The openSUSE project announced this week it has merged its three largest English-language community support forums under one big green umbrella and relaunched it as the openSUSE Forums. According to data supplied by openSUSE, the combined number of suseforums.net, suselinuxsupport.de, and openSUSE Novell support forum members was in the tens of thousands &mdash a number expected to rise with the upcoming release of openSUSE 11.0.
Even though the new forums are already up and running smoothly, the team has no intention of resting on its laurels. They're already working on implementing similar changes with forums in other languages and better integration with the rest of the site.
Project Manager Rupert Horstkötter says there are also plans for a "user-rating for the whole openSUSE community, integrated with forums.opensuse.org, and all other openSUSE services. Besides all of that, we hope to be able to attract more independent forum communities for the official openSUSE forums."
Keith Kastorff, the site admin for suseforums.net says the idea began to take shape during an openSUSE project meeting back in 2007. "A big topic was the need for an 'official' openSUSE forum, and the duplication of effort, expertise, and resources we had in play," he recalls. "I volunteered to reach out to some of the independent SUSE focused forums to see if I could generate any interest in a merge." Then he contacted people involved with Novell and suselinuxsupport.de and "things moved forward from there."
Kastorff says getting the project underway was slow going at first and admits that some members were wary of Novell's involvement. "The open source community is sometimes skeptical of commercial players, but we found nothing but tremendous support from Novell," he says.
It's not surprising there were a number of technical hurdles to overcome in bringing the three forums together. One of the main issues included an inability to merge the member databases and it was eventually decided to simply archive them within a section of the new forum. "Like any project, we had to make compromises to achieve the end goal," says Kastorff. "We knew going in we had different cultures in play, and there were times the dialogs between the various merging staffs got intense, but the team's strong commitment to bettering the openSUSE community kept us focused on the prize."
Indeed, it was a team effort. More than 30 people worked behind the scenes to import the help sections of the separate forums and archive over 400,000 posts prior to launching forums.opensusue.org. In order for the project to work, the various groups &mdash each with their own goals and ideas &mdash needed to work together and trust in the end goal.
Horstkötter says it was "a lot of work to combine different cultures into one big forum for the openSUSE community, but it was a great time. I feel like I met some new friends during the project."
"We had three teams &mdash one from Novell, two from different grassroots projects that had sprung up to serve the community and had developed their own style and ways of working together," recalls openSUSE Product Manager Michael Löffler "To merge the three, the staff for each forum had to be comfortable putting all their eggs in one basket (Novell hosting the forums) and agreeing on a common set of rules, moderation guidelines, etc. It took some time and effort to work everything out, but I think that the three teams are working quite well together now."
Just as important as teams working together is the impact that merged forums will have on the openSUSE community overall. "Having a unified forum means that all interested users can converse and support one another in one location &mdash so you don't have the duplication of effort." says Löffler. "I'm really glad [they] launched in time for 11.0 &mdash I expect that a lot of new users are going to be interested in openSUSE with this release, and I am very happy we have the forums to help support them."
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