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Transition Network supports the Transition movement, amplifies stories of community-led change, and nurtures collaborations across difference to challenge us all to reimagine and rebuild our world.

Use this Guide if you would like to create an online social network for people in your community to spend time together and share activities. This might include staff, volunteers, supporters, or members of the general public. There are lots of different tools you can use, including open source software like HumHub. Open source products are built by a community of developers rather than owned by a company.

Steps to making a social network using open source technology

Do some user research. Ask questions like:

  • Why do different members of your community need to be able to interact with each other online?

  • What will a social network allow them to do that they can’t do at the moment?

  • What online spaces and tools do community members already use?

  • What works well and not so well about those existing tools?

  • What are the risks involved in bringing your community together online?

  • What resources will you need to maintain the network?

Decide whether making a new social network is what people need, or if there are other solutions.

Transition Network members are based all over the UK and in many other parts of the world. Members were using different tools to talk and work together online, including Slack and Facebook.

The Transition Network platform team learned that some of their communities felt disconnected from each other. Some members didn’t want to use Facebook because they felt it was unethical. Other members didn’t want to use Slack because it was too focused on getting work done and didn’t give them a chance to get to know each other.

The team learned that people in their community wanted to be able to connect more informally. Members said they wanted to feel like they were all part of one movement. None of the tools that members were currently using were meeting these needs.

Once you have a good idea of what your community needs, you can decide which tools to use for your social network. People might already be using tools like Facebook, WhatsApp, or Slack. You could use one of these, or try something new.

Decide on the three most important things you will look for when you choose between different options. It could be things like:

  • cost

  • data protection and security

  • how easy it will be for people to use

  • if the company fits with your values.

Use a scoring system to record your thoughts as you compare different tools. That way you can explain your decision to other team members.

Transition Network were clear on the things that mattered most when they were comparing tools. They wanted software which complied with GDPR and had a zero carbon footprint.

The platform team created a spreadsheet which listed possible tools against different things that they cared about. They gave each tool a score against every point and added them up at the end.

The tool with the highest score overall was open source software called HumHub. This was what they proposed to their colleagues for approval.

Set up a small test network with the software you have decided to use. You'll need a small amount of development support to do this.

Keep this test network very simple. Work out what basic functions people in your community will need to achieve the things that they want to do. If possible, turn off any features and functions that aren’t essential.

Start using the software yourself to find out whether it works the way that you want it to. Make a note of any problems you find. Think about whether you can fix them, or whether you will need to try a different tool for your network.

An administrator's dashboard on HumHub.

The team at Transition Network created a small network using HumHub, hosted on Cloudron.

HumHub offer a ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) option, which includes hosting and maintenance, and doesn’t need technical skills to set up. However, the hosting costs were too high for Transition Network. Instead they decided to host the HumHub network through a service called Cloudron, which offered an SaaS experience at a lower price.

Transition Network's developers put in place essential data protection and security measures. This included using a tool called Keycloak to create a ‘single sign-on’ for members, so they did not need to set up multiple accounts.

The team also implemented a limited range of HumHub features. They started by letting people add posts and make comments. Later they added a calendar and the ability to share files. They tested the social network and worked to resolve bugs and errors that emerged.

Invite small groups of people in your community to begin using the network.

Start with people who are already curious about your project, or who are generally interested in digital tools.

Be ready to answer their questions, and help them learn how to use the network.

Ask people to feedback on their experience as they use the social network. Use their feedback to identify problems and solutions.

Gradually invite more and more people to the network.

Transition Network soon began opening their network up to more members and gathering more feedback (positive and negative).

Using Agile methodology allowed them to test HumHub with real people in their community, and use what they learned to develop and improve the social network.

How will you make your network safe and secure for everyone in your community? Plan how you will respond to any disagreements or antisocial behaviour.

Write a set of community guidelines or a code of conduct which people can see when they sign up. That way everyone knows what behaviour is expected.

Think about the needs of anyone in your community who may be especially vulnerable. Make sure you know what to do if there is a safeguarding issue. Make it clear what people should do and who they should talk to if they need support.

Social networks take a lot of work to look after. Recruit staff and/or volunteers as moderators. Write a role description setting out their tasks and duties, and offer them training and guidance.

It was important for Transition Network’s new social network to be led by volunteers from their community. A new type of role was created, called a ‘Space Host’. Space Hosts are responsible for looking after each ‘space’ within HumHub.

Whenever an individual member or group of members wants to open a new space they must appoint someone to be their Space Host. Then the infrastructure team meets them on a video call to talk about who their space is for, how it will be used, and how they will maintain it.

The team also co-designed a set of community guidelines for the whole network through online and in-person meetings.

Getting people to join a new social network can be a challenge. People may prefer to stay with the tools they have already been using. You might want to offer exclusive content or access to an online event to prompt people to sign up.

Keeping people engaged can also be tricky. Check how many people are active in the social network. Moderators can help to start conversations and ask questions to encourage discussion.

Listen to feedback from your community about problems they encounter. They may also have suggestions for new features that would help them do more.

Member's view of an events page on HumHub.

Transition Network launched their new network on HumHub as part of another online event. This encouraged people to sign up.

When a new person signs up they get a personal welcome email from the Community Manager. The Community Manager also supports Space Hosts to make their space friendly, safe, and useful for members.

The infrastructure team developed analytics software to track the most popular content on the network. This helps them make sure the network stays relevant to their members’ interests.

So far, around 10% of their audience are active in the new social network. They are planning to release more features and invite more members to join.

Further information