Organizations Seeking array of tools and tech support

Greetings Folx, I’m currently part of a few organizations/cooperatives that are forming/incorporating and are seeking to be intentional with their technology choices from the start. They are interested in nextcloud and of course I’m a champion of mayfirst so I presented this platform as an option. The challenge I see is they are seeking comprehensive suite/ virtual platforms for hosting online conferences, sharing, storage and communication tools that are simple for the not so tech savy. My ask is how do find and access technical knowledge to be able to curate a plan and articulate what taking up this kind of initiative on free and open source tools would be like for these organizations? If they/we decide to use mayfirst for hosting where do I find tech resources to setup/admin additional tools? I believe there was talk of mayfirst consultants at some point. I searched for topics like this and did reviewed the ‘best forum’ and ‘mattermost’ topics from the past, however not seeing this particular topic discuss. Please forward me to existing topics if there were some recent discussion on scenarios like this.

Hi @melba - that’s a great question. A lot of groups are moving beyond “how do I do X?” and onto: how do I combine all the things I need into a convenient workflow?

The hard part in answering the quesiton is that the answer varies dramatically depending on the particular group. I think the most important trade off to consider is: everything all together in one tool (but it doesn’t exactly do what you want) vs stringing together a series of tools that do exactly what you want, but not in a cohesive or intuitive way.

I think the first step is to try to articulate what the group wants in order of priority, without reference to particular technologies. In other words, instead of “we want file sharing” - it’s more useful to learn: “Our founding member has 50 important Word documents and needs the four person admin team to have full access to them” or “The organization meets weekly and needs a way to take and share notes for each meeting in a way that everyone can access those notes afterwards.” It’s also useful to know what tools are currently being used and what works and causes pain.

I’d be happy to help think this through via this thread or if you want to get on a video call to talk things through.


I agree with jamie this is a wide theme and the best thing would be to understand their specific needs. That said, this is exactly the kind of topic that I hope will become part of our documentation pages in the form of explanation pages . Ideally this documentation format gives us the opportunity to editorialize on a topic, layout the pros and cons of different technology solutions. It is hard to predict and address all of the factors each organization might have to account for but I think even a little guidance based on our own experiences so far might be useful.


Thanks so much for raising this. It speaks to issues I’ve been wrestling with a lot lately, in particular through helping a cooperative manufactured home park adopt May First for its coordination tools and digital presence. It has been a real challenge leading them through the maze of services, like MF hosting orders, Nextcloud, web servers, and the like, and I think there is a real need for a kind of “community package” that better integrates these things. I’ve discussed that with May First, and have also done so with other co-ops that do server administration and software development.

My own instinct is that we need a new approach—one focused on packaging automatically managed server deployments, with light support, rather than managing all the services in one place. For instance, if we could support deployments of YunoHost, it would enable communities to have a white-labeled Nextcloud, along with other services, all with a unified account and login system. This is similar to what my university lab does with Cloudron.

Currently I don’t think May First is quite set up for supporting something like a Google Workspaces/Slack replacement for teams, although I love using May First services (Nextcloud, email, etc) as an individual.

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Thanks @ntnsndr - nice to get your input. I think YunoHost is very slick and might be part of the solution, although I have some reservations.

I find that the single hardest part of the equation is getting people in an organization to make a transition to a new technology service. It’s incredibly difficult and time consuming, especially for a group already doing someting in a different way. As a result, I find the process typically goes something like this:

  • Learn as much as possible about how an organization operates, the skill levels of the participants, and where the pain points are
  • With a few folks from the organization that are interested, evaluate a lot of different technologies. I think this is where @jaimev point comes in. You can’t do that with May First right now because information about our serivces is scattered all over and there is very little information on how to integrate them into organizing or evaluate whether they would be useful for a given workflow.
  • Next, carefully choose one that is the most promising. It might not be the best technology or the one that will make the biggest impact. Maybe it’s the one that is the easiet to switch to. There are a lot of factors that could go into this decision.
  • Devote 6 - 12 months to help the organization make the move. Trainings, demonstrations, one-one-ones etc.

If this is successful, then we have a relationship that can be built on to try a new tool.

Also, if this is successful, then we better have picked the right tool! Because we are going to be stuck with it for years! And this is where I get nervous with the YunoHost approach. No matter what anyone says about how “cloudron” automatically and seamlessly handles all upgrades and backups, I know otherwise from general experience managing web applications. It’s hard. If you are running a web app, particularly one that has 3rd party plugins, it’s only a matter of time before an upgrade fails or there is a compromise because you are afraid to upgrade.

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I hear you, and certainly sympathize with some of the challenges that come up here—particularly last-mile challenges in developing a community’s skills around a toolset, which I am currently engaged in. I also really value your experience as a sysadmin for a large and complex set of communities, seeing what can go wrong when the stakes are high in a way I don’t normally see, since I only manage cloud tools for a small number of people.

What I would add, though, is that my experience using Cloudron (with or without scare quotes!) is one in which there is some evolution of tools. Some things need to remain relatively stable (e.g., Nextcloud), but we have done quite a bit of iteration among different toolsets on ephemeral chat, workflow, websites, code hosting, and more. We can do this at the level of a relatively small community, and it enables us to zero in on the right tools for us, and to learn what works best. I think the challenge is to find the right middle ground between stability and flexibility, iteration and commitment.

Thank you @jamie, @jaimev and @ntnsndr it such a blessing just to have space to discuss this and you all have given me somethings to think on. I will take you up on your offer to flesh some of this thought process out starting here and if it makes sense on a call. I will take some of these questions back to the orgs I am working with. However I have some ideas / answers on what is currently being used and desired interactions with technology. To note there are also challenges that arise from lack of budget around technology and a unawareness of the benefits of free and open source alternatives are and how they can be used.

One org is a newly forming non profit coop of black cooperators nationally that is striving to find ways to
host large scale conferences in person and virtual(simultaneously)
has 5 different working groups that are all creating policies, documents, procedures and desire to share and get input from other groups and colloborate/vote
meet monthly in large group 25+ and weekly in smaller groups 10+
desiring to offer in person and virtual classes and create a private community for knowledge/skill shares

this group is also using zoom, google drive and has suggestions out there to use kajabi/mightynetworks(online community collaboration), loomio and slack. However I know there will be needs for websites and accounting tools etc(already got them looking at open collective)

because of the size of this org(potential for growth, there were 100+ people at conference last spring) I really desire to be able to get them started on some more freedom friendly/ethical tools from the jump and have offered myself up to lead a working group on determining what criteria/guidelines the resource and operations groups should use(based on the orgs values) when selecting external resources(vendors, tools, partners…etc)

There appears to be some budget for technology and some urgency as there is another conference this Spring. I have my working group on BBB and getting them adjusted to a new tools has been interesting :slight_smile: this org is the group that really brought me to start this thread as the options/answers for tools don’t seem straightforward to me

2nd group I am cofounding is a child lead, caretaker supported learning non profit cooperative for homeschool/unschooled families

We as board/steering members have similar desires to the first group.
currently using google drive/calendar and BBB, open collective and telegram.

my initially suggestions are mattermost/zulip and down the line will probably be canvas/bbb integration however I see the same need here for private community where we can share resources, events, videos, images and collaborate virtually(so i can see us seeking something like mightynetworks/kajabi) not as much urgency as full program is planned to start this summer and technology budget should come through around then as well

Another org is a unschooling facilitator group in Philadelphia that is about twenty of us
striving to find tools to:

  • share digital resources internally/externally
  • Dialogues around juicy things coming up
  • coordinate Site visits, observations, meetups
  • something that allows for Resource-sharing channels by topic
  • Monthly Virtual Meetups to explore offerings like Offers and needs markets and caring for the caretaker practices

The groups has just formed and has started using google drive, zoom and doodle and suggestion is out there to use slack

my suggestion to this group, as we are a loose collective, is to use mattermost or zulip since a collaborative communication platform is the one place a tool is not already in use and there are some free/low cost entries to these tools

as you can see some of the needs are similar hence me searching for solutions that may be able to work for multiple entities and hearing you all’s warnings and pros and cons :slight_smile: thank you in advance for sharing you thoughts and listening to what seems like a long post now

Thank you so much for the context, and for the beautiful work you are doing! I so wish there were clearer, simpler solutions around community controlled tools for cases like this. I worry that focusing too much on new tools would risk distracting these groups from their good work. But every little bit counts. Loomio is a start. BBB is a start, each door opens people to a glimpse that another way is possible, even if some kind of perfect solution isn’t possible. Matrix might also be worth considering as a Slack alternative.

If it is useful I would be happy to share how we manage our tools at my lab, but it may not be useful. We have been just wrapping up a project called Sacred Stacks, exploring community tools with groups like yours, and over and over we encountered contradictions and challenges. What has mattered in the end is less the tools than sharing space together!

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Thanks @melba for the extra info - you definitely have your hands full. I have some thoughts that may or may not be on the mark - hopefully helpful!

Your first group of black cooperators is definitely the hardest. OMG. The challenges I see:

  • It’s growing, dynamic and decentralized. These are all really good things for the project and really bad things for a coordinated technology plan (and that has nothing to do with free software - a corporate technologist would have a hard time here). I think it will be important to balance the goals of getting everyone on the same tech with letting 1,000 flowers bloom, which might be more important for the project
  • Beware of requests for an “online community”. The “right techonlogy” won’t result in an online community. It will happen if the people put in the labor required in building it. I hate to see technologists put in months of work to create an online community platform only to see it fail because it turns out the folks involved actually want to build in person and don’t like typing into a web site.

I think your strategy of bringing BBB to your working group is spot on. I also find that people are impressed with collaborative note taking tools. Riseup Pads are really easy for this. But also, Nextcloud can be even more convenient because the notes end up in a share directory right off the bat. And lastly, there seems to be a lot of event planning free software out there. I know of Mobilizon and I think there are plenty more. Many of the free software packages have a hosting option (to support the development of the software). So, if there’s a budget, it’s any easy way to get up and running and see if it’s a good fit before comitting to hosting your own.

And, depending on your social capital in the overall group, a strategy of adding tools to your working group might be the best approach. From there, you can offer to give a use-case focused presentation to the full group about the tools your working group is using, how it ethically fits with the mission and how incredibly easy they are to use.

Sheesh. I’ve already written a lot and only addressed the first group. Maybe I’ll stop here and see what you and others think?

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That right there @ntnsndr Thank you and yes will add matrix to my list as I am on there just not much since the rest of the world is not YET :slight_smile:
Sacred Stacks sounds so dope. I’d be interested in hearing more about how that project went in the future.

thank you for the affirmation that this is challenging and i’m not just making that up…lol and good point on blooming. I am striving to be wary of my agenda to just get everyone using more ethical tools and ensure that i’m actually hearing what the needs of the group are and trying to meet them. You are also spot on with the online community. I believe the type of orgs I am working with and the people in them are seeking in person have have ‘settled’ for online communities in some instances and in others there may be some general interest in making a whole online todo about it. Looking forward to the nextcloud documentation and working /skill share session to see what I can learn and share with these groups because that seems like a simple and easy fit. Mobilizon added. and I love the use-case approach. Thank you all for talking this through with me this is really helpful