I had the opportunity to attend Drupalcon London this week and to talk some more about the Prairie Initiative – what is is, our goals, and the progress we’ve made so far. Unfortunately the audio in the session recording was very poor, so here’s an outline of what I presented.
Recently I came across a ‘register’ page on a Drupal site that was obviously Drupal (in a bad way). I thought – I wonder what it would be like for people who don’t know anyone in the Drupal community to come to Drupal.org and try to find how they can contribute their time, skills and experience to fixing the design of that page.
Try this exercise – go to Drupal.org homepage and log out. Now imagine you’re here looking to help out in whatever your area of expertise is (if you can’t think of anything, just pretend you want to help fix the usability and layout of that register form). Where would you go?
If you headed into Support and Community (which is probably the most sensible option) you’re hit with walls of text, no keywords that confirm that we want people like you and where you should go. Very little sign of a community at all, basically just a list of channels. It’s less than inspiring and a little intimidating.
IRC is not a solution – it scales badly, it’s intimidating and unfriendly if you’re new and unknown, and for a great swathe of us, it’s very unfamiliar.
Groups – try going there and logging out. This is also a pretty poor introduction to the community for newcomers.
Forums are also pretty haphazard and not really a recommended entry point.
If you decide to ‘register’ (for what, it’s not really clear) you enter a process that is riddled with small but unrelenting errors or bad experiences – from the lack of client side validation on the forms, to the ‘access denied’ heading once you’ve completed the form successfully, to the personality free email you receive (and the fact that we have even designed the sign up process this way – making the user do the work to reduce the spam on Drupal.org presumably)
Having completed the registration process, you’re left pretty much stranded on the final page (which announces that it’s unsubscribed you from a mailing list you’ve never heard of) – the dashboard for newbies doesn’t take advantage of a great opportunity to help you get started. Fortunately, in the journey that I was exploring – search does work, and if you make your way to the Usability Group page (which has been pretty well thought out and structured to be newbie friendly), you’re set – you can actually find some likeminded people and start finding your feet in the community.
These are all little things – things that could reasonably easily be fixed. And some might say that if you can’t handle this then you’re probably no use to us anyway – Drupal gets a whole lots hairier than this! And that’s a fair point – afterall, if you do make it through the onboarding experience, sooner or later you’ll meet the issue queue….*gulp*
The onboarding experience into the Drupal community on Drupal.org is a bit of a car wreck. Sure, it’s just a series of little things that could be relatively easily fixed – that’s not the point. The point is that we either have never bothered to check that the sign up / onboarding experience is any good, or it’s not high on our priority list. No one owns this job. This tells us some interesting things about the Drupal community and sends some messages about what we value:
- We don’t really value our newcomers or care about the experience that new people coming to join our community and contribute have when the try to get involved.
- We don’t really care about the quality of the products we create and the spaces we reside in (there’s no broken windows policy on Drupal.org), we don’t take pride in our flagship(?) website.
- People who do manage to get involved using this process are to be admired for their determination!
- There is an alternative onboarding experience – person to person mentoring and hand holding, particularly for those who have been hired by a Drupal shop or are working in an organisation that is adopting Drupal. This is a good process – perhaps it’s the one we really care about? Perhaps we don’t really want people to randomly stumble into the community? Perhaps – these are all questions to think about…
We need to work out what our position on all of this is.
- What kind of people do we want to have in our community?
- How do we want to ‘recruit’ them – do we want random people coming to the community from our website? (hobbyists etc?)
- What kind of an experience do we want it to be to sign up to be a part of Drupal?
- What kind of experience do we want to be to be an active contributor to Drupal?
- How important is this to us? How much do we care?
It’s ok if we decide we don’t care about it so much. The right answer isn’t necessarily ‘the user experience must be fantastic’ but we should stop paying lip service and actually not doing anything about it, and not committing any resources to it.
We need a vision for what we want the experience of Drupal.org for new and long term contributors to be like.
Backcasting is a great exercise that helps us work out what we’re aiming for and then a roadmap/strategy to work towards that outcome.
For me, I think this is important. I believe that the way our spaces are designed is very influential on the way that we behave within them. Drupal the community and Drupal.org are both pretty good at tactical problem solving, but both pretty rubbish at defining and agreeing and acting on larger strategies.
This is what the Prairie Initiative is interested in – ways that we can design social spaces on Drupal.org that are more conducive to giving new contributors a better onboarding experience and that makes it a better, more productive environment for longer term contributors.
The Prairie Initiative is not a project. Rather, it is a family of projects that share a connection to a common set of goals. The goals of the Prairie Initiative projects are:
- to improve the collaboration tools on Drupal.org so that we can do more and work better together and make Drupal better, faster; and
- to grow the pool of contributors by making Drupal.org a better and easier place to become a contributor – to make it less intimidating to people who want to get started contributing.
Some of the projects within Prairie that we are moving forward with at the moment include:
- Topic page – a place where activity from across the Drupal network can be aggregated and people interested in this topic can ‘follow’ the topic. This allows people to self identify their expertise, people to find likeminded peers in the community, people to find mentors, people can more easily keep up with activity on Drupal.org related to their topic.
- Profile page – a better designed profile page allowing us to share our expertise and experience and interests and activities within and without of Drupal more easily, and a way to make the reputation system known to ‘insiders’ accessible to those who are new and as yet not well connected to the community.
- Issue Queue – exploring ways that we can change the issue page so that it lets us work more effectively together.
- Notifications – exploring how we can make it easier to keep up with activity on Drupal.org you’ll probably be interested in without requiring you to be on IRC, have people ping you links, or be scouring issue queues and groups endlessly to keep track.
I’ve been trying to do as much of this as I can in my spare time but – realistically – I’m not a great candidate to help lead this project. It really needs someone who works in a Drupal company and who gets some ‘gardening time’ (or equivalent) to work on community work without having to sacrifice income or time with their kids.
Having asked around a little to see if there might a chance of getting a little financial support so that I can work on this in place of client work, it seems clear that Prairie is currently not a very appealing investment.
I probably need to work on my pitch, I guess, but that’s pretty demotivating. Especially when you not only need someone like me doing cat herding, ‘product management’ and some UX work, but we really also need a tech lead (someone like this who, unfortunately, is much the same as me in terms of having no gardening time).If you’ve got time and inclination to take this on, step up. Otherwise, regretfully, it’s likely Prairie will flounder, as it has for the past month or so after an initial cracking start (this is entirely my fault and not for want of people willing to contribute their time).
I know this sounds like a huge critique of the work that was done by the redesign team and by those who continue to work on Drupal.org – please know that there are many, many things that need working on and people like Neil Drumm and Lisa Rex and others are doing great work that goes largely unrecognised and unthanked. This is absolutely NOT a criticism of their work and I’d like to thank them and the others who are working with them for continuing to incrementally improve Drupal.org.
We might have re-THEMED the entire site but there was a LOT that never had the chance to be reDESIGNED. These are very different things.
We still have much work ahead of us – if we decide we care, enough.