10 Tips & Tricks for Using Open Atrium


10 Tips & Tricks to Using Open Atrium


Welcome to ten tips and tricks for getting the most out of Open Atrium. I’m Karen Borchert, I’m the EVP of strategy at Phase2 and I serve as the product lead for Open Atrium and we’re really glad you’re here today, and we’re excited to show you some good tips and tricks for making the most out of your Open Atrium experience.


What is Open Atrium?

So just to make sure we’re all on the same page to start out with, we'll start with what is Open Atrium? Open Atrium is open source collaboration software that is used to build intranets, portals and collaboration platforms for organizations. There have been approximately 270,000 downloads of Open Atrium in it's lifetime both in it's Drupal 6 and Drupal 7 versions, and it has been used widely from Organizations large and small to power all kinds of things from intranets to portals to project management systems and so on. So a lot of possibilities and a lot you can do with it, and we're going to show you some of that!


Open Atrium Features

So obviously Open Atrium has a lot of features and you're going to see some of those as we go through today, I won't go through each and every one of these, but the ability to sort documents and assets, and manage your events, manage discussions, have multimedia assets at your disposal, and track work. As well as having some really good qualities like being optimized for mobile. Extraordinarily data secure, and having control over identity management, data security, and several other things as you can see here. We won't go in to every single feature today, but this will help you get your head around what all is in Open Atrium.


Open Atrium Use Cases

So Open Atrium like I said can be used for a lot of things.

  • It can be used to build something like an extensible intranet, where you are sharing information with staff, affiliates or chapters of your organization, or members of your team in a centralized place where people can find documents, learn about events, have discussions with one another and so forth.

  • It can be used as a social collaboration platform where you are really engaging citizens or engaging constituents on sharing their ideas, sharing their stories and then sharing back with them information that your organization or your community is doing.

  • A knowledge management system, we use this, and you're going to see this today for Open Atrium, Open Atrium's documentation system is actually built on Open Atrium. It's used to manage the various documents that are needed to make sure you know how to use Open Atrium, and it's great because you can use it as a way to publish documents, but in the case of Open Atrium, we've actually then used it to engage community members in providing and contributing additional documentation and you'll see that today, it's a great flexibility in the system.

  • You can also use it for learning management. The ability to track for an educational institution or even an organization or company that is wanting to provide some learning to their staff can engage and use the calendar feature for of course being a calendar, can use the multimedia tools to provide lectures or lessons online, and use the discussions and documentation sections to really provide that kind of online classroom for people.


So those are kind of the ways you can start to think about OpenAtrium.


Getting started with Open Atrium

There's an important thing we've noticed happens and we're going to talk about that right upfront.

So you've downloaded the code, you're a Drupal developer, you know Drupal really well, you can often download the code directly off of Drupal.org. If you are a less technical person but you really want to spin it up, you might try a hosted solution, like GetPantheon, or some of the other hosted opportunities that are out there.

So you download the code and you take a look at it and it opens up, and it's this beautiful page, it says, "Welcome to Open Atrium 2" and you're like yay! And then you go into any of the spaces and you see this wide-open space and you're like "what?" Open Atrium has a little bit of a feeling when you're just getting started with it that is a little bit vast, a little bit unclear about what you're supposed to do and when and why and how and where you start. That’s actually built that way in some ways by design. In case you're wondering why, we'll tell you why it's built the way it's built.

When you build a Drupal distribution you can be really flexible with it's functionality and it's capabilities, OR you can make it really easy to create a website out of the box. But it's really hard to be both at the same time.

  • We chose flexibility for Open Atrium. We believe that the way you collaborate is not the way we collaborate, or not the way that the next person collaborates, and the ability to have flexibility in creating collaboration spaces for your teams, members and constituents is one of the most important elements, that flexibility, we believe, is really key.

  • So that means you get to create the collaboration tool you need without all of the crapola you don't want. That helps Open Atrium stop from being bloated with a whole bunch of features that you don’t need or don't know how to use, and it helps so you're not locked in to a specific experience when you start out.

BUT, all the same, when you're using Open Atrium, there are some things to keep in mind.

  • Consider your process first and your tools second. You want to think a little about how your organization wants to collaborate or does collaborate, and the process you guys use to serve that need and then think about how open atrium can serve that need second.

  • Consider who’s going to use it and how. Considering your users and how they're grouped together, and whom they work with and what they do together is really key to using open atrium well.

  • Start small and expand with success. The good thing about open atrium is that you can create one project space and give it a try! Whether you've put it together the right way or whether you'd like to see it put together a certain way you can do that with relative ease in open atrium.


Let’s give you a little help.

So, all of that said, you know that flexibility is great, but the wide open space can still be challenging, so lets give you a little help. We have about 10 things that we're going to go through today, I'm going to try to list what I call the "cheat" for it, the basic steps to do each thing, and then I will actually post these slides on slide share following this and we'll be posting each of the tips as it's own piece on the documentation as well. So don't feel like you need to feverishly copy down every single one of these as exactly the steps you need to do it. We'll show you today and then you can reference back later.

Tip #1: Know your groups from your spaces. One of the challenging things in open atrium is understanding what all of these things are for. Why do i create a group? And why do I create a space? And why do I create a team? And things like that. And planning and understanding those building blocks is very important. So the first thing I’m going to tell you is this. "Groups are for people, and spaces are for work". Groups are the way that we classify groupings of people that perhaps have the same role; maybe they're in the same location, that kind of thing. Maybe they are grouped by their characteristics as people, groups are for people. Spaces are for work. Spaces may be for a project, you may create a space for a project, or you may create a space for a department, a place where work gets done in your organization or a function you need your organization to perform together. So groups are for people, and spaces are for work. And if you want to look into a little bit more fully the open atrium building blocks is a document we have on the open atrium docs on the open atrium site, and it actually spells out really clearly each of these building blocks. People, structure, permissions and content. And like I said, the people section contains members, and members are part of a group. Then, you can also create a team, but we're going to talk about teams in a little bit. But then structures have spaces and subspaces and sections are for content. You're going to see how all of these things fit together, and then we're going to talk about that a lot today, but as you're thinking about you open atrium project, you want to start there, you want to start to think "who are my people?" and "what is my work that's going to get done?" and "how can I fit this together?"

So one-way I wanted to show you this is: Organizations should consider who are your people? How do they interact? What’s the work that you do? What is needed to do that work? And how do your people accomplish that work? So, in this, we created this example for a nonprofit organization. So, "who are your people?" and we said they're program managers and volunteers. "How do they interact?" they plan volunteer shifts and then they volunteer shifts. What’s the work they do? They tutor kids and they report results back to the headquarters. And what is needed to do that work? We need a place for them to discuss their results and we need a shared calendar for creating these volunteer shifts. And how do your people accomplish the work? They share a discussion forum and a calendar to coordinate the volunteer needs and schedule shifts. Before we ever stepped foot in atrium in this one we looked really clearly at our people and how they interact and the work they do together. And from that, we actually created this map of how this might look together. And so you can start to see that these areas of work, like starting a new chapter or having resources for your board of directors, those were the spaces where the work occurs. And then the sections are kind of the subs of that space. That’s where the actual content of your space is. So those are the littler pieces. What we saw once we started to really formulate that out, all of a sudden, all of the orange pieces you see here, those are our spaces, and the green, those are sections and that really helps us get started in open atrium so now you know what to create in that blank space. And then we did the same with our groups and our teams, we classify where our people fit in, what groups they might be in, if they're headquarters staff, or board members, or volunteers, and then we knew that there would be some teams that would want to work together. The board members would sometimes work with the headquarters staff, or you may have a local team that is your volunteer team lead and your volunteers. So we created some groups and teams, and having all these pieces in place before you really plunge into the actual software can really help you start to think about what you're going to create and it makes creating it a lot faster. So, when you have all of your stuff and you can sort of see everything together of your people, your work, and through that your groups and your spaces. So, again, groups are for people, spaces are for work, that’s my first tip. Know your groups from your spaces.

Tip #2: Use the tours. Open atrium has a really excellent and robust feature called "tours" and I’m going to show it to you. This is an install of open atrium, which is a pretty fresh install. Again, this is what you see when you go to open atrium, and if you look at this little question mark right up here in your top right screen, you can see all of these tours that give you some information about what is going on in open atrium. And the great thing about that is that they actually take you right through it in line. So if you were to say "ah shoot, I forgot Karen's first tip and I can't remember which is a group and which is a space. What’s a group again?" you can click on the group tour and it would take you right here and walk you right through it. “Site admin has the ability to create groups for the whole oa2 site, and groups are collections of users.” it explains exactly what a group is and it's going to take you on a step by step walkthrough on how to create those groups. If you're signed in as the site admin, you'll be able to access all of the tours that will go into the admin. If you're not a site admin, you won't be able to reach the tours that go into the administrator section of open atrium. But as you can see, this tells you exactly what to do, it takes you right into admin, goes into creating a group, and then goes though each of the steps of exactly what needs to be done. It tells you how to do your title, you can always go back in the tour or forward in the tour and you can end the tour if you're done with it or you feel like you've got it.

So, what’s wonderful, is that this can be a really big help in understanding open atrium and using it on a regular basis. But it can also be a very useful tool in creating tours. So site tours are actually something that you can create yourself, and this tour, called "site tours", will actually walk you through how to create your very own tour in your system. So you can get rid of all the tours that we've created if you want to, or you can leave them all, and you can create your own site tour that could perhaps welcome people to their new intranet or welcome them to their new portal and let them walk them through how to use it, or even what’s here on this tour.

So those tours can be a really helpful piece of functionality for learning open atrium and then welcoming users to your site. Just a reminder, you want to look for the black question mark on the white circle. It is always available at the top of your toolbar. We've made some for you as you can see and you can have some fun after this, in your open atrium install, just cruising through open atrium and going through the tours.

Tip #3: Make it yours. Use custom banners and colors. One of the things that open atrium really tries hard to do is to make sure that it is reasonable simple to brand your open atrium site the way that you want it and the way that your organization needs it to without a lot of theming or CSS. So you can of course theme it to your hearts content as with any other Drupal site, but there's a lot you can actually do right here in the interface. So this is the docs.openatrium.com site. This a live site, you can go and look at it any time you want to, and I would recommend you do because there’s a lot of good resources and documentations here, but this actually looks quite a lot like the "out of the box" installation of open atrium. So, if you wanted to change it, there’s some really simple ways to do this. I'm going to give you the cheat on these steps in just a minute, but what you would do, you know when you're changing the colors of a space, you want to first start by making sure you are in the space, so we're in the distributions space, in the open atrium 2 documentation subspace, and that’s what the toolbar tells us. And we said okay that’s great, and I’m ready to change the color to this. So what I’m going to do, again I’m logged in as admin so I’m able to do this, if you’re not logged in as admin, you may need to be to do some of these things. So you're going to hit the button that looks like the little gear here, and you’re going to choose configuration. You're going to go to configuration, and we're going to wait for the demos site really quick, and we're going to click on this that says appearance, and that’s going to manage our appearance. Now when you get to the appearance its going to bring you to the colorizer option, and this uses the colorizer module in Drupal, and you can always reset this to the default, but what’s great is that you can actually take any of these things and say you know, id really rather this was a bright purple color. You can also choose a completely custom color scheme, like blue lagoon, or firehouse if you're into red, or anything like that, or you can reset the colors back to the default. You can say, "ok. This is my default", you can change any one element of these or you can change the entire thing, and you can obviously change this with very specific hex colors and things.  Once you've done so, you just save the configuration, and you have effectively changed the colors throughout your space. So this allows you to make a space that looks really distinctive, or you could create these for your whole site and have you know, really completely branded towards your brand and your colors and all of those things. So, this is a really nice easy way to do this without having to get into the code.

I’m sure you're still thinking "but the open atrium logo is still there, and I’d like to put my own logo in there." Once and for all, we want you to make sure you know how to take the open atrium logo out of the header. So what you would do is you go to admin over here on the left, and you select open atrium and then you drop that down, and you choose plugin settings, so its admin, open atrium, plug-in settings. And what this does is takes you to menus and banners and what this will allow you to do is to choose to deselect the default banner which is which is the open atrium logo as you noted, say use default banner, uncheck that box if you don't want the open atrium logo in there, save the configuration and wait for a second and as you can see that default banner is gone.  So now I can actually choose a completely new banner if I'd like a new banner for my organization or upload one from my desktop or if I decide you know I don't have one of those yet, I’m just going to go ahead and leave the default banner on there and I can do that as well, so that default banner is Very, very...  It's a one click to remove it or one click to add it back on if you want but very, very simple to do that. And again, what you can see here, There are a lot of options on here so banner positions will allow you to hide it, set it above the toolbar, set it below the toolbar and again, the toolbar is this black toolbar that is standard in open atrium and you can you can place your banner for your site above it or below it or you can create them for your spaces as well as specific spaces, so that is a little bit about creating different colors and different banners and getting rid of the open atrium logo if you don't want it on there, that can be helpful.

A quick cheat on changing colors: You want to be in the space you want to change, hit the gear button, hit configuration and then appearance and then go crazy making things all kinds of crazy colors and making your designers in your organization crazy. And then the quick cheat on removing the logo is to go to admin, Open Atrium, plugin settings, and if you'd like to uncheck the default banner and upload one of your own.

Tip 4: Using widgets to create a dashboard. So a lot of people come to us and they say I'm really interested in open atrium, can I create a dashboard for my front page that lets me see a whole bunch of things are going on in my organization at once? Absolutely. That’s pretty much how we built open atrium and the way to create those dashboards the way that you want, is through the widgets. So we're going to go back to this open atrium site, and as you can see we created this dashboard on the front of the documentation site.  What we want is for users to come to open atrium and we want them to see a number of things, right? We want them to see a video so that they can watch the most recent webinar, we went to show them the different sections that they can access on a little information about the site, upcoming events and most recently, updated docs on news and things like that. As well as if anybody's looking for open atrium on Drupal six, and where that lives too. So this kind of dashboard that we have created for a user community for open atrium, we built through widgets. And the way to do that, It’s actually very simple, is once you're on the space page that you want, you just go up here to this lovely little button up here called “customize this page” and “customize this page” will take you to the interface of the drag-and-drop interface of panelizer, and this is where open atrium being built on panoply in Drupal is very helpful because all of this drag-and-drop widget functionality is super helpful.  So what you can do is once you're in here you can see that obviously these things can be dragged around. You can just grab and drag them around however you like which is really wonderful. You can also add new widgets, so adding a new widget is as simple as hitting the plus button here. That will bring up all of this content that’s available in widgets and the way to look at any of interest is to the left, there are menus with specific widgets that we’ve built for open atrium. There are specific widgets for some of the functionality like open atrium events, there are search bars and all kinds of things. There’s also some very basic standard ones, like adding a file, or an image, or some text, or a map. So there’s some really easy ways to build out exactly what you want here. You can list out the most recent news, the most recent documents, or you can even create some buttons in order to create new content. So, over here you can see we have this sidebar search widget, and it allows us to give people a quick search box to search that space or all of the spaces, or specific users, and we just click add as a button and you've got some configuration here, so we'll say search here, and then we say, okay, we'll finish that and then the ability to then add that is right here, then you've created this search here box. We save it, and we're good to go. If you then want to change information or change content on some of these things, it's very simple to just go back in and change the content you want so you're not having to ask someone to change the video that’s on the front of your site. It's really very simple. In this case it’s actually not our most recent oa2 webinar, so we're going to go here and we hit the little gear button on the far left side and that allows us to edit this. We’re going to remove that video, and select a new one. So I have this Vimeo link over here, and we're going to just paste that link right in and hit submit. And assuming that all goes just as we planned, because why wouldn't it, we will hit save, and then that is going to as you see change out the video right there, and in that widget, we can go ahead and save it. So as you can see, there are some widgets in open atrium that we've created in the product to provide helpful functionality like search here, searches and things like that. And then there’s also some very helpful things, like you could easily just add a file, a document, some text, an image, a video, whatever you want as well. That allows for very simple dash boarding based on what you need there.

Just a quick cheat: Go to the space page, click customize this page, hit the plus budget in the area you want to add a widget in, choose a widget, configure your widget, and drag and drop it to the correct place and hit save.

Tip #5: Be creative with section types. We have a lot of people who'll ask "can we create a space to gather stories from our constituents?" "What would be the thing I would use to track my inventory?" or something similar, and what's important to remember is that due to the flexibility, the section types that we've created can actually be used for a variety of different things. That can be very powerful in what you're creating. So you want to think a little more on what the section type provides you, instead of what it's necessarily called or how you've seen it used once. You can use a news section for documents, materials and assets. You can use discussions to gather stories, ideas, suggestions and feedback. Work can be used for project management, tasking, to do lists and status updates. You can use the calendar for event listings and calendars. This is a fake demo we built, along with a fake company, but the idea is a multi-store coffee chain with employees connecting through this intranet. As you can see there’s a lot of things in here that wouldn’t necessarily say: “ok, this is a document side or this is a calendar”. So you've got this upcoming events listing, and this is done through the calendar section. You have this blog that is a recent news section and that’s done through the news section. You also have this that's from the suggestion box, and it's not like there’s anything on open atrium that says "add a suggestions box", but instead, what you have is the ability to add a discussion section that allows people to comment and ask questions and offer their feedback, thoughts and ideas. So you could use this for suggestions. We were talking at a conference last week with nonprofits that are interested in gathering stories from their constituents or their field staff about what’s happening in their organizations out in the field. This is a great way to do that through a discussions section. You can name it different things like story gathering, etc. Its a discussion section where someone can post something where you can add comments on or off. As I said, the section types have a lot of opportunity for creativity and a lot of opportunity for extension based on what you need. If you're looking at open atrium and you're like "oh I really need it to track my inventory" or "I need it to give me a place where I can gather stories from the field" most of these section types can do those things, you just have to think about which one you want to use. The community and we can help you with that as well, so there are lots of possibilities within the section types.

Tip #6: Is it a one-time task force, ADHOC group, or focused project team? Then it's a "team." You don't need to make a long-standing group if a group of people are working on one project. Instead, make a team. Teams can be a really helpful way to continue to create flexibility around these kinds of things.

I'm going to show you how that happens. and here’s the quick cheat. Go to the space you want to create a team in, hit the members’ button, and then hit the team button. Then hit create new team. Once you're there, describe the team, and then add users. While creating content, assign teams to the sections. If you have someone who isn't a member of a space, you must assign them to the space to be assigned to a team there. That can be very helpful to data security.

Tip #7: Help users discover content with a space menu. Space menus can help users discover content. Going back to the documentation site, docs.openatrium.com, there are some examples shown on how to enable content discovery. Tools such as “recently created” help expose members to content. A group menu is another method. To add one, go to add widget, menus, group menu, add it, and when you do, you can do some configuration about the depth of it, or how many sections deep it is. You can change the title and how much of a group menu you want to add, and then hit finish. It will just show the level of content you specified. Creating custom menus that really help you expose content can be a really useful tip. You can do this on any space page. The only thing you need to make sure you do, is when you have a piece of content, just make sure that whenever you're creating content, you hit the provide a menu link button. The same can be done if you don't want something to show up in the menu.

Quick cheat on menus:

  • Customize page

  • Add a new widget

  • Hit menu

  • Group menu

  • Configure how you'd like.

Tip 8: Customize your tasks for your organization's workflow. If you're using the work tracker, it's really exciting to be able to make it work with exactly how your organization works. You can do things such as receiving status as to when orders are placed, confirmed, and received. Go to your top level space, hit the gear button, hit configuration, and then choose variables. Then, select the work tracker settings. These settings allow you to customize them to whatever you need. Save the configuration when you're done. You can customize statuses, priority levels, and many others in that config menu.

Quick cheat for tasks:

  • Hit the gear

  • Hit config

  • Variables

  • Work tracker settings

  • Edit as appropriate

  • Save.

Tip 9: Using notifications to keep people updated on relevant content. People are using this tool (Open Atrium), but forget to check it. This can be frustrating, but there are some things to help. Each piece of content has the opportunity to add notifications that can notify specific teams, groups and even specific users. Each of these is done through the helpful group/team list. You can subscribe users to get email notifications when something happens in specific discussions. This is great way to make sure people are subscribed to your content. Another way is to create a favorite space, which is done through the start button, which allows you to favorite specific spaces.

Tip 10: Like that space? Clone it to replicate, create a blueprint to use in the future. You can go to the gear button, and clone section pages. This allows you to clone section pages exactly from one page to the next. You can rename the pages change options, and publish the clone. This allows you to speed up what you're doing in open atrium. You can also go into the gear button and select blueprint. It allows us to select that type of page, the "blueprint", in the future. You can select the page and get the same things in it. This will save you a ton of time and can open up open atrium for you.

Tip 11: Contact us, seriously.

  • Email us if you want to find out if open atrium is good for you.

  • If you find a bug in the system go to www.drupal.org/project/openatrium

  • If you need some help selling this idea internally, give us a call!

  • If you need a bucket of hours to help your team, email us!

  • If you need training on using open atrium, check out the NYC camp, or email us!

  • If you need help spinning up Open Atrium in a hosted environment, getpantheon.com/openatrium

  • If you need help developing your open atrium strategy and plan, check out jumpstart packages!

  • If you need help getting started with Drupal, check out www.drupal.org and www.drupalize.me.


Open Atrium is an open source distribution of Drupal code. It's free to download to anyone. Installing the code from Drupal requires technical knowledge and an understanding of Drupal. Less technical teams can try out Open Atrium in a hosted environment like OnPantheon (getpantheon.com), and a developer team can help you use or customize it. You can read or watch docs on Open Atrium at docs.openatrium.com or on our vimeo page, and we offer jumpstart packages that will help you with one to two day planning and will really help you with strategizing your uses for open atrium.




“Can you have a public space with a private subspace?”

Yes, you can create a public space with private spaces limited to certain members.


“Where can you find this webinar?”

Vimeo, docs.openatrium.com, and twitter @phase2 @openatrium


“Can you share calendars through different spaces?”

Not sure, has to check back.


“Can you set up notifications for tasks and not just discussions?”

Yes, you can! When you create a task, the notification box is on the top right just as the discussion. You can also say you don't want to send notifications for given tasks as well.


Tweet questions to @openatrium on twitter!

Open Atrium Webinars

Loading widget...
No files to show