What ever happened to the Populous Project?

The Populous Project is (was?) an open source, student news content management system which received $275,000 from the Knight Foundation’s 2008 News Challenge. It was supposed to be the panacea for college media, solve all of our College Publisher woes, and offered everything but the kitchen sink. CoPress talked to Anthony and Dharmishta a few times in October 2008, was promised an alpha to play with later that fall, but the project shortly dropped completely off the radar.

What ever happened to the Populous Project, and the Knight Foundation’s smooth $275,000?

Why this is an important story to be told: The Knight Foundation espouses “informed and engaged communities [that] lead to transformational change” except, apparently, when it’s inconvenient. A significant portion of college media is locked to a proprietary publishing platform that takes most, if not all, of their online advertising revenue. In order to build financially viable businesses online, these publications need to take control of their technology. Stories like the Populous Project don’t inspire the trust required for organizations to collaborate on their technology and benefit from the effects of a network of innovation.

Leave specific questions you want answered in the comments.


Miles November 28, 2010 Reply

What the heck is up with the Project’s website? The opening (with no line breaks) quickly leads into something about the internal combustion engine, and rambles onward, with what looks like spam links–did the domain lapse?

Daniel Bachhuber November 28, 2010 Reply

I suspect they no longer wanted to maintain the Django-based project site and did a marginal effort migration to WordPress.

Lauren Rabaino November 29, 2010 Reply

The obvious main question is the one posed in the title of this post: What ever happened to it? This question has multiple sub-parts, such as:
1. What factors, specifically, contributed to the holdup in progression of the project? (e.g. lack of motivation, lack of pressure from the community, lack of powerful leadership)
2. What happened to the money?
3. How far did they get before they completely stopped? (e.g. is there anything open-sourceable that others can continue working on even if the original team is done?)
4. Do they plan to continue at some point? If so, what resources do they need in order to continue and how will they ensure it doesn’t fall off the radar again? If not, what about the money?!
5. What has their interaction with the Knight Foundation been like since they got the money? (e.g. Has there been any pressure from TKF to continue the project?)
6. What advice do they have for other Knight applicants to ensure a similar situation doesn’t happen to anyone else?
7. On a related note, what recommendations do they have for TKF to better monitor project progression after the money is granted?

Miles November 29, 2010 Reply

The last news seems to be that they released their code two years ago (Nov 08) but the repository is now empty: https://github.com/populous

Miles November 29, 2010 Reply

Their release at the time said that workflow would come out in the winter, and the rest of the site in the spring. Obviously didn’t happen.

Daniel Bachhuber November 29, 2010

It’s not mentioned specifically in the post, but Arvli and Anthony were at ACP/CMA last year (October 2009) and said the digital newsroom would be released by the end of November 2009. That didn’t happen either and still hasn’t happened.

Andy Boyle January 9, 2011 Reply

I know what happened, but I can’t tell you because you’re not on Twitter.

(I actually do know what happened.)

Daniel Bachhuber January 9, 2011 Reply

What is this? A challenge, Mr. Boyle?

I know what happened too. I just want them to come clean with it.

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