TimeBanks USA is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that promotes and supports timebanking. Timebanking was created by Dr. Edgar S. Cahn, who founded TimeBanks USA in 1995.
Timebanking is a tax-exempt alternative currency system that works like this: if I spend one hour helping you build your website, I earn one credit, or time dollar. You can then turn around and exchange that time dollar by giving it to someone who fixes your refrigerator, coaches you on your resume, or gives you a ride to the airport.
“The possibilities are endless,” according to TimeBanks USA. “An hour of gardening equals an hour of childcare equals an hour of dentistry equals an hour of home repair equals an hour of teaching someone to play chess.” It’s different from bartering, because this type of timebanking is based on services (and not goods) between members of a network.
This wasn’t the first time Exaltation of Larks has worked with alternative currencies. We created a virtual economy for Digital Dollhouse, a casual game where girls are empowered to become their own interior designers. In this virtual world, it’s possible to trade or regift items like dolls, plants and pets, and work with an in-game currency named ddCoins.
In addition to our work with TimeBanks USA, our experience with timebanking includes working as volunteers with two Los Angeles-area timebanks: Arroyo S.E.C.O. Time Bank and the West LA timebank cleverly named Our Time Bank. Our Time Machine project is an experimental Drupal installation profile for communities and organizations looking for turnkey timebanking software for their members and participating businesses and organizations.
TimeBanks USA founder Dr. Edgar S. Cahn has spent more than four decades striving for social justice. He began his career working for the Kennedy administration, focusing on alleviating poverty and hunger. He then opened the Citizens Advocate Center, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of community groups as they interacted with the government. In 1972, Dr. Cahn founded the Antioch School of Law, whose curriculum was designed to teach students to practice law for the greater good of society.
Here at Exaltation of Larks, we have enormous respect for Dr. Cahn: at the age of 80, he is still a rabble-rouser and hell-raiser who is fighting to change the world, and we’re proud to provide him with the technical assistance to further this goal. Dr. Cahn is a true visionary and we hope to work with — and write about — him and his partner, Chris Gray, TimeBanks USA’s CEO, more in the future.
TIMEBANKS USA’s ROLE IN TIMEBANKING
TimeBanks USA supports timebanking in myriad ways, including offering onsite trainings nationwide; organizing an annual timebanking conference; hosting webinars and teleconference calls; and consulting individually with clients. The organization helps members connect with local timebanks or create their own.
One of the parts of TimeBanks USA infrastructure is a large scale social networking platform named Community Weaver, which has a software-as-a-service subscription model. There are more than 400 timebanking websites all around the world that rely on it to help manage and organize their timebanking processes, community activities and other needs.
TIMEBANKS USA’s NEEDS
Exaltation of Larks performed a substantial security and performance audit on Community Weaver, a complex Drupal multisite system. We helped TimeBanks USA fix critical issues affecting one of their essential online organizational tools — their Community Weaver software. This software platform runs a quickly evolving and iterating network of Drupal websites, so it was vital that the software could be updated and developed sustainably and seamlessly, yet without overriding the autonomous decision-making processes of each chapter website.
In addition, we worked with TimeBanks USA to develop a project plan for version 3.0 of Community Weaver and raise the funds to build it; we addressed problems arising from the system’s simultaneous use of both WordPress and Drupal; and we helped streamline the organization’s decision-making process.
TimeBanks USA needed extensive rework on their Community Weaver software, specifically with regard to security, performance and usability issues. Community Weaver is an online organizing and tracking tool for timebank members: it records time exchanged, displays service offers and requests, keeps track of memberships, and displays announcements for the community. Any local timebank can subscribe to TimeBanks USA’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) system to manage their members’ work. TimeBanks USA hired Exaltation of Larks to audit and rework Community Weaver 2.0, with the plans to eventually migrate all their technology, online memberships and e-commerce data to version 3.
TimeBanks USA was also experiencing security problems with its self-hosted WordPress website, which was outside our original scope of work. TimeBanks USA used our emergency support system and we quickly mobilized to resolve this new issue. We determined that security had been compromised and implemented several solutions to tighten it up, from checking the code integrity to updating MySQL access and hardening file permissions.
In addition to our work with TimeBanks USA, we worked with the Arroyo S.E.C.O. Time Bank, one of the many timebanks affiliated with TimeBanks USA. Arroyo S.E.C.O. serves neighborhoods in the eastern and northeastern Los Angeles area, which meant the Larks who were in the Downtown Los Angeles area could work with them one-on-one.
We began by tackling the security issues found in Community Weaver. Fortunately, TimeBanks USA had an in-house Drupal developer, who we worked with on a massive infrastructure audit, focusing on security and performance. This multisite installation had been built by its previous developer with development practices that were common in 2007, before Features and configuration-in-code became popular. We identified which multisite instances had been modified by their local chapters’ coordinators — which meant examining data structures, views, and content types across hundreds of Drupal websites — and which had unsafe code or configuration. We found security vulnerabilities through the entire stack, from the Drupal systems and websites down to the server operating system, all of which we documented, prioritized and / or resolved.
This was an extensive audit that had both technical and political ramifications. Each chapter is run by its coordinators and volunteers and sometimes in completely different ways than other chapters. In a multisite environment, making technical decisions for the entire fleet of hundreds of websites would impact all local chapter websites that had been modified for their own business cases.
We worked in conjunction with TimeBanks USA to devise policies and joined them on many global community conference calls — open to all coordinators of all the timebanks in the world — to describe our technical approach and to solicit feedback. Our task was to provide technical leadership for the entire organization. We needed a set of standards for sustainable development of this enormous network, but we also needed to respect each individual chapter’s right to make its own decisions.
The project plan we provided included time estimates to address the security problems we found. TimeBanks USA’s tech coordinators reviewed our list of most-needed fixes and then we consulted with a local timebank coordinator and Community Weaver user to make sure these fixes matched their timebank’s list of essential tasks.
We worked with several popular web hosting providers, including Drupal-as-a-service platform companies, to negotiate competitive pricing on behalf of TimeBanks USA. Due to their unique system and web application architecture, we recommended SoftLayer based on their features and pricing.
The unfortunate multisite architecture that the prior developers had devised had the result of creating exponential complexity precluding any proper maintenance and further development on the system. We navigated our way through thousands of lines of uncommented custom code. We also found that the Linux server environment was an abandoned and unsupported custom distro. In both cases, we replaced as many unknown components as possible with stable, peer-reviewed alternatives and we documented the rest. We also stabilized the system by locking down the kinds of changes that individual coordinators could make to their individual timebank chapter websites, thus reducing future maintenance costs.
We fixed several security issues in the system by altering file permissions, MySQL accounts, and text input filters. We used PHP Filter Lock, a module we developed that disables the text form fields that contain PHP code, thereby mitigating the risk of CSRF and XSS security threats on websites that have the core PHP Filter module enabled.
On the same server as the Drupal multisite network was a WordPress marketing website. This in itself is not a problem. Exaltation of Larks’ position is that WordPress is great for simple websites and Drupal is great for complex systems and web applications. Having both on the same server created unnecessary security issues, however. The WordPress installation was technically able to overwrite anything on the Drupal side as well as access the Drupal database. We changed all MySQL usernames and passwords and locked down the file permissions so that the WordPress website could no longer be overwritten or be a risk to other software on the server, including Community Weaver.
Next, we worked with TimeBanks USA to develop the requirements for the next version of Community Weaver. The materials we developed included specifications for a fully featured mobile app, a business plan with financials and pitch deck, and more, and were designed to help TimeBanks USA secure additional funding. In the meantime, we trained a member of their community to maintain the software so they could further reduce their total cost of ownership.
Exaltation of Larks also provided TimeBanks USA with communications strategy consulting services. We performed a 360-degree organizational audit and came up with a more streamlined decision-making process. We created flowcharts of all the key players and stakeholders at TimeBanks USA and highlighted the points at which they had both strengths and weaknesses, and made recommendations where more efficiency was needed.
Timebanking has evolved very differently in other parts of the world in ways that no one could have predicted. Nowhere is this emergent behavior more apparent than in highly populated cities, where the numbers, density, and different practices around timebanking create vastly different needs. One such advanced timebank is the Arroyo S.E.C.O. Time Bank in Los Angeles, which has thousands of members across dozens of separate neighborhoods. They needed several custom workflows implemented on their individual timebanking website to manage the scale that had resulted from their impressive growth. By its very nature, the timebank had no money for further development on their individual website.
Barnraisings are a concept taken from Amish culture, where the community comes together to build a barn for a newly married couple who wouldn’t be able to afford the time or expense of building a barn on their own. In the context of web development, barnraisings are like code sprints where the programming community gets together with a deserving nonprofit, and works with them to create or improve their software. For the development community, this is a teaching experience, and newer developers get to learn from seasoned veterans about client relationships, requirements gathering, project planning and the tools used for effective teamwork. The nonprofit brings food — usually excellent food — and everyone benefits.
Starting in April, 2012, the Larks partnered with Droplabs and arranged three separate barnraisings to build new features for the Arroyo S.E.C.O. Time Bank. Not only was a good time had by all, the team built functionality that the Larks turned into Features-based modules that could then be securely distributed to the other timebanks, to be turned on, or not, according to the wishes of each individual timebank coordinator. Features built included a custom registration workflow, neighborhood-specific blogs, and structured data types for content, among others.
Previous to Exaltation of Larks coming on board, TimeBanks USA had been working with a different development company. The Community Weaver software proved challenging to rework and over the 2 years we worked together we ensured that key security and performance problems with the software were resolved.
TimeBanks CEO Chris Gray says of the project: “Given the importance of the software for the mission and vision of TBUSA, and given how much we had to learn, this was a very intense experience for us.”
In addition, with the help of the volunteers at the barnraisings, we added several new features to the Community Weaver software, including a blog post content type and RSVP feature that integrates with the Signup module. These features directly benefit all the hundreds of TimeBanks chapters around the world that use the same Drupal distribution of Community Weaver.
“All members of the Larks team, from the principals to the project leader to the programmers, demonstrated that they cared deeply about the quality of the work undertaken,” Chris Gray said. “[They] provided many hours of consultation to this endeavor. We are truly grateful for those contributions. Under challenging circumstances, they provided highly professional services to TBUSA. We greatly appreciate the professionalism of the Larks and the ongoing willingness to go above and beyond.”