Easiest way to build and support a web site’s community: Patapage

Patapage is a tool that can drastically reduce the effort needed to build services for supporting a web site’s community, without impacting the web site design and structure. But few people currently appreciate this: let me tell a short story.

Yesterday evening I had dinner with a very smart friend, developer and consultant. He told me “Tell me about Patapage! The small guy logo is just great. Generates those docked buttons…”. He had had a quick look to the site, and… completely missed the aim of the software. He is not alone: we are finding that this is what happens to most visitors of the beta site: after the first wow effect, visitors believe they got what Patapage is about:

adding pretty docked buttons on your pages pointing to external services, to which some behavior is delegated

This is a quite misleading picture of what Patapage can do as a service for a web site creator. Very few visitors of Patapage site get to see the potential of the service (there are exceptions: yesterday a designer of very nice sites wrote us “This is an amazing service”, and we regularly get some feedback like this).

In the case of my friend, yesterday I started explaining him that yes, delegation to an external service is the one of the basic ideas that makes building richer web sites easy and quick, but Patapage is useful because the “external” content can be integrated page by page in the hosting site – and you are never leaving the site where you started from. This makes say building a site for a conference, like the one we built for Developers in Florence, really fast: once we had built the static page, like this:

image

image Then we just created an account on Patapage for the domain and added contacts, feedback, discussions, filtering or relevant tweets and delicious tagging, and more, as in the picture on the left – see it in action here. Ready to publish!

I explained this to my friend, and I saw a more and more surprised look on his face, as he realized the simplicity and power of the tool, and that he could use it immediately for some of the web pages he had to publish. Consider that the example I made above is one of the simplest usages: a deeper mapping of your needs is done by integrating Patapage’s functionalities in the body contents of your pages, using your own styled links instead of docked buttons, and even keeping parts of the contents of your pages generated by wiki-like parts, maintained with Patapage. You can delegate to Patapage all the functionality needed to motivate, support and maintain a community on your site: no development is needed.

“So –my friend suggested – I could build a page-by-page help system just by pasting a script on my site’s footer?” – yes, exactly. Just like when you replaced your CMS statistics with Google Analytics – the effort is the same.

“Could one in this way replace completely the functionality offered by a CMS?” – he continued. There are some limits, for example:

- Patapage does not handle your site tree (or better, graph) structure: actually, we believe that in many cases to keep the linked structure in a set of static pages is a great simplification – but this is a separate matter.

- The core of your contents should be on your pages, not displayed through remote calls, also because of indexing reasons. Actually what Patapage eases is to bring back on your site discussions and exchanges that happen elsewhere – and this is more and more a felt need.

Still, as my friend pointed out, most CMS are not very good in handling communities and don’t offer good, ready tools for integrating external services. Patapage can be used to speed up and simplify things also in building quite complex web sites – like my forthcoming European Startups dedicated web site: the site’s contents and structure will  be in the CMS, community support in various forms will be in Patapage.

Creating a good conceptual map for the users between their needs and what your software solution does is what makes complex software useful and usable. Part of this mapping effort can be built in the user interface, part can’t, but it is something you have to deal with when building software. In all cases, the solution is not to oversimplify.

Listening to Stackoverflow podcast, I found this quote from Howard Aiken:

Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.

Patapage is a completely original idea. We’ll have to ram it down, then: to do that, we’ll explain the “mapping” in a detailed document, an introduction + examples + user guide – hopefully not too boring. People who are willing to read a short e-book (or print it out and take 15 minutes of quiet reading) we’ll get the point, a bit like my friend did yesterday evening. Others, too impatient for that, we’ll be lost – fine with me ;-)

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