Digital evolution for social change – some free software to check out

Introduction: mailinglists?

When I only hear the word I am already getting annoyed. Why do people use this? I just can’t understand it anymore.

Mailinglists are a pretty good tool, if you have few information to be spread, with short texts and high prioritiy. But whenever it starts to be a lot of information, long texts, discussions even, or about 5 mailinglists with high traffic… it starts to be really annoying, and I wonder how to find the informations I am searching for…

Today there is many better tools for digital organisation in groups and projects. Which might not make sence for every group, but for many, it will.

The best is: the software does not cost you anything any more. Just test it! Busy, motivated open source programers did a good job in the last years, and offer you a wide range of free social tools. You can put the software onto your own server, or one that you trust. You will not have to be angry about the commercials on your email postboy any more, and not have to worry so much about security of your data. Just check it out!


… is an open source software for social networking, content management and project management. It is specialised on the needs of social NGOs, groups and networks, and enables groups to set up their own social network on their own server and work together in a more efficient way.

To get a better picture: You can imagine it a bit like a mixture of wikipedia (create pages, wiki-functionality), facebook (create profiles and groups, send messages, group chat, photo galleries and video) and a project management software (to-do-lists). Moreover it has some opinion-making-functionalities (like approval votes, polls, and discussion pages).

Crabgrass is not ready, but still in development and gets new features (functionalities) all the time. We are using and testing the software for skillsurfers already, will use the software for tsolife and other projects in future. Crabgrass is developed by the riseup collective, who already has a huge network on their server (check out at and paid mainly by the UNICEF. Forget about google, twitter, myspace and facebook! The new „social standart“ is coming, with more security and better functionalities than other social networks!

Usability test:

In the beginning it is a bit hard to get used to the crabgrass way of thinking: It is strange that you have to click „public“ and „share pages“ with other users and groups all the time. If you don’t do it, people cannot even see your profile, and of course not your groups and the pages you create. Everything is hidden first – until you say: „yes, they may see it!“. Once you understood that, it really makes sence and gives you a lot more privacy and control about your information.

There is some more things which are not „logical“ and intuitive from the first moment on, but if you play around with the software for a while, it is really easy. You can already change the crabgrass header and colours and give the appearance your personal projects touch. Not as dynamic as myspace of course, but it doesn’t want to be like that. It just has different qualities!

It is not so much about „I know who you know“ and „I want to have as many friends as possible“, it is more about deciding who should see what, because it is important for working on something, together.

Translations are still a bit tricky, and you’ll realise quickly that crabgrass is mainly used by English-speakers up to now. Calender functionalities are not developed yet, which is pretty sad. But UNICEF seemed to have other priorities up to now.

I was a bit confused in the beginning about how to send messages to whom. But once you found out that it is not so much about „messages“, but more about „pages“, and that you can send notifications about pages you created, even to people’s email accounts, it is getting better.

Just never forget to share what you want to share, and everything will be fine!


… is an open source project management software. We use it in the brueckenschlaeger collective to organise our diverse task lists together since about a year, and are pretty enthusiastic about it.
It has pretty good functionalities, and is quite intuitive:
you can creating issues (to dos)
assign issues to certain people
watch or not watch issues
comment issues
collect informations and data related to the issues on the issue page or in a wiki
link related issues with each other
see the „activity“ ( a list with everything that was done today, yesterday, the day before yesterday, …)
categorize issues
see your personal to do list and calender
set priorities and dealines
send noifications about changes on watched issues to your email inbox

I don’t see many reasons why people who are working in a lot of projects should keep using mailinglists ….


… is a collaborative editor.
Imagine a page that you can simoultaneously write on, together with other people. Each person has their own colour, so you can see live who is writing what.
gobby is perfect for the documentation of meetings: there can be several people taking notes in the same time, not only one person, and you have more neutral documentation in the end.
Later on you just copy-paste it to a wiki, and thats it. You can also have online meetings only with gobby, but for me it proofed a bit unefficient and boring.

In combination with…


IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is the most popular live-communication protocol. It can be used as a simple group chat or instant messaging system (like XMPP, AIM, ICQ, jabber), but allows for quite a lot more. Most IRC servers enable encrypted, secure communication while still allowing easy access for new users. Chatting is just one application of IRC and it can be useful in many ways and is dynamically extendable: One of the big advantages of IRC over other multi-user-chat systems (like XMPP, AIM, jabber, ICQ, etc) is the variety of Client software for practically anything. In the brueckenschlaeger network, we use artificial intellegences, who “hang out” in our IRC channel to provide us with important information. Possibilities reach from news-feeds via dictionaries to communication with project management software like redmine and funny experiments :-) You don’t even need an IRC client to participate: the XMPP (aka Jabber) protocol can provide transports which allow you to use IRC from your XMPP client without it even knowing about the existence of IRC. This means, that you can log in to jabber, for instance, and can still use the functionalities of IRC.

chatlog niklas

Other interesting open source sofware to check out:

  • GIMP: Photo editing
  • Inkscape: Vector graphic program
  • Scribus: layouting software
  • xmind: mindmapping software
  • drupal: creating websites, forums, social networks
  • jabber: open source instant meesager (like icq)