Email vs. Web

ECS is an easy collaboration tool designed to help globally disparate teams communicate quickly and effectively, and without the need to acquire new skills. The central technology of ECS is email – a tool all participants in international development know, and the only electronic communication medium that every ECS participant in the world uses on a daily basis.

Email is the most effective way to contribute content to ECS. Accessing the web site is mostly useful for searching the archives, and potentially sharing information about a community or an upcoming discussion through community public pages.

Email is what makes ECS so successful: only one in a thousand contributions in made through the web – all the rest comes through email. This help guide focuses almost exclusively on the ECS web site: another proof that we don’t need extra help or training in using email! If you want to create a successful and thriving community, urge your users to contribute through email.


A community holds together members and content within ECS. Only members of a community have access to a community’s content.

A community has a unique internet address (for example and a unique email address (for example In addition, one can give a human friendly community title.

A community name – the last segment of the URL – is often also used as the email address of the community, and as a prefix of subjects of all messages sent from the community. The name is often referred to as short name of a community. In the above example, community1 is the short name of a community Community 1.

When you create a new community, its email address will be the same name you chose.

Content Moderation

A community can either accept contribution from any member and make it immediately visible to all other members, or it might require approval from a community leader before content is accepted and made visible to all. A community that requires leader approval for content is said to be moderated, and the one that doesn’t is said to be non-moderated.

It is possible to set up a community such that only invitations to new members suggested by other members are moderated – thus allowing the community leader to control the membership growth – while other content is not.

It is also possible to set up moderation requirement only for each member’s first contribution. Once one contribution from a specific member is approved, future contributions from that member will not require approval, and will immediately be visible to all other members.

Community Hierarchy

Communities can have parent communities and sub-communities, forming a community hierarchy. Hierarchical relationship between communities is formed through community URLs: a sub-community will always include parent’s community in it’s URL.

For example, if community1 had sub-community sub1, then sub1’s URL will be: If sub1 then had sub-communities of its own, those would comprise of sub1’s URL plus own name.

In addition to URL organization, community hierarchy has some other desirable properties: all members of a sub-community are automatically members of all community’s parents. This is very practical for specialization of topics: a top-level community can reach all members of all sub-communities, and deeper levels of sub-communities can serve increasingly specialized topics. One needs only add member to the lowest level of hierarchy, and the membership will automatically extend to all parent communities.

Conversely, all community leaders can automatically administer all sub-communities of that community. This is very practical if a single person wants to oversee a number of specialized topics. Inheritance also promotes accountability – a leader can create new sub-communities and delegate leadership to others, but will always remain able to visit and manage those sub-communities.


An ECS user is any person able to log in into ECS, and has a profile defined in ECS. A user does not necessarily have to be linked with any community, although most users are.

The only way to become an ECS user is via membership in one of the communities. After a user stops being a member of any community, her or she will still have a profile on ECS and can join other communities in the future.

A user can delete own profile and thus terminate membership in ECS – this action is not reversible: once the profile is deleted, one needs to create a new profile through registration in a community.


A user with access to a community is said to be a member of that community. Members can initiate discussions, contribute documents and other content, and can invite other members to join a community. In moderated communities, members' contributions will require leader’s approval.

If a community has one or more parent communities, member’s membership automatically extends to all of community’s parent communities.


A community leader has full control of a community. Leader can invite or remove members, promote other members into leaders, can contribute content to a community, and in a moderated community can also decide whether to accept or reject content suggested by members. Finally, leader can change community settings, turn a non-moderated community into a moderated one, make it read-only, change its name, or delete it. A community can have more than one leader.

In a community hierarchy, a leader of a community is automatically a leader of all of its sub-communities.

To contact the community leader of any community, send an email to

Invitation-Only Communities

A community can be set to allow only invited members to join (as opposed to also allowing users to request membership). An invitaiton-only community is invisible to anyone except its members and invited users.


ECS web servers and databases are kep to the highest standard of the information technology profession. The servers are hosted in a data center with biometric security, in the same room where Swiss private banks keep their servers. Physical data security, as well as brute force attacks where a bad person accesses user data like in the movies is not an issue for ECS and for most modern web sites.

Almost all security breaches publicized in the press, as well as those that are not published, come from something popularly known as social engineering: an attacker focuses on specific users to obtain their user passwords, and then simply accesses web sites impersonating those users. A community on ECS is as protected from these types of attacks as much as its users are aware of possibilities of someone stealing their passwords through attacking their personal computers, laptops and phones. As with human health, basic computer hygiene will go a long way to reduce the security risks.

In the specific case of ECS, the only valuable content an attacker might want to get from ECS servers are user email addresses, mostly for the purposes of spamming. All other content is already on users' computers, distributed by email through discussions. It is enough that one community member’s laptop is stolen or compromised for someone to obtain the community content without ever accessing ECS!

Please keep this in mind when using ECS, or any other hosted web collaboration solution: as soon as content is produced in electronic format and distributed, it is easy to get hold of through any of the recipients. All military-grade protection of the servers won’t help if one of the recipients decides to forward content further.