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Alternatives to DGroups

Contributed by: Andrew Hubbertz, 30 March 2008, summarizing responses to his query about alternatives to DGroups

I want to thank everyone who responded to my request for alternatives to DGroups. I tried to reply to each personally; my apologies to anyone I may have missed.

As promised, I will attempt to summarize the responses I received.

First of all, a couple of general observations that were shared: • It was noted that an important feature I did not mention was ease of programming • As well, “free” is a relative term, as some free products require significant investments, expertise, etc. to make them fully functional

Secondly, on the merits of DGroups itself, one response was worth quotation at some length:

“...Eventually we decided to use DGroups. It was not the most technically sophisticated option, but the feature set seemed good enough. We thought it would be beneficial for our group to stand alongside other DGroups users within a common environment, and we hoped members of our group may gain confidence to use DGroups for other purposes within their own organisations.

“Now that our online community has been launched I am coming to regret the decision to use DGroups. As you may be aware, DGroups is going through a transition in its management so this is probably a matter of timing. Right now the core features of DGroups are quite dated and although it is based on a robust listserve (Lyris), the quality of integration between the email engine and the web user interface leaves much to be desired. There has been considerable enthusiasm about a future upgrade to "DGroups 2.0" yet seemingly a lack of project management to achieve timely results.

“There remain many reasons to use DGroups (it probably meets most of your requirements) and I remain optimistic about the new management regime under CIGI/Igloo despite current frustrations. However if you are needing to launch a new email group in the short term, you might find Google Groups a more straightforward option.”

As to alternatives to DGroups, this respondent forwarded a report that makes the following observations:

“Google Groups is free to use. It is feature rich and easy to use. Advertising is unobtrusive and it works well in a low bandwidth environment. [X] highly respected for its work with online technical communities, uses Google Groups as its preferred platform for over 30 email groups relating to water and sanitation and international development. This is a general platform and its “brand” is not generally associated with international development. (See

“Drupal is an open source platform, highly regarded for online communities. It is very flexible and would require installation and configuration... (See

“CIARIS is a new platform developed in Portugal for multilingual online communities. Initially funded by ILO and EU it has possibilities for application by other organisations for other purposes and is attracting considerable interest across the development sector. (See [Note: More on CIARIS below – A Hubbertz]

“OnlineGroups.Net has also been highly recommended. It offers the possibility to host unlimited number of different email groups via a customised “home page.” (See”

As to choices made by other organisations:

One major multi-lateral organisation has had a developer produce a customized system, meeting their particular requirements, which includes ease of use and accessibility (especially for users in developing countries).

The following are services that are currently used or are being studied by respondents. Some are commercial (free or fee-based), some are non-commercial:


(Learning and Resources Centre on Social Inclusion)

Sponsored by ILO, EC, and various Portuguese agencies.

Communities of Practice for Local Government

Only available to users in the UK. May be of interest for the features that are included.


“dgCommunities is a collaborative space for professionals working to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development worldwide. Share knowledge, tools, contacts, and more with members in 200 countries. Each online community is centered on specific themes and guided by experts in the field. Thousands of information resource links are included, plus valuable member services.”

(From the website)

Denise Senmartin reported in an email to this list:

“Another platform to consider is the Development Gateway dgCommunities. You can contact them to ask about having a private closed dgCommunity for your specific team. I used to work with them so know that were migrating to an open source CMS that will add many functionalities to the already existing ones (posting of content, discussion forums, uploading your profile, news and events, automatic alerts, etc). However there are costs as you need to cover the technical maintenance costs.”

Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform (GFN-SSR) “The Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform (GFN-SSR) is funded by the UK Government's Global Conflict Prevention Pool (GCPP), a collaborative initiative of three UK government departments: the Department for International Development (DFID), the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).” “…the website houses a number of restricted access webgroups. These are all targeted at a different audience and designed to allow users to upload documents/information, find contact details and talk/blog online in a secure environment.”

(From the website)


From Steve Song, in an email to this list:

“Doubtless GoogleGroups is known to you. In terms of ease-of-use it is without peer in terms of a combined mailing-list and web environment. However, you do have to tolerate some text advertising. Also, if you privacy is an issue for your group, googlegroups may not be the best choice.”


“Groups of people use Nexo to do more online: • Create Web sites and email lists • Share pictures, videos, files and Web favourites • Have discussions • Create shared calendars and vote on activities”

(From the website)

Commercial but apparently free to user.


“OpenSourceHost is a specialized hosting company focused on providing quality web space and support for php/mysql open source software systems. This includes, but is not limited to, content management systems, bulletin boards, photo galleries, blogs, e-learning systems, etc.”

(From the website)

Steve Song commented, in an email to this list:

“For about USD70 per year, you can set up a domain and they will install a combination of Wordpress/Mediawiki/Mailman for you that will do pretty much all you describe. It will require more work on your side to customise it to suit your group but it has worked very well for me. You can see a very simple example at which was set up for a workshop.”


“As the first wiki company, Socialtext is the leader in making web collaboration secure, scalable and easy to use. A Socialtext wiki is a secure, group-editable website. Instead of sending emails and attachments, Socialtext customers use private web pages to work together.”

(From the website)

Basically a fee-based, commercial service, but they offer a free trial version.

Tomoye’s Simplify

Simplify is a Tomoye product that is in the process of being replaced by Ecco. The respondent is unsure whether the latter will have all of the critical functionality available in Simplify. The respondent reports that their version has been highly customized.

The product has a toggle between low-bandwidth and high-bandwith versions. It also has fully integrated webpage and email interface. This is a commercial product.

Eldis Communities

Users may subscribe at no charge and participate in a number of groups. They may also create their own groups, which may be open to all other members or only to persons authorized by the creator. This is in beta version.

ECS (Electronic Collaborative Services)

Developed by WA Research SA (Switzerland) and used by WHO, UNAIDS, UNHCR, SADC, HDNet, etc.

It is available to other organizations. I can provide contacts upon request.

I have not been able to view ECS, but it was developed to support collaborative work on the web, including work with researchers in the South.