surf framework that makes it easier to develop Surf apps that work well on the iPhone, although audience members said the demo site was also usable on their Blackberries.

New Form Service. Today you’ve got “property sheets” in the Explorer client which are driven by the content model and the web-client configuration XML, web forms in WCM which are defined using XSD, and custom forms in Surf which aren’t defined using any kind of framework at all. The new form service will provide a single form definition/presentation framework across the entire Alfresco platform. It’s a Good Thing.

IMAP integration. This allows you to use your Outlook client (and Thunderbird and whatever else you use that knows IMAP) to get things into and out of the repository. One use for this is to archive email by dragging-and-dropping mail into mail folders which are backed by Alfresco. Another is to easily snag content from the repo without leaving the mail client. I don’t know if it will be in there, but a great feature would be to allow me to drag-and-drop a piece of Alfresco content onto my message which would then get translated into the download URL rather than a file attachment.

Clustering. Several attendees fell to the ground and wept, overcome with emotion, when Uzi said 3.2 would support real clustering of both the DM and WCM repositories. Clustering is something that has bedeviled complex Alfresco implementations. I’ll maintain my composure until I see this actually working.

Index refactoring. Ever do a search that fails to return a piece of content you know is in the repo? Or, the other way, when you see something that you know was deleted? Do you mark the time it takes to reindex your repository (to fix index inconsistencies) by how many times the moon rises and sets? I have no idea whether any of these issues will get better in 3.2 but hearing “index” and “refactor” in the same sentence makes me hopeful.

All-in-all I’d say it was one of the better Alfresco-led meetups. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with many of you next week in San Francisco. I’ll see you there.