Taking a Step Back With Fresh Eyes

Scale is an interesting thing. It affects all kinds of things. Companies grow and don’t seem quite the same as they used to. Bands make it big and then they disappear up their own arses. Restaurants get popular and the food often starts to go downhill. One way or another, it seems that the old wives/husbands tale of scale is that when things get bigger, quality can often suffer.

This is a misnomer; scale doesn’t mean quality must decline, but it does often signal increasing complexity that was wasn’t there before. This is just a part of life: you add more ingredients into the mix and things get more complex.

Like many, I have seen this in the company I work for (Canonical). I joined Canonical when it was pretty small. We had an office in London that could only fit about twelve people in it, I knew everyone, and they all knew me. Things are different now. We are a big company now with things like HR and Finance departments, we need a company directory, and we have staff events that have the echoing resonance of “by eck, there are a lot of people here, I remember when…“.

The same happens with communities. Well, some communities. Many communities never face the issues of scale because they stay to a comfortable manageable size, and that suits everyone just fine. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Ubuntu. We are big, and I think our size is causing the seams to split open a little.

Recently my sub-conscious has been pestering me about this. I have been noticing that while our community continues to grow, which is awesome, it feels like getting involved is getting more complicated. We now have hundreds of teams, many different diverse types of contribution, and a collection of processes and assessment procedures to ensure we accept quality work into the distribution. If you have no idea of MOTU/core-dev/PPAs/Daily Builds/Package Sets/Archive Reorg is, you are probably going to find you have a lot of reading on your hands.

I want to change this. I want to make it better and easier for people to participate.

No one is at fault for us having this complexity; it is part of a passionate community growing every day, but I think we need to take a step back and take a good hard look at how it feels to get involved if you are new around here.

Understanding What To Fix

To help with this I have been talking with some our key community contributors and have put together a Community Review plan to assess the new user experience.

The plan is simple: I first created a report template that serves the following purposes:

  • To identify how discoverable our community is – how do people find out about a type of contribution and get involved?
  • To assess learnability – what resources and experience do we provide for new contributors to learn the skills to participate?
  • To explore how new contributors do things – with a knowledge of the community and the skills, how do contributors know what to work on?
  • In addition to this, I believe the most insightful commentary on these things is from people who have just joined our different communities; we need to capture that input while it is fresh.

So, I formulated this report structure (an example of which is here for the Translations method of contribution), and I have asked the following people to lead this assessment process in these different types of contribution:

  • Total Beginner (this is people who are entirely new to Ubuntu in the first place) – Jorge Castro
  • Translations – David Planella
  • Packaging – Daniel Holbach
  • Documentation – Matthew East
  • Advocacy – Laura Czajkowski
  • Support – TBC
  • Art – Martin Owens
  • Quality – Ara Pulido
  • Server – Ahmed Kamal

Now, I know there are other teams who are not included here, but we need to start somewhere, and I think this list nails most of the major teams.

The next step is that each of these folks will follow through the requirements of each report (the reports are all linked on this page) and add content, and then we will draw conclusions for solutions.

If you have input that you would like to share, please go here, click on the report of interest to you, and enter your comments in the Commentary section; please do not add content to other parts of the report.

I think this is going to be an excellent first step in helping us understand how to better react to the scale; what an awesome problem to have. :-)

  • ethana2

    What an awesome problem to have.

    Absolutely :D

  • http://www.deansas.org Dean

    You would have had real fresh eyes if the lead person for each report was someone unfamiliar with the team. Might have been a better approach?

  • jimcooncat

    I realise that this should probably be posted in a bug report somewhere, but one big problem I have with giving a fresh install of Ubuntu to someone is that IRC support is not simple to get to. Can that be fixed so a new user can make it easy to get on? It may overload #ubuntu, of course, so maybe there should be a #new-ubuntu or #ubunoobs channel.

  • jorge

    Hi Jim,

    There’s a bug for the irc channel here.

  • someone

    How about sending your excess to Debian!? I’m sure they could use some help!

  • jimcooncat

    @Jorge: Thanks for the link, many major players have weighed in on this issue. I see that this is not just a technical change to make it easier to get on #ubuntu, but that there is fear that the channel will get quickly overloaded.

    @someone: As a fairly frequent visitor to both #ubuntu and #debain, your comment to move excess to #debian is unfair to them. I’ve seen several times the good folks in #debian try to help someone, then several minutes later learn that the issue they’re having is because of an ubuntu-specific package or change. Because of this, over time, I fear the good folks in #debian will get less enthusiastic about helping if too many of these unrelated problems recur.

  • https://launchpad.net/~moisesmata Moiso

    I think it is a great idea this one you have. Even when I’ve been using Ubuntu since 9.04, it’s until a couple of weeks ago that I decided to give something back to this great project. Being a noob as I am regarding this topics, even when I found my way to go, I had to do a lot of research and reading, which I did because I’m quite patient. That’s something I think could discourage some novice users if they feel the need to help, because not everybody is patient nowadays…

  • http://www.thesilentmind.org.uk Larry McCauley

    I am a moderately competent geek. That might look cool on a T-Shirt. Anyways, I want to contribute and the only way I think I can is through beta-testing or even alpha testing. But like many people I haven’t been too pro-active in turning this wish into a practical reality because of a lack of information of what to do, how to submit bug reports and to check that I am not duplicating a previous report.

    But then again I haven’t been presented or been made aware of a simple, one-stop guide as to what to do and how to do it.

    I have often thought that a welcome pack to be presented post-install with an off button for the cognescenti could handle a few educational things, especially with balsamiq-like animations.

    Anyways, I want to help but I don’t know where to begin and the details of what to do to help.