As of May 2006, we have completed the fourth formal release of our software. With this release we have over 34 different community based applications of the software. These applications include communities created by our clients, model communities and those built as proof of a concept.
Irrespective of the size and motivation of organizations there is a commonality in information management needs. Identified needs include form-building, data or content gathering and community-network structuring; while taking for granted search and match, access control, authentication, communication, dissemination and reporting tools.
PANTOTO brings together these common information management solutions under one umbrella and allows users to customize and then delegate the management of information. The only interface with the software is through a browser and the training required is up to one week depending on the role of the user in the community. This enables an organic process of continuous evolution of information structures and purpose-based sub-community formation.
Two people are trained for one week. During this period they are coached in building one information management model (simple Web application) and also go through a train-the-trainer exercise. This includes in-depth demonstrations of how other organizations are using the software.
As information needs change, authorized users can create new categories of information, define or refine how information will be gathered, define read/write access levels to categories, and define parameters on which information in the category will be searched. One can optionally specify slices or domains that define alternate entry points and look and feel.
Categories of structured information are organized in the form of a tree, which can be browsed. Users can recommend and take editorship of new categories. An editor of a category can share responsibilities with other users. The editors decide the access rights of the categories. Editors also define the information structures/forms that will be used to collect information. Users post and search for information using the form and can post remarks or send private messages. In a PANTOTO Community, a posting is referred to as a pagelet.
As a category tree grows, more editors become involved in enhancing and managing the information architecture and responsibilities are delegated. A user can have a number of personas (also groups) in the system allowing them to play specific roles and collaborate. Every pagelet has structured information with a communication wrapper. Editors can use these features to build information and community management solutions as needs emerge.
PANTOTO uses Web-technology -- software runs on a server and people can access it through a Web-browser. PANTOTO is installed on a server in an organization, or on an Internet host, and people use only a Web-browser to architect the needs of a community of interest. Typical community needs include provisioning for delegation of roles, collaboration, and creating the space and forms for disseminating and gathering information.
Technology chosen for development of PANTOTO is based on two criteria:
(i) It could be made available with low or free licensing costs, and (ii) Most software developers in India can develop it. It is developed using Java, and open source Apache License software (E.g., WebMacro and Lucene). It is developed on open source platforms (Linux, MySQL and?Tomcat). Java helps bring about object-oriented concepts in the software, therefore easier software maintenance. These are significant factors in an Indian environment, where attracting and retaining developers for the social development sector is difficult. Servlet specification standards help in easy installation of server on various platforms which includes both Linux and Windows. The browser interface enables people to interact with PANTOTO using either IE or Mozilla browsers. For interoperability needs, import and export of data is possible through spreadsheet formats, SQL, CSV or XML.
The PANTOTO model captures the typical needs of an Internet community and makes it available to an existing community (e.g. organizations, enterprises or school environments) or an upcoming Internet community. The model captures the spirit of the Open Directory Project (http://www.dmoz.org), the Yahoo classifieds and Craigs-list, various online communities, online survey needs and enterprise intranets.
More formally, PANTOTO can be likened to a structure-encouraging Wiki, or a generic-blogger that allows organization of arbitrary meta-structure with roles and security levels. It is an evolutionary model that encourages participation
1. to create a closed world semantic web
2. by sharing of meta-information between (sub) communities, while naturally creating ontologies
3. in building simple Web applications,
4. in community communication and by facilitating rudimentary workflow, and
The PANTOTO Communities software development project started with a mission to bring information architecture and information management tools to the level of an average user.
Over time, while working to cost-effectively develop the software, a clear identification evolved of the difficulty faced by small organizations (like ourselves) especially in developing countries in getting software developed for their Intranet or Internet needs.
The PANTOTO model has been iteratively developed while working with small and medium user groups.
Our mission is to develop a toolset for small organizations, particularly those in the social development sector, Non-Profit (NPOs) and Non-Government Organizations (NGO's), that enables them to manage their information and communication without software development dependency. Over the last few years, PANTOTO has been
deployed in a various NPOs/NGO's and a government organization after training a small group on the concepts
of information and community management. It is our belief that we can further enable a larger set of
communities to make avail of it.
The vision of the PANTOTO team is to empower small organizations, particularly those in the social development/NGO sector with tools that facilitate information management in an affordable and evolutionary manner.
About four years and over three hundred man months have been spent on the development of the PANTOTO Communities software. Led by a team of computer scientists, the software has been through an iterative development and proof-of-concept testing phase and now a growing client base is in place. Unlike a typical IT enterprise, our style of working emulates an organization in the social development sector whereby we hope to understand the problems of our target group while making our solutions affordable to them.
We believe that by keeping our software development costs low and by emulating the work environment of the typical NGO, we deliver services in a sustainable manner to the NGO sector. Our efforts to commercialize the software are to sustain the operational and R&D costs, so that we can continue to offer subsidized services to NGOs, through revenues that we earn from Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs).