• Tech

last modified March 18, 2011 by mallory

Report on the Technology of the World Social Forum


The technology collaboration at the 2011 World Social Forum was remarkably successful, demonstrating a new level of maturity in the various projects spawned by the World Social Forum process or independly drawn to it. Members of the WSF staff, ENDA tech staff, WSF TV, May First/People Link, Ciranda, IMC Africa and many others worked side-by-side on the technology throughout the forum. These are relationships that are continuing to grow after the forum has ended.

Despite this new level of collaboration, many obstacles prevented the smooth functioning of the technology, ranging from lack of control over the technology to administrative bottlenecks and difficulty with infrastructure. Many of these obstacles are documented below.

List of Websites

  • 2011 Event site: fsm2011.org
  • 2011 Event registration site: registration.fsm2011.org
  • WSF supporting media websites: ciranda.net, worldsocialforum.info, wsftv.net
  • Historical website: www.forumsocialmundia.org.br
  • Others media websites reported to the Communications Commission list during and after Dakar: giuseppecaruso.wordpress.com, www.altermundo.org/, www.cartamaior.com.br, imc-africa.mayfirst.org, pambazuka.org, www.ips.org, alainet.org

2011 Event Site (fsm2011.org)

Goals of the Event Website

  • Present information on the logistics of the event to participants
  • Communicate to the media information and happenings leading up to and during the event
  • Aggregate media from WSF, independent, supporting sites which are listed above
  • Display news items related to the forum from mainstream media sources
  • Create a usable and accessible website with up-to-date information

Website Team

There are two main bodies that worked on the event site for the World Social Forum 2011 in Dakar. The first is a contracted company in Brazil, Chuva, Inc., and the second is the organized technologists and supporters of the WSF website team, what would effectively be a sub-group of the IC Communications Commission dedicated to technology and software.

Chuva, Inc. was contracted to build the site and re-contracted for any outstanding functionality updates to the site. Details of the contract were handled by the WSF-Brazil office. The site was built in Drupal, a free and open source platform. The design, design implementation, and site development were handled by Chuva entirely as well as hosted on Chuva's servers. Development on the site was done collaboratively, also with free and open source software solutions. The main contacts at Chuva were accessible via Skype and email. After the site's administration was partially turned over to the WSF website team, an outstanding contract still existed for 40 hours of labor, which was not necessary to be billed.

The World Social Forum team consisted of major contributions by Igor, Thais, Andre, and Mallory. There was an email list setup to deal with questions of the website. This functioned as a way to communicate initially about steps towards cleaning up the structure of the site, introducing translators to the site to help with text translations, and finding any fixes to the site's functionality. There was only one in-person meeting held in the days before the forum. Eventually, the website team that was present in Dakar, joined by three more people from the USSF technology working group, gained partial administrative control over the website so that its functionality could be altered before the beginning of the forum, based on the feedback received from the Communications Commission.

Due to the expected load placed on the website during the event, especially with downloadable files, May First/People Link provided a varnish server located in the United States to distribute and mitigate load issues with the site. Due to this foresight, the website was never inaccessible during the forum for any reason.


Content on the site was in disarray, even in the few crucial weeks before the forum and, most importantly, during the forum. A team was established to manage the content of the website and its translation. However, the workflow devised for the approval of website content was bottle-necked at the local level resulting in the delay or even absence of important information related to the event. Lack of training on the use of the site by content editors contributed to this problem. Lack of communication within the local process about projects and various aspects of the forum made it difficult to find up-to-date information and post it on the site in all languages. During the forum, the WSF website team was asked to post the various programs to the web site. The documents were typically received on the morning of the program, in proprietary spreadsheet format, rather than the more readable PDF version of the printed programs. Despite the fact that it has been estimated that 80% of the workshops the first day were canceled simply because the schedule that was released had incorrect locations in it, users were able to access the program online, each day of the forum event.

Communication to the media information and happenings leading up to and during the event was done through the newsletter functionality of the site. Items listed in the main content section of the site's front page were dedicated to daily (sometimes more often than daily) messages about information, press conferences and press releases, as well as statements regarding important events. An electronic press kit was available from all pages of the site at least one week before the start of the event, a more complete version being disseminated on the day of the opening march.

Functionality was in place on the site to allow for aggregation of content from WSF media sites, which are listed above. Within the WSF there is a rich history of alternative media organizations that have been created to support social movements and the forum events and it is important that these organizations be highlighted on the website, therefore their logos and links to these sites were included on all pages of the event website. It was intended that more prominence be given to wsftv.net by streaming live video on both wsftv.net and fsm2011.org, unfortunately this was not implemented but is a future project of the technology and wsftv.net subgroups of the Communications Commission.

News items from mainstream media sources were also displayed on the website using the same functionality as was used to display content from WSF-supported platforms, thus there was no prioritization of the display of alternative over mainstream media news. Easily, the site might have displayed these items with a differentiation between alternative media and mainstream media. The display of mainstream media whatsoever on WSF sites is a topic of ongoing debate within the Communications Commission.

The WSF website team received administrative access to the website code. Full access to the live server was never obtained, so the team relied on Chuva, the consultant firm, to activate any structural changes to the live site. The website team worked to fix elements of the site that prevented simple, content updates, particularly due to an unusable, broken translation workflow. In two days, two weeks before the event, huge progress was made on the website essentially tearing through a month-old document that outlined important structural changes to the site that the developers never finished.

It is important to relay the working environment for those responsible for the event website. Changes to the fsm2011.org website were done by the website team in conjunction with Chuva, Inc. The WSF technologists never obtained access to the live site, which created a huge obstacle for affecting structural changes to the live site on-demand, or without intervention from the consulting firm. Also, the WSF technologists did not have control over the DNS, such that email and other DNS needs had to use a different domain (wsf2011.org). Hiring contractors for the website was a positive step for initial development, but full control should have been given to WSF organizers from the very beginning. Time and money was not spent well by the intention to contract a firm for the management of the site's entire life-cycle. Additionally, the training for editors (the WSF office), translators, and content managers was very low, causing the site's content to be in disarray and usability to lower over time as well.

Online Registration

The online registration platform for the WSF 2011 also used free and open source technology. It appeared to be a customized installation of an event management suite which was implemented also by Chuva, Inc. registration.fsm2011.org. The evaluation of the tool was done by the WSF Communications Commission and members of the USSF Information, Communication, and Technology working group prior to launch. Feedback was given via an email list as well as directly by phone, Skype and email. Most changes were incorporated into the site's functionality.

Participants, both individuals and organizations, were able to register to attend the event, register self-organized activities, register self-organized expanded activities, purchase stalls, and purchase translation for their self-organized activities, as well as complete their payments online and edit or change their registration information up until the week of the forum event. Users submitted requests for support via email on the main website, which was responded to each day and incurred approximately 25 emails per day at its maximum.

Activities could be modified by the participants via the website only up until a deadline, after which time only administrators could change this information in preparation for the printed program. The list of activities was downloaded and shared in spreadsheet format among the program organizers. Unfortunately, changes and editing was unable to be done on the website. Therefore, it was not possible to have an updated, dynamic, searchable list of the events available on the website for participants to view. Instead, a static spreadsheet or other file download was made available to participants via the website.

Information Technology Team and Infrastructure Report

Infrastructure needs for the event itself consisted of three main items: Internet connectivity at the forum site, computers for registration and media, and volunteers to setup and use the computers during registration.

Internet connectivity was available at the university, the forum's site. Additional connectivity was requested to be installed at the site of the Media Center, in the university library. The connections were installed, however did not improve connectivity enough to allow for the Media Center's wireless connection to be used due to its slow speed.

Computers were donated by Oxfam International and installed at registration, media registration, and a community-accessible site where participants could have access to the Internet. The computers were checked, repaired, and used in trainings for volunteers by the ITT team of the local WSF logistics group. Due to a slow connection and that the core ITT team was understaffed, networking the computers in the media center was a challenge.

Volunteers were trained very well by the core ITT team to use the registration system both for participants and media, who were primarily found by local logistics organizers at the university.

Other Software and Technology Uses

Scribus was used to design and create the program, bags, and other printed material. The operating system on the donated Oxfam computers was Ubuntu Linux. The email program used for @wsf2011.org was based in Microsoft Windows. Skype and Ustream were used for expanded activities. (Streaming video was not used, although it was planned to implement an open source platform for wsftv.net. The software was put in place, although the project failed to come to fruition due to lack of videographers and coordination among the developers of the fsm2011.org and wsftv.net sites.)