Drupal.org – Initial thoughts on the Information Architecture

Firstly, I want to start by thanking you all for your participation to date in this project – it has been beyond helpful! Of course, now I’m going to ask for more, as we move forward to working out what the Information Architecture for the new Drupal.org is going to be.

If you have been following this process you will know that the overwhelming response to the question of ‘one site or many’ has been – many. And for many very good reasons, covering issues from technical and implementation through to community, scalability and usability. So, it should be no surprise to hear that we’ll be proposing to take that approach to the information architecture.

In terms of how it breaks down, here are some initial thoughts on which I’d value your feedback.

Homepage:

We propose that Drupal.org have, in effect, two homepages. On ‘not logged in’ and one ‘logged in’.

The ‘not logged in’ homepage would serve as the public face of Drupal to ‘outsiders’ (those with little or know knowledge of Drupal) and will be the place where we can introduce Drupal and ‘sell it in’ – showing it’s features, capabilities, reliability, the scale of it’s use across industries and around the world, and it’s amazingly active community.

We will encourage people to ‘join’ Drupal.org so that they can access the ‘logged in’ version of the homepage. The purpose of the ‘log in’ is not to ‘hide’ content, but rather to ‘activate’ the homepage as a tool for managing the vast amounts of content and activity that make up Drupal.org (or d.o as the ‘insiders’ call it!)

We imagine the ‘logged in’ version of d.o to be similar in approach to Netvibes - the idea being that there are a range of ‘widgets’ available that you can select and arrange as best suits your needs – so depending on what you are most interested and engaged in, you can ‘tailor’ the content on your homepage to best reflect this. Developers might also be able to develop new ‘widgets’ and submit them for use on the d.o logged in homepage.

We believe that a single login solution is imperative (and we’d like to suggest that supporting OpenID would be an excellent idea).

We also advocate a unified search across all of the d.o content, with a search results page that better identifies the type of content found and it’s source, and good filtering capabilities.

‘Portal/Network’ Header

Although we agree that the ‘many site’ approach is the correct approach for this project, it is important that we resolve a current issue with the information architecture which is that many of the current sub-sites are unfindable – we need to make these visible and easily accessible to all.

The logical way to approach this is to use a ‘network header’ which is global – shown on all pages of all d.o sites – and which contains links to each of the sub-sites in the d.o network.

A different visual treatment may be developed for some or all of the subsites to allow for their specific purpose and character, whilst clearly positioning them as a part of the Drupal online presence. We want to balance the need for flexibility and scalability with their inherant threat to usability.

A few people mentioned jquery.com as a reference site and – broadly speaking, in terms of the header/sub-site treatment, this is a guide to the approach (not to any great level of detail and not from a visual design perspective of course!)

It is quite a big task to decide what ‘sections’ are required and what requires it’s own ‘sub-site’, but here is a first run at what we are thinking.

Sections of d.o (but not their own separate subsites):

  • About (includes marketing information – features, benefits, demo etc. – also information about Open Source in general)
  • Jobs (pulling it out of the ‘groups’ site and making it more prominent)
  • Events (also pulling it out of the ‘groups’ site and making it more prominent)
  • News (similar content stream to current d.o homepage. Include link (at least) to Planet Drupal here)
  • Get Started (a quick start guide for new players, helping to get them over the hurdle of getting their Drupal site up and running and showing them how to access the community and other help)
  • Get Involved (an overview of ways that people can get involved in the Drupal project and/or community)
  • Professional Services (a directory of hosting, design and development services for rent, possibly paid listings?)

Sub-sites of d.o

  • Community – the social hub of d.o hosting groups, discussion forums etc.
  • Documentation- where all drupal related documentation is hosted, including Handbook and API
  • The Drupal Project – the project management aspect of the site for core, modules, themes etc. Issue lists etc. live here
  • Download – essentially an alternate ‘window’ on The Drupal Project, but focussed on helping people locate then download core, modules, themes etc. (rather than the ‘development’ aspect of them)
  • Association – as per the existing Association content

Feedback required:

As I said, this is the first run at the structure and I’m looking for your feedback on where we need to make improvements. Specifically feedback that I’m looking for is:

  1. Is something missing? Is there an important part of d.o content that you don’t see fitting into one of these categories?
  2. Technical issues. Is something that I’m suggesting here going to cause more technical pain (which will equate to implementation delay) than it’s worth? Let me know.
  3. Drupal Project / Download – two windows on the same content – what do you think of this idea? I’m not sure that it’s entirely right, but we *do* need to resolve the fact that people who access modules just to ‘download’ them seem to have entirely different needs to people who access them to ‘develop’ them.
  4. Design and UI – perhaps this is just my personal mission (I hope not!) but I’d like to make an information architecture that was more appealing to people like me who might want to get involved with the project. I was toying with creating a section specifically for design/UI/UX… but it didn’t feel quite right. At the moment I’m imagining it living under The Drupal Project… what do you think?

I have some images that I’ll put up shortly to roughly illustrate these for those who prefer pictures to words (don’t we all!) – my internet access doesn’t allow me access to my images at the moment… grr.. but I thought I’d get this up now rather than wait.

Looking forward to your thoughts on this!

Updated: here are a couple of images that might illustrate my thoughts a little. Larger versions available on Flickr (via links below)
IA
Larger version available here.

IA
Larget version available here. (Note: this is not the proposed design for the header, just a sketch of all the ‘bits’ that might be in it).

Drupal.org – One site or many?

One of the information architecture questions we need to resolve for Drupal.org is whether we try to make it one cohesive website experience, or whether (as it is now) there is a ‘family’ of mini-sites that make up the online experience of Drupal. 

The current family consists of drupal.org, groups.drupal.org, api.drupal.org, association.drupal.org and more (including a proposed developer.drupal.org).

It seems to me that it has been mostly through the organic growth of the site and of Drupal itself, some technical and perhaps some social issues that have lead to the propagation of all these mini sites. Creating a new site helped get the required content or functionality up and running where as, if it had to go into the Drupal.org infrastructure it may never have come into existence.

Some of the mini-sites theoretically appeal to all users (for example, the ‘groups’ should have almost universal appeal. Others, like the API, are perhaps more targeted towards the technical audience.

The question now is – given that we essentially have a blank sheet – should we attempt to pull everything back in under the umbrella of a single ‘drupal.org’ entity?

The proposed Information Architecture that we received as a part of the RFP for this project seemed to indicate that this was the preferred approach (ref: http://groups.drupal.org/node/10003)

In my experience, however, a better experience is usually created by trying to architect content into one website, rather than a family of sites. There are, obviously, exceptions to this!

I’m interested in hearing what you think about this question? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of the ‘one site’ approach? What, if any, content should be shelved onto a separate site, and why?

links for 20 August 2008 – Iteration Zero

On documentation (or lack thereof)

I was talking to someone recently about doing some work with them. They said ‘can you send me some examples of documentation you’ve done lately’ – they wanted this to check that I could do what I said I could. Fair enough. Except, aside from the fact that all the documentation I’ve done lately is commercially confidential, so I’d have to hack it around a little to be able to show it to someone else… it made me realise how long it’s been since I’ve actually done the kind of ‘finished’ documentation I used to spend a lot of my time doing.

I just don’t work that way anymore, it seems. Sure, I still do wireframes every now and then, but never a ‘complete set’ and often with no where near the detail I used to include. Why? I think there are three reasons. Firstly, I tend to work on more of a strategic level than a detail ‘exactly where does that button go’ level these days. Secondly, I tend to work on projects where there is no time for that level of detail. And finally – and most interesting I think – I tend to work closer to the production team these days – more often are graphic designers designing and/or developers developing the very same stuff I’m wireframing at the same time. Investing too much in the documentation is a waste of everyones time – much better to do just enough to get them going and then work collaboratively with the team to do the fine tuning.

Personally, I think I should have been working more like this since forever.

Does any of this sound familiar?