By Michael Albert at Mar 05, 2009
Roughly a year ago we did our upgrade of Z's sites transforming them into what has become ZCommunications.
At the time, we promised that the improvements would include not only a new look, improved navigation, enlarged and enhanced multimedia, the new ZSpace, etc. - but also a new platform for future growth and diversification.
The programmers doing all this work, are a team from Brazil - the main contact is Marcelo Ribeiro. They and we have largely stabilized the upgrade to ZCommunications, so it is now time to begin to together fulfill the broader promise about further gains based on the new platform.
Here is a glimpse of some of what's coming for Members, Sustainers, and Writers.
(1) Minor changes throughout.
There will be modest changes everywhere, including, for example:
increased stability and speed
new most viewed statistics and preferences
enhanced and faster searches
diverse design improvements
better display of content descriptions
better display of author's pictures,
better audio and video players
other modest tweaks throughout.
Okay, that's some of the modest stuff. But what about major stuff?
(2) Personal ZNet Top Page Content Control
As now, there will continue to be a universal ZNet Top Page that everyone who comes to the site initially sees as the default.
As a Sustainer or Writer, however, you will have the option to create your own version of the top page to view instead, whenever you choose, toggling between visiting your version or the universal version, as you decide.
Your personal ZNet top page will have whatever content you choose to give it. You will be in charge!
You will be able to Quick Edit the content boxes that you now see in the middle and right most columns of the universal ZNet Top Page - not only changing the labels they have, but also changing the actual automated list of links controlling how many links appear and the criteria that defines them to be pretty much anything you want.
You don't want a box with Venezuela/Bolivia content, like we now have on the top page. Fine. Easily remove it.
You want a box that displays recent content about Spain or perhaps about both South Africa and Mexico instead. Fine, easily add it. You name the display area box, you set it up to display what you want, and you drag it where you want.
You want a box that has only your favorite writers' new content displayed. No problem. You want a box to display new material from a bunch of writers you like? Also no problem. You want everything new on Gender issues to appear in a box, or perhaps everything new on genders issues but only if it is by some author or authors you like, that's also no problem.
You want a display box on your personal top page with web links outside ZCom that you like to go to and want handy? Fine. Do it, easily. You can have whatever content you want.
In other words, you will be able to set up display boxes for list of links on your personal top page of ZNet, much as we have on the universal version, but with automated display of links to whatever content you want to highlight - of course also removing whatever you don't care to have forefront. And you can then change what you have done, with changing times, also easily, whenever you like.
(3) Personal ZNet Top Page Tabbed Menu System
Being able to control the content on the top page is awfully nice, you might say, I mean even big commercial sites don't have that option, but what about the menus? You might say, after all, Z's universal taste in menu links and your personal taste don't match?
Well, that too will be no problem.
In the tabbed menu at the top of the universal default ZNet top page that everyone can see the tabs will continue to be whatever we at Z decide to make them, and likewise for the submenus that appear when you roll over a tab on the universal top page. But on your own personal ZNet top page, the one where you set what content displays, the one that is yours and that only you see, you will be able to easily remove or add top menu tabs of your choosing, as well as remove or add sub links under those tabs, again of your own choosing.
You want fewer tabs, no problem. Remove what you don't like.
You want more tabs, okay, you can add what you want.
You want different labels on the tabs, change them, easily.
You want existing or new tabs that point to different destinations - even outside the site - no problem, you choose.
You will determine where your menu entries point - anywhere at all, whether on site or off. And the same will hold for entries in the submenus that you see when you roll over a tab on your top page - you will be able to adapt and add and delete them, too, all via easy quick edit.
You might want to have a friends tab, say, with the submenu displaying links to your friends pages. Maybe you want a SiteLinks tab for off site links that you like. Perhaps you want a MyContent tab with links to different types of your own content. Maybe you want some countries to front and center under a places tab, but different countries than we have on the universal page - or you might want some topics under a topics tab, but again different ones than we have. Maybe you want some favorite writers, under a writers tab, or under a blog tab, or whatever. You can have tabs for whatever you want to have easiest access too, with whatever sub menu links you want.
(4) Personal ZNet Top Page Left Menu System
Okay, you might say, that's wonderful, and unexpected, but as long as we are innovating, what about the left menu?
You like the fact that from the top page you can click an arrow on the left menu and instantly set whole sets of recent content by various designations. But the content you would like to instantly access that way is different from our universal entries. Well, you guessed it, the same logic and approach will hold for the left menu as will hold for the tab menu.
On the universal znet top page, the left menu will be rather like it is now with the links and sections that we pick visible to everyone who accesses it.
On your own personal version of the top page, however, the one where you determine the content and you determine the tabbed menu entries, the one that you can access whenever you want, on the left menu too you can put whatever links you want. The names listed will be those you choose, or no names if you don't want any. you might choose to have some writers, friends, whatever. And ditto for the rest. You can pick different categories of content to quick access, countries, or topics, or combinations. The arrows will work like now, but the names of the links and what actually displays will be up to you.
The upshot of all this is that your personal ZNet Top Page will have broadly the same structure as the current universal ZNet top page, but it will have whatever content and menu links suit your content preferences and navigational inclinations. We will provide a few typical sample options for personal top pages and you can choose one that is close to what you might like, and then you can tweak it, or massively alter it, as you choose.
One thing to note, however, again, is that only you will see your presonal ZNet top page. It is what will appear going to ZNet when you are logged in and you opt to toggle it on.
(5) Personal ZSpace Top Page
The logic of the overall ZSpace top page will be the same as above. There will be a universal one, like now, though much improved in ways that will be intimated below. But then you as a Sustainer will be able to edit what appears on a personal compendium ZSpace top page that you can see instead of or in addition to our version, if you opt for having a personal one, and if you toggle it on.
For your personal ZSpace top page, you will choose the content and its arrangement, whether you want comments or blogs or preferences or pictures or your friends contents, etc. etc., and the menu links, and their arrangement, all technically just as described above for the ZNet Top Page. There will however, be, more things to display and highlight than now, due to other innovations.
In other words, you will have not only our idea of a universal window on all accumulating ZSpace content - but also your version of what that should look like and include, as you decide, and alter, at your discretion.
(6) Personal ZSpace Page
Of course you will still have your own ZSpace page, which you set up but everyone sees when they click on your name, like now, but now it will be virtually entirely adaptable however you choose, with content that you want, links that you want, etc.
What's more, there will be a massively improved ties to your online friends, providing ease of use and speed of response on the order of FaceBook's, with message boards and records, etc. etc., and overall with far more substance, of course.
(7) New Forums / Chat / Messaging
We are redoing the forums, chat, and messaging so that they will be entirely integrated in the overall system - rather than standing off to the side - and so that they will also have options to receive content by email, for you to reply by email, and for you to display your or your friends or any other posts and threads on your personal pages as you choose, among other innovations.
Links to related forums will appear in appropriate places all over the site, not just when you go to a sequestered forums area, as will access to forum content. Comments will be commenting on any content and forums will be for extended discussions, debates, etc.
Sustainers will also be able to create their own forums for display on your pages - as will groups - the last being a very important feature.
Similarly we will have live chat and also instant message facilities, far more developed than we employed earlier, with easy use from anywhere... perhaps sound and vision, and with rooms for multiple people, with reminders, tracking visibility of online friends, etc.
The books, films, and sites preferences facilities are being redone and will generate lists of people's preferred content by the last day, week, month, and for all time.
There will also be easy reviewing of content, easy access to comments and reviews, easy access to see who has tastes like yours, etc.
(9) Groups / Projects / Networks / Organizations / Movements
There will be lots more innovation, but this last one that I can summarize now is the one I have to admit, that I are most excited about.
The idea is pretty simple - but the potential is enormous.
Say you and a group of other people decide to form a collective page - just for a group of like minded folks, or perhaps for folks who wish to work together on some shared project, or maybe for folks who wish to join together into a network, or perhaps for members of an organization, or even for members of a movement.
You create a group page, or you might call it a network page, for your collective of people.
All the members of the group and only those members can post in the group blog. All the members of the group and only members of the group can operate in the group's forums. The groups can decide to allow people outside the group to see its blogs or forums, or not.
There is easy email to and from everyone in the group to everyone else in the group, likewise for chat and messaging.
The group can have its own top page for the group (using options technically just like the group's personal control of the znet top page to create this) - not just a self determined group ZSpace page, as now, but a page like the ZNet top page, but for the group, that everyone can see or not, as the group decides.
In other words the group, project, team, organization - or whatever it is - gets the ability to very easily set up a web site with a tabbed menu system, a fancy left menu facility, and with easy quick edit control of all content and features - including colors, graphics, etc., and with chat, messaging, forums, and blog.
In short, we will be providing any group that wants it, a site that if warranted can be as rich as ZCommunications to do with what they will. More, the content will not only stand alone, as it would if you built such a thing from scratch - but it will also appear within the Z system, thus getting major added visibility, etc.
Your team/group/organization or whatever will have chat and instant messenger to facilitate intercommunication internally, but, as well, to aid collective creativity we will even have ways for you to collectively work on shared documents and projects. Communication among folks in your team/group/organization will be easy. Adding folks will be easy. Embedding content into your sites will be easy, and being embedded in others systems or creating amalgam systems, will be easy.
We hope you can see the potential.
Just as an example, suppose UFPJ decided to use this, or perhaps some left publisher, or maybe a consortium of publishers on the left, or perhaps a new organization, or maybe a group just wanting to create a new site, or a translated site, say - or whatever. They could have a site for each chapter plus a parent site for all chapters, or one for each of many organizations and a shared consortium site for all together, among many other possibilities, virtually overnight. Each would have a rich and flexible menuing system, easy maintenance, and would feature content of its members, blogs for its members, forums for its members - all visible more broadly or not, as preferred, etc. Each would facilitate discussion, exploration, debate, and even mutual work among the members, if desired, and would of course allow content display more widely and particularly to the larger Z community, if desired. We hope we can all together bring this type mutual aid and benefit to fruition. We hope movement groups and organizations, publishers, projects, teams of like minded folks, etc., will use the resources. It is an ambitious undertaking, but hopefully will come to pass just a little after all the rest that is mentioned above.
So when will all this be in place?
Well, we don't know precise timing and we have learned that programming is very very hard and unpredictable. You do it. you discover problems. You fix them, but then there are new ones to fix. You keep at it - and finally you have something viable that you can unveil, only to find more - though less debilitating problems to fix.
We hope to have these innovations ready to unveil in early to mid summer. We hope to have what is described above all finished, by late summer or early fall - and to be off and running on adding much more innovation, as well.
If you want to help us in all this - well, there are three big things to do.
(1) Use the current facilities - which is to say please upload your picture and bio to ZSpace, please enter some preferences, and especially please begin using the blogs and commenting facilities if you haven't already. They have gotten quite busy, which is quite inspiring, but there is room for much more! In this way you can not only grow participation now, preparatory to a big jump when the new features are in place, but, truth be told, you can provide us the inspiration we need to keep on pushing forward.
(2) We know economic times are very tough, or at the very least, very scary. But, nonetheless, if, but only if, you can possibly manage it, please consider upping your Sustainer Donation by one payment level, or by whatever amount you can manage. Even just $1 a month, say, will make a very big difference!
(3) But most important, if and when you decide to begin tightening up your budget - please don't do it at the expense of your support for ZCom, or at the expense of your support for other progressive and left endeavors, for that matter. It would be an incredible irony and catch-22 - if, precisely when the corporate system implodes the anti corporate alternative should suffer also, rather than growing, as we need to.
We hope you agree that the above is an exciting set of prospects...
We thank you for your continuing support,