Building online communities with Community Server

A shared-source platform for blogs, newsgroups, content-management and more

This article is excerpted from Windows Developer Power Tools

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, by James Avery and Jim Holmes, with permission of O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

Communities of people are involved in any project. Users, analysts, developers, stakeholders, and managers all have requests, ideas, and messages about a project to communicate with others. A great deal of information travels around between the people involved even in small projects, and the amount of information explodes as the projects grow. Managing this information and making sure all project community members have access to it can be a time-consuming, difficult task. Fortunately, tools and systems exist to ease this effort.

Community Server is a web-based platform that enables companies and organizations to build dynamic online and offline communities quickly and easily. Community Server features include email lists, discussion forums, blogs, newsgroups, galleries, file-sharing and content-management capabilities, and much more. These features will enable you to quickly put together a company intranet or web site for a project, and the platform can easily scale to support very large public-facing community sites (such as http://forums.xbox.com).

Communities are essential in any organization, as people naturally gravitate toward other people whose interests are the same. Building large communities in the past was challenging, as the technology didn't necessarily exist or had to be stitched together. In many ways, this is the problem Community Server has solved: it provides a straightforward way for people to quickly create communities for their products, organizations, or teams.

Community Server is available as a free Express Edition and in several commercial variants. The commercial editions simply add extended functionality, such as the ability to send email to a Community Server system or integrate it with other login providers, like InfoCard or Windows Active Directory. The Express Edition can be used for any community site, including commercial communities, as long as you adhere to the terms of the (very permissive) license. The commercial editions are designed for communities that need more robust tools.

Getting Started

Community Server runs on Microsoft Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2000 and requires Microsoft SQL Server 2005 or SQL Server 2000. Community Server will also run using Microsoft Desktop Engine (MSDE) or SQL Express. It will run on either version 1.1 or 2.0 of the .NET Framework.

The Community Server SDK provides all source for the free Community Server Express Edition, and the same code base is used for this version as for the commercial editions. All features discussed in this article are available in the Express Edition.

There are three options for setting up Community Server: Windows Installer (MSI), Web Installer, or manual installation. All of these installation options are documented in detail at http://docs.communityserver.org.

Community Server Express Edition at a Glance

Tool

Community Server Express Edition

Version covered

2.1

Home page

http://www.communityserver.org

Power Tools page

http://www.windevpowertools.com/tools/121

Summary

Platform for quickly and easily enabling an interactive community site

License types

Custom (see site for details)

Online resources

Wiki, FAQs, forums, blogs, documentation

Supported frameworks

.NET 1.1, 2.0

Related tools in this book

Basecamp, Subtext, FlexWiki, DotNetNuke

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