Review: Open Plans Collaboration Platform

By mattcoop, published at 31 May 2008 - 9:29pm, last updated 11 years 24 weeks ago.

The open plans platform itself is a serviceable collaboration platform, built on Plone, stitching together a Wordpress blog, wiki, and mailing lists. The real promise of this platform, however, comes from the organization behind it.


"The Open Planning Project (TOPP) was started in 1999 by Mark Gorton, founder of LimeWire and the LimeGroup, as Vision for New York: a New York-based planning advocacy organization. TOPP is a non-profit organization founded to promote thoughtful urban planning and encourage increased public participation via open source technology development."

Nine years later, TOPP has accrued upwards of 30 brilliant programmers, content creators, community organizers, and activists. These kids get it. The back-end guys are religious about clean, distributable, open source code, and everyone in the office has a comprehensive understanding about the role of technology in society. And it's no accident either - the organization's considerable funding, historic West Village office, and peer governance structure are an easy sell to brilliant, socially-minded technologists.

TOPP houses 3 main projects: OpenGeo/GeoServer, NYC Streets Renaissance, and Open Plans. The OpenGeo/GeoServer project has made TOPP a leader in the mapping software community, while the Streets Renaissance campaign has been instrumental in promoting pedestrian- and bike-friendly public policy in the city. Open Plans is the most comprehensive of the three projects, but suffers from the fact that its payoff is not as clear or immediate as the other two. In particular, usability issues have slowed user adoption, which in turn lessens TOPP's incentive to push forward with improvements.

That said, there's every reason to expect that this project will find its way. I've had the pleasure of meeting several of the team members and spending a day coworking at their office. The place is burning up with passion, inspiration, and talent. I'm committed to using their platform for a number of projects, despite some clunky features, because I'm convinced that they'll get it right very soon.