Plone Open Garden 2012 - Sorrento
Once again this year I attended the Plone Open Garden event in Sorrento, Italy. This is an event I look forward to during the year as it gives a chance to really take a step back and chat with people about what is going on in the world of Plone. This year the event went fully to an unconference style and there were no pre-scheduled talks. The number of attendees was smaller this year than in previous years, but that just served to give the event a more intimate feel and a bit more like a sprint than a conference.
We had the use of an indoor meeting room which we used for when we wanted to show or present things on a projector, but otherwise most of the discussions took place outside in the sunshine at the pool terrace.
The thing I like most about this event is the chance to sit down outside in the evening and chat to other Plonistas about the future of Plone and find out more about their businesses and how things are going. It is great to compare issues that affect us all but may be slightly different in each country, e.g. public sector rules on accessibility or procurement. This gives us a chance to try and work out where common things can be shared between businesses instead of us all going our own way on it.
Of course, the food, the sunshine, the scenery and the general Italian hospitality are big draws to the event. In Italy family is a very important thing and you can tell this with the attitude to kids compared to in the UK. In Italy a child running about and making noise playing is celebrated rather than frowned upon...
...so in a slight fit of madness I brought my wife and 16 month old daughter along on the trip too. This was my daughter's first time on a plane and whilst things were not entirely to plan everything did in the end work out great. They both went off to explore the sights of Pompeii, Sorrento and the Amalfi coast whilst the rest of us were busy working.
My main, personal, goal for going to PLOG was to work on the upcoming plone.com site. This is a site to be aimed at the decision makers and end users looking at Plone rather than the developers (which plone.org is aimed at). This project has had a bit of a delay getting off the ground, so I was determined to get some specific tasks done at the event.
The first task was to work on a 'feature list' for Plone. As crazy as it sounds this is something that we don't really have for Plone. If you go to Plone.org at the moment there is a list of new features in Plone 4 versus the previous version of Plone, but there is no one list of 'What is Plone?' for a decision maker. There has been various things to tackle this in the past such as the Plone Brochure that we produced at Netsight, the Top Twenty Questions About Plone ref cards produced by Six Feet Up and the German Plone Brochure produced by DZUG. But we don't have this in a single concise customer facing website.
If you ask a dozen people 'What is Plone?' you are likely to get a dozen different answers due to the fact that Plone is a very flexible system and used in so many different settings. Another effort going on at the moment and just released for public consumption is the new Plone Roadmap. Plone has always had a roadmap of sorts before but never anything quite as great as this. The Roadmap Team have done a spectacular job in creating this (and special mention to Martin Aspeli, Jon Stahl and Mark Corum who did the lion's share of the work). One of the great things with this roadmap is it attempts to focus the scope of the Plone development going forward by framing it in a context of specifically what Plone is and isn't suited for.
On the second day of the event I presented the Roadmap to the attendees and explain its purpose and to walk through the contents of it. Standing on the shoulders of others I managed to find (about 5 minutes before my talk) that Massimo Azzolini had presented the roadmap a couple of weeks earlier at World Plone Day in Bologne. His presentation is well worth a look if you want an Italian translation of the roadmap or simply want a good inspiration on how the roadmap could be presented at future events.
We started off at PLOG by brainstorming a complete list of features we could think of that Plone has. Now this on it's own is not worth much, but gives a very good starting point as to what we want to put down as the top twenty features for Plone. We did this old-skool with a big flip chart and people called out things. The great thing with this was there were so many obvious features that often, as those working within Plone itself, we completely forget. e.g. the fact you can just copy and paste a piece of content in Plone or a whole folder of items is pretty cool and something that is simply not present in many CMSes. This resulted in a list of 80 points. The next step which is currently underway is to sort through them, pick a top twenty and expand upon those points as to the benefit of that feature to the intended audience.
The second item I was working on there is a showcase list of Plone sites. Sure we have the sites listed on Plone.org but that is a very very big list of over 2200 sites and it can be hard to find the exceptional ones in there to showcase. We also want to capture some more information, e.g. What was it about Plone that made this site a success. Also to capture featured technologies used, which may be either Plone add-ons or may be 3rd party systems used in conjunction with Plone. I managed to get a starter list of 16 sites from mainly around Europe (since it was mainly Europeans at the event). The amazing thing for me was that whilst I think I know of a lot of good showcase Plone sites in the world, about three quarters of these sites I had never even heard of. Did you know that the main tourism site for the Emilia Romagna region in Italy uses Plone as does the city of Ferrara? Or that the USAID Resource Management Portal uses Plone to help its missions, staff and partners coordinate in field operations across time and distance? Or that Our Africa uses Plone to let children across Africa film their lives and countries the way they see them.
The list needs further information to fill in the blanks and I need to get in contact with some more people outside Europe to get a good spread of sites.
Besides the Plone.com work I wanted to get done there were a number of other things going on. Maurits van Rees has a good summary writeup on his blog.
It wasn't all heads in laptops though as there was time for a quick splash in the pool before lunch on most days. Oh lunch... wow.... another reason I love this place.
One of the other things I found very interesting was chatting with a developer I met there, Giampiero Lago. He is a relative newcomer to Plone and came from a Wordpress background. He was working on a document to help those coming from Wordpress to Plone as to the similarities and differences. It covers things such as terminology differences and some basic information to get started. I am currently working with a client to look at migrating their Wordpress sites to Plone or perhaps their Plone sites to Wordpress. It is a bit undecided yet. One idea I had was if we could somehow create collective.wordpress or similar as a product that was mainly UI changes that made a blog in Plone a bit more familiar to Wordpress users. Giampiero gave me a tour of the Wordpress admin are and what bits are used by authors. It seems though that a lot can depend on what theme you are using in Wordpress, so it looks like moving from one theme to another in Wordpress could be as different as moving from Wordpress to Plone. He also showed me just how easy it is to break out of Wordpress and potentially mess with the underlying OS if you happen to get access as a regular user with the web interface. Scary.
All in all it was a great event, and I wished I had another day or two to enjoy the area. As it was we ended up literally sprinting through the airport terminal to catch our plane home as they called our name over the PA system. Easyjet managed to not print all our boarding passes correctly and I had to turn back from security to go back to the check-in desk.
Thanks to the organisers of the event, in particular Maurizio Delmonte and Vincenzo Barone for their hospitality and putting on a fantastic event. See you next year!