Collaborative websites

Website of the Centre de recherche en ethnomusicologie (CREM). Online at

CREM is where I work. I took over the admin of the website in 2013. It was already a beautiful website with a colourful layout. But it was static, mostly HTML with just a couple of PHP includes for the menus and banners. I rebuilt it entirely using Joomla 2.5.

The main benefit was obviously to make it collaborative. Members have an account to manage their profile page and to post items like seminars and publication announcements. As a side bonus, in the process of programming the layout as a Joomla template, I also got rid of tables (replaced by divs) and added some responsiveness by using dynamic widths.

For a team such as ours, having a collaborative website is both a challenge and an opportunity. The risk is that if members don’t get involved then… no one else will. Then the site will stagnate, become outdated, its hair will fall and its teeth will turn yellow. On the other hand, the opportunity is exactly that too: if people do get involved, it is very easy to have a very reactive website. Not only the contents stay up-to-date, but the navigation, the colours, the graphics, anything can be rearranged on the spot to suit our needs. That’s why I’m keeping the tech admin of this website, instead of having the CREM hire someone else. At least for now, it offers the best conditions for reactivity. No excuses when things are outdated!

Website of the Société française d’ethnomusicologie (SFE). Online at

I was on the board of the SFE from 2008 until 2013. Amongst the things I took in charge was the website. It existed as static pages, roughly not updated for the last 2 years. I built a new one for scratch, using Joomla 1.5. Later I upgraded it to 2.5, when that branch became stable.

The template was initially adapted from a predefined template named JSIndustry. However the latter was only available for Joomla 1.5. When I upgraded to 2.5, I ended up recoding it from scratch, keeping more or less the same appearance but replacing tables by divs, adding dynamic widths and other improvements.

The SFE has some 190 members. All of them get an account on the website. This enables them to de several things:

  • They maintain their profile in the society’s "directory" (annuaire). The profile has public fields (list of publications, research topics…), and restricted ones. Restricted fields (phone number, address…) are used by the board for administrative purposes.
  • They announce events and publications related to ethnomusicology. Most people post about their own activity but this is not a rule.

Twice a month, I compile the latest news posted on the website and send them as a newsletter to the members and to additional subscribers (you can subscribe on the homepage if you wish). This system has effectively replaced collective mailings for member’s announcements. Collective mails are now used only on rare occasions, for announcements of the board related to the Society as a whole.

I devised this system after my previous experience with the Artmap collective. I had found that researchers in the humanities needed an additional "incentive" in order to effectively get involved in a collaborative website. They’d rather send to a mailing list than post on a website… However, there are a number of reasons why it is good for an academic society to have a lively collaborative website. The most evident is  that such a website offers a cumulative view which mailing lists don’t have. As such, it also constitutes a good public image for the society’s usefulness, network representativity and so on. This is why at SFE we have chosen that the site should be the basis of the mailing list, and that posting to the website should be the regular way to address all members.

Of course, this requires that the site be really usable even for people with limited technical skills. I took great care to simplify things, tweaking for instance Joomla’s default submission form to hide unused fields, and other such things. Also, I made illustrated tutorials for all common operations like posting an image, inserting a hyperlink… The results are not unsatisfying. There is a core of about 20 regular users, and some other  30 post from time to time. Most members update their profile at least once in a year. As to the general public, in dec 2014 we had around 10 000 visits, from nearly 6 000 unique visitors. It makes me happy that people find it useful.

ARTMAP is a collective of anthropologists, artists and hackers. It was first constituted as a research network on "special effects". Then it moved on to various other topics including ambient environments, micro-macro scale plays, lo-tech systems, virtuosity, architecture techniques, show machines… I was an active member of that group for a few years. That’s where my work on virtuosity comes from (see this publication and this one).

I created the first website of the group in 2006. It was my first attempt at a collaborative website. I used Joomla 1.5. The platform never actually worked in a truly collaborative way. Some 15 members had accounts on it but only 3 or 4 of them ever connected to post something. I was very happy however with this experience. For one thing, it made me understand the challenges faced by collaborative websites in the humanities (why people didn’t have time to write and debate online, whereas they seemed to have plenty of it to do that on paper). Also, it proved that 3 or 4 active people on a website are enough to make it lively, dynamic and attractive. Finally, I learned a lot about the way CMS work.

The site I built is no longer online. I administered it from 2006 to 2009. In 2010 Joffrey Becker took over. He chose to migrate the contents to Wordpress. The currently visible site is mostly his work, with older and newer contents.