Hi! This is our first newsletter, so if you’re getting it by email, please accept our apologies for any strangeness in formatting or style. It may take us a couple of tries to get all the parts of this machine working smoothly together.
Here’s what you can expect from the newsletter: every two weeks we’ll talk a bit about the status of the project, our progress towards public launch, and some other items of interest to our community. Pretty straightforward! And so without further ado…
We have a launch date
… or at least a launch month. It’s looking like we’ll be opening Growstuff up to the general public in May, so stay tuned!
What we’ve been up to
We’ve had a busy and productive two weeks. Some of the major work we’ve done includes:
We’ve built a forum system where you can discuss growing stuff, sustainability, and other topics. This is a big part of Growstuff’s social infrastructure. We want to make it easy for like-minded food gardeners to find each other and share their stories and tips. Initially, we plan to have just a small set of site-wide forums, but before too long we hope to allow our members to create forums on any topic they like.
What good are posts and forums and comments if you don’t know when someone’s replied to you? We’ve rolled out a basic notification system, which tells you when people have commented on your posts via an inbox on the site. In coming weeks, we’ll be hooking this up to email, so you can choose to have notifications sent to you that way too. Don’t worry, we’re adamant about not spamming you nor even annoying you. We want you to really enjoy getting our email notifications, otherwise what’s the point?
When we surveyed potential Growstuff users, one of the things we heard over and over was that people want gardening advice tailored to their local area and climate. We’ve just built the first part of this, which is to let you specify a location in your profile. Because we care about privacy, we don’t pick up your location automatically from your browser (eww!), and we don’t make you give a precise location. Tell us as much as you’re comfortable with, whether it’s at the country, state, town or street level, and we’ll work with it.
Bugfixes, security, and other small improvements
You might have heard that Ruby on Rails has had a spate of security problems lately, resulting in lots of necessary upgrades. So, we had another upgrade, this time to Rails 3.2.12, which went smoothly and with no drama, as well as a security upgrade to our JSON library, which was similarly smooth. We also upgraded to the latest version of Twitter Bootstrap, which is the framework we use for the look and feel of the site, and to make a responsive version of Growstuff for mobile devices. Not for any particular reason, but just because we were falling behind and wanted to keep up with the latest features.
Apart from that, other bugfixes and small changes included:
- Improvements to the “change password” part of the member settings page, making it easier to use.
- Prevent people from signing up with the same login name. (They were already prevented from using the same email address.)
- Remove an extraneous and misleading “New Garden” link from other people’s profile pages if you’re looking at them while logged in.
Thanks to our volunteers!
Our coders this iteration were Miles, Cathy, Jared, Amy, Joseph, Courtney, and Skud.
Acting as customers, to review and comment on our work, were Jo, Vernieda, Jenny, and Fe, in addition to the coders who worked double duty to help us try out new features.
If you’d like to learn more about contributing to Growstuff as a coder, a customer, or in any other capacity, check out the Growstuff Wiki for more information.
Why Growstuff is Open Source
As you may already know, Growstuff is an open source project, which means that you can download, read, modify and redistribute the software that runs our site. Why do we do this? The other day we posted on the Growstuff blog:
When we talk about social enterprises — businesses that hope to achieve a social good through their business activities — we seldom look at their software practices. But the choice of software to use, or decision to develop software under a closed or open model, has a social impact, just as do the choice of environmentally friendly materials for physical manufacturing, or the decision to employ people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We expect social enterprises to follow ethical business practices; why not expect them to follow software practices that support equal access, transparency, and accountability?
When it comes to sustainability, it’s about more than changing your light bulbs or using a fancy water bottle. Sustainability’s about developing communities and ways of living and working that can survive and thrive in the long term. Open source is a sustainable way of building software. If a company that writes closed software goes under, the software dies with it, but an open source software project can live long beyond the people or institutions that started it. Since there’s a broad community of people familiar with the software, who know how to read and modify its source code, new developers can step up. An open source project is one that builds community and resilience against all kinds of change: exactly what sustainability is about!
Read more here: Why Growstuff is Open Source
A week or so back, we were at the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne, Australia, where we attended some talks about growing stuff, and met a bunch of people working on projects to promote food gardening and sustainability in general. Next year, perhaps we’ll have a stall of our own!
This coming Thursday, Skud and Courtney will be at the Melbourne Ruby Meetup, talking about Growstuff alongside some other Ruby on Rails projects that work towards social good. Come meet us, and hear about what we’re doing and how you can get involved.
Insert Training Montage Here
We’re hoping that Growstuff can be self-funding, without needing outside investment that might compromise our values. So, towards the goal of self-funding and bootstrapping the business, Courtney and Skud have applied for an Australian government program called the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, or NEIS, which trains and supports people starting small businesses. It’ll pay us while we work on Growstuff full time for a year, and on top of that, we get put through an eight-week course in small business management. Our training starts this week, so we’ll be studying subjects like small business finance, marketing, and writing a formal business plan on top of our usual Growstuff work. Wish us luck!
Help spread the word about Growstuff
This first newsletter is going out to a tiny mailing list, which is probably for the best as we are sure to have a few wrinkles to iron out. Still, our launch date is approaching like some kind of inexorable juggernaut, and by the time it arrives we hope that anyone and everyone who might be interested in signing up for Growstuff is receiving our updates.
Please, take a moment to forward this newsletter to your food-growing friends and family, tell them why Growstuff is awesome, and ask them to subscribe to the newsletter, read our blog, or follow us on Twitter.