Why I’m Building SpacePoints on the Tendenci CMS for Non-Profit Websites

First, What is SpacePoints?

The general software platform I’ve been leading development on called SpacePoints can best be explained like this:

When you share your excitement and passion for space, you’ll earn a ‘spacepoint’ and the SpacePoints online platform maintains the database of your space activities and spacepoints earned.  

The toughest part with describing SpacePoints is communicating the idea around a platform for space enthusiasts to share their excitement of space-exploration to people outside of the space community and being rewarded for this through a virtual points system.  The goal is to motivate people to become more active in promoting space exploration, whether it be robotic, planetary science, human spaceflight, science fiction turned reality, or other space-topics.

The Background Story of SpacePoints

SpacePoints was an idea that spontaneously came out of a SpaceUp Houston Unconference last February in a session jointly led by Dennis Bonilla and Tim Bailey.  I could write several pages sharing the story of how SpacePoints went from an idea to a crowdsourced workshop and set of requirements to a working software product.

I won’t go into all of that here though – instead I will share a little about the “elephant in the room” and how I came to use Tendenci as the platform for SpacePoints.  In case you missed what the “elephant” is – I work for Tendenci and I’m building SpacePoints (a volunteer project that I’m personally involved in) on Tendenci.   I’m presenting SpacePoints at different events like SpaceUps and SXSW Interactive and as a result, Tendenci is getting PR too.

The decision to build SpacePoints on Tendenci was a tough one – and not remotely because I thought Tendenci wouldn’t be a good platform or don’t enjoy using it.  Quite the contrary – I love Tendenci and use it every day to update both our company’s websites: http://schipul.com and http://tendenci.com.

SpacePoints actually started on a custom PHP platform that we weren’t able to complete due to a lack of programmers with enough free time.  Then, I began researching a number of different options including Drupal, PHPBB and Elgg. Each of these were far more technical than I was prepared for with the limited timeline I had before March 12th, 2012 when Spacepoints will be officially launching in beta at SXSW Interactive.

I needed a beta-ready version of a new online community and I had less than 5 months to do that. The irony is it took a Drupal developer (and friend), Kojo Idrissa, to convince me finally to stop resisting and use the tools that I had inside of Tendenci because I knew how and could accomplish it in a way that would really make SpacePoints more than just a “space-twitter” clone.

The SpacePoints Development Site is already being tested by a select number of users and it is far easier to use and integrate social sharing tools and other plugins in a short time frame than other options I looked into.  I am really glad I ultimately chose Tendenci for the platform.

What I Learned From This

I learned a lot of new technical things, including just how complicated setting up and configuring a Drupal platform can be, but I also learned something more valuable that I feel is something most of Tendenci’s clients can relate to.

Nonprofits and cause-related projects are understaffed and underfunded and generally don’t have a lot of technical people to help – yet the website and other online tools for marketing and fundraising and building a community are so critical.  If you can find a tool that you can use and that you can afford (or that someone is going to donate like my company has donated Tendenci software and hosting to the SpacePoints project), then Say Yes and use it!

Even if it isn’t the exact fit you wanted – nonprofits don’t have the luxury of waiting for something perfect if perfect means custom programming, doesn’t exist yet, or costs too much.  Start building your community and generating revenue through donations, memberships, and sponsorships on whatever platform you have access to.  You can always change it later on when you have more support and more money.

I wish I had said yes months before I did instead of worrying about how it would look.  Yes – Tendenci is going to gain a lot of PR from this and that’s not a bad thing because SpacePoints is also going to be able to grow and succeed faster than if I’d tried to go with something else.

SpacePoints Links

I would love for you to go learn more about the longer story of SpacePoints.  Then sign-up for a beta invitation and if you’ll be at SXSW this year, come to the panel!   Here are the links:

Sign-Up for the SpacePoints Beta sign-up

Check Out the Details in the SpacePoints Wiki

Come to the SXSW SpacePoints: Space Outreach at Ludicrous Speed panel!