Jun 182012

The Tanzania GIS User group mailing list has been a rather quiet place the last year or so. Much of this is due to the fact that many GIS practitioners find answers to their questions in forums and mailing lists elsewhere. After some discussion and a lot of thought, time has come to make some changes for TZGISUG. Without being totally revolutionary, we hope that you will all follow us on this journey towards more structure and more communication in our community.

We are now offering an addition to the mailing list on the TZGISUG website a set of forums with the themes “Announcements”, “FAQ” and “General”. The mailing list will not be discontinued, but we encourage people to use the forum on the TZGISUG website for announcements and comments to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Our rationale is to focus our community somewhat. Basically we see the need to build a centralized knowledge base – strengthening the web site as a communication platform is one way forward. We also need to start thinking about how we can refine a meta-database on spatial data as well – while there isn’t much call for hosting data ourselves, maintaining a directory of ‘how-to-find spatial data’ IS probably worthwhile, and the forums will allow discussion about the various merits of the datasets.

This posting provides an overview of the changes. We will follow up with emails and a posting here tomorrow on how to use the new features. Follow this link to go to the forums:

As you can see we there is a forum for general requests. Users which prefer to use the forum for their discussions can post to this forum. The intention is not to have the 200+ mailing list subscribers stop using the mailinglist. But with opening for the odd messages to the website our hope is that this will recruit more article writers to the site.

The content management system we are using now is called WordPress. It allows for blog-style postings in an straightforward way. Prospective posters will find an easy user interface for publishing their articles. Together with Howard I have produced a number of articles to the TZGISUG website over the years. It’s a better platform: after switching to WordPress, our focus and work on the TZGISUG website has increased. We enjoy this work, but would appreciate more people to bring their opinions to the table. In short we need insights and background documents to support the progress towards a better spatial data infrastructure in Tanzania. Topics in the forums will be accessible through the search engine powering the TZGISUG website. This way both postings and articles will be available when using the search functionality. As you have seen above the forum system offers integration with articles. For us managing the TZGISUG website, the benefits are many. The integration means that we can write a background article and add a particular thread from the forum to that article to provide further reference. Other benefits are:

  • Spam handling;
  • Search integration where searches will include both articles and forum postings;
  • Access to discussions for outsiders looking for answers. The archiving features of the old ‘mailman’ setup are not optimal;
  • Articles may point to forum discussions;
  • Information to search engines which makes it easier to find Tanzania GIS stuff online using Bing, Google or other search engines;
  • Anonymous statistics giving us an idea of the website use.

All current mailing list members will receive information about how to register on the TZGISUG website and set up their user account in a separate email to the mailing list. As before, it is possible to de-register and stop being part of the forum. Any postings you have done will then be assigned to an archive user.

We will probably have some room for improvement in the beginning of the new forum system. Bear with us if you find that the system is sending you un-necessary emails or if the layout is not exactly what you expected. Give us instead feedback, perhaps by commenting on this message, and we will try our best to make the system work for you. Discuss it on the TZGISUG mailing list or by responding commenting on this article.

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