I'm interested in learning from organizations that have set up online databases 
for listing people, their professional activities and contact information. 
There are questions on at least 3 levels, but first I wanted to go through some 
conceptual background and seek feedback on that.

The idea of collecting people's professional & contact info in an online 
database by permitting them to enter and update their own data is hardly new, 
and indeed is probably the foundation of the "social networking" sites that 
have enjoyed some popularity in recent years (and that some have recently been 
questioning the future of). 

In thinking of a database project that would, among other things, seek to 
facilitate communication and collaboration among experts and activists on 
African localization, I'm actually reflecting on an online database of African 
studies scholars set up about 10 years ago that persists today but with 
outdated info. This example - and indeed the recent questions about the 
longterm viability of social networking sites - give one pause. Are such online 
self-maintained directories viable? Is the problem with the ones that become 
moribund that the (ongoing, thriving) networking aspect of the internet in 
general is not well harnessed in such delimited spaces? Or that it is 
unrealistic to expect a broad group of people to keep coming to the site and 
updating their info unless there is a specific incentive beyond acceptance that 
the listing is a Good Idea? Does anyone have experience in the lifecycle of 
such a resource where the outcome has been positive (that is, the database has 
ongoing utility to its members and reasonably current information)? 

One idea that comes to mind is the possibility of building small interest 
communities related to a larger subject with the idea that such smaller 
communities might maintain themselves (i.e., the small virtual community 
consists of people who would probably interact more and know each other, hence 
providing an incentive to each other to keep up with the group), and that these 
can be accessible by all members of other small communities in the linked 
larger space (the latter being the hope of the project). Sort of the reverse of 
a Ryze or LinkedIn where you join the larger list and then perhaps sign on to a 
special interest group or two within.

It's along these lines that I'm thinking and seeking feedback, but there are 
also as mentioned above, questions on 3 levels re the mechanics of setting up 
an online database of people's contact info, for those who have experience in 
the matter:

1) Usability. What were the choices and evaluations of the choice in terms of 
software, approach, ease of use and set-up on the site, maintenance, and 
potential for users to maintain their own info? I'm particularly interested in 
FOSS solutions (cost, adaptability), but aware that one is likely to incur a 
cost to adapt a workable template to one's particular needs.

2) Security. Once you start to have interactive systems and/or list people's 
contact info there are a range of security and privacy issues. With the main 
aim of facilitating contact among people working in a certain technical
area, the kind of info would be limited, i.e., specific to the reason for 
having the database. And of course one can munge e-addresses to limit phish and 
spam issues (strictly vegetarian).  But what kind of site/dbase security issues 
are there - i.e., what sort of problems does this sort of interface regularly 
encounter - and what are the solutions/preventatives?

3) Linkability. If using such a database in tandem with other info on a site, 
how are links handled? This is kind of a vague question admittedly, but to the 
extent one seeks to link, say, project info and people/contact info across 

Any feedback to any of the above, including experience and recommendations 
would be appreciated.  Thanks in advance.

Don Osborn
PanAfrican Localisation Project
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