An apology, and hopefully looking forward for IxDA

30 Jun 2010 - 10:40am
4 years ago
6 replies
1831 reads
Elizabeth Bacon
2003

Dear fellow IxDA members,

I'm heartsick about how the state of the new IxDA infrastructure has caused problems for our community. Firstly, I want to personally apologize to you, my fellow members, for any technical problems and unpleasant experiences with the new mailing list and/or website that you might have had. At the same time, I also want to reset people’s expectations about what was delivered, and provide my own perspective on the situation looking forward.

Some history, in case any folks reading this message don't know: I was IxDA Vice President and the Project Manager & Creative Director (aka “Chief Wrangler”) of the 18-month infrastructure project we code-named Conan. During this time, I led a volunteer team of about 30 IxDA members to design the new site, coordinated efforts to select a technology platform, and led the collaboration with a professional development partner to implement the new website with integrated mailing list technology. And then, we launched everything with a big bang on February 28th. All told, I put in about 1,000 hours volunteering on Conan. Within a month of Conan's launch, deeply burned out from this project, I fully stepped away from managing and supporting IxDA infrastructure efforts (plus I also resigned from the Board, with due notice).

One of the most glaring failures of the project under my direction was a lack of QA & testing of the mailing list system. This area created numerous painful issues in the first weeks of launch. I was so keen to stick to our publicized launch date, so lacking in experience launching a major website, and so focused on other aspects of managing the implementation & launch that I neglected to ensure that the central Discussion feature was behaving appropriately. I feel terrible about this oversight, and hope your inboxes will someday forgive me. Talk about lessons learned!

We're now almost exactly 4 months past the launch date of the new website & mailing list, and as many have pointed out, all is not perfect. Some of today's problems are technical, mainly affecting the mailing list. Some of today's problems are process-related. And some of today's problems are also design-related. The design critiques of IxDA.org have been excellent, vital (and I happen to agree with virtually all of them). There remains much to improve, large and small.

In this area, it's very important for me to take this opportunity to reset people’s expectations and clearly restate the underlying premise of the IxDA community of practice infrastructure. Even before I took over the project from previous Board members, Conan was always envisioned as release 1.0 of a new, extensible platform for IxDA growth. Turns out Conan was more like a beta release, but still the point stands. We all saw Conan as the first in a hopefully long and exciting series of releases that would improve on both the design and technology of what we created. This is why we chose an open source platform (Drupal) and why we worked as a large, global team throughout the whole project. Conan operated with a very limited budget compared to the scope of our hopes and dreams. Many design compromises were accepted consciously in order to deliver as much broad underlying technology as possible in the initial, professionally-developed release.

This approach may sound like something you may have experienced professionally in the real world, which of course it was. A major difference is that IxDA.org belongs to the community. It needs you to succeed. The key outcome going forward I hope to see is that you, dear reader, and other members of the uber-talented IxDA community can truly feel like you own the IxDA.org platform. Your participation is certainly needed and was always desired in order to make things better going forward—in ways already identified as well as awesome ways that are as-yet-unforeseen.

People today are working on solutions to various open issues, while others remain unaddressed, at least as far as I know. To the best of my knowledge, the IxDA Board is overloaded managing a large number of organizational responsibilities and is not able to put additional resources to work on IxDA.org. Some of my own thoughts about what should be happening to address the technical, process, and design issues include:

  • establishing a clear path for IxDA volunteers to contribute infrastructure improvements; this includes opening the source code to technically-skilled members and forming a design team or teams to address usability & design issues
  • committing how ever much money is required right now to fix the Drupal-based mailing list implementation so that it behaves as much as possible like the legacy Mailman-based list did (principally with regard to its email headers and usable digest features); tackling this fully might even warrant the more technically risky & costly path of turning off email delivery for a time, throwing away the Drupal tech and integrating a Mailman-based solution
  • instituting a policy to automatically unsubscribe members who send Out-of-Office messages to list postings
  • hearing from the IxDA Board more frequently and more clearly about what exactly is going on “behind the scenes”
  • assessing the new social dynamics that have arisen in the globally-distributed online IxDA community; addressing issues identified here might include creating a formal community moderator/manager role, further considering the impact of local/regional concerns on participation, and forming new online groups organized around special interests
  • creating informational materials that are pushed to new members (and at least once to all existing members) with regards to the existence of the Job Board and Local Groups, as well as general Discussion guidelines
  • building bridges with the large Drupal development community so that IxDA can seek to improve its infrastructure and contribute its solutions back to the Drupal core without necessarily having to stress about major funding for every aspect


Again, I apologize for the mistakes that were made under my watch. Although I’m no longer in a position to actively lead, I’d love to see other concerned members rise to the occasion. You are needed. Ultimately, I hope to see IxDA thrive despite its present challenges—and I for one have the audacity to think that it will.

Finally, if you made it this far, thank you for bearing with my long-winded missive. Onwards & upwards!

Cheers,
Liz

Comments

30 Jun 2010 - 12:10pm
Kaleem
2008

Liz, thanks for taking the time to explain — in some detail — the history of the Conan project to everyone and place the current technical issues firmly in context.

Embarking on an undertaking like this is a challenge, even moreso with a volunteer team distributed around the globe. The natural inclination for most of us is to defend our work when it is criticized, especially when one is heavily and personally invested in effort, emotion and time. I can only applaud the humility and openness with which you have approached this and received critiques, and thank you and the other 30 volunteers for undertaking a gargantuan task in your personal time.

The baton has been passed to your successors and I hope that others with the necessary skills will offer their time and support to all who sincerely work in the best interests of the IxDA and its membership.  Many hands make light work.

Thanks again.

-K

 

30 Jun 2010 - 1:53pm
Joe Sokohl
2004

Again, many thanks for your leadership and passion, Liz. The organization has and continues to benefit from your work on Conan and other initiatives.

Just to let you know, we are very close to solving the OOO problem. Board member Natt Nish-Lapidus has been spearheading, hands on, the effort to fix this annoying issue. Testing continues today between Matt & our development partners, GVS. I suspect this will be solved very soon.

Please know that we are also working on other issues, but we also don't want to prematurely promise fixes. Instead, we are diligently working to resolve functional and design issues, prioritizing them as appropriate.

Hanng in there, and stick with us through the next version, too! I love how you said, "Conan was always envisioned as release 1.0 of a new, extensible platform for IxDA growth." We still see Conan as a platform for helping foment further Association collaboration and community.

30 Jun 2010 - 2:00pm
benjordan
2009

Great job Liz and everyone involved!

30 Jun 2010 - 3:33pm
.pauric
2006

 

With due recognition of the tremendous hard work.. my thoughts;

 

In my view, the IxDA should not look at Conan and future releases as just a series of features to meet the community's needs..  We should not put ourselves in the position where leaders burn out. We should not rely on a small band of dedicated volunteers to do the majority of the work.  We are destined to fail unless we start using novel process to work within our unique constraints.

 

Design and development of our community space is an opportunity.  My suggestion to current leadership and volunteers;

 

Use the roadmap as platform to explore the design thinking & methods we profess.

Use individual feature releases as an open opportunity for the community to suggest, prototype and critique design solutions.

Officially recognise positions on the projects. Motivate volunteerism through reward - who doesn't need something for their portfolio?

Report-out and start discussions based on the problems faced and solutions discovered.

Set goals, not deadlines.

 

 

Make the development of this community a true and all encompassing community activity.

 

By all means fix what is broken today.  Going forward, no more 'software as usual' please.  Consider developing within a framework that is more explorative that deadline driven, more crowdsourced that closed-collaborative.  A carefully paced and considered effort that we all can learn from. 

Word of caution going forward: If we as designers break a valuable asset, through the act of designing, pride in what it means to be a member of the IxDA will disappear.  Dont cook the goose that lays the golden eggs.

All the best Liz /pauric

 

30 Jun 2010 - 8:51pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

One thing you can do to make this right would be to list out, in as explicit detail as possible, the current list of bugs or broken things. That way, people who have experience in helping to fix those issues might be able to make this easier. Right now everything feels like a black box, so I know I wouldn't be able to offer any advice since I have no idea what is actually going on in the system and architecture itself.

I'm also not sure why Drupal was chosen. That would have the last tool I would have picked. I would probably have chosen something simpler like ExpressionEngine or WordPress for the core web site, then picked various other tools to integrate the mailing list into the site, along with user accounts and such. But since Drupal was chosen, what in Drupal is breaking? Is the core web site fine? Is it just the mailing list? Are you guys happy with the structure and approach? What needs to be addressed?

I've been gone for a while, but I was mighty surprised to log back in a few weeks back and find everything pretty much borked. But for this mea culpa to make a true difference, I think you're going to have to uber transparent about what is actually broken in detail so others outside the group that built it can try to help. I know I for one will have to drop off the list again if it stays in this state much longer. It's completely unusable and it's spewing junk into my inbox in ways that seems impossible to control or filter outside of mass deletion.

1 Jul 2010 - 8:34am
Matt Nish-Lapidus
2007

Andrei:  The full list of known issues is at tracker.ixda.org, and is available to anybody for viewing.  If you'd like to help report issues let me know and I can get you an account.  If you're interested in helping out with the site we also have a Basecamp for volunteers where we discuss things in more detail.

As for what's broken now at a high level:

1. Email is still partially broken.  sending takes too long and the threading isn't working that well.  We've almost fixed our biggest issue, related to out of office replies.

2. There are parts of the site that use the default Drupal pages and forms, some of which aren't very good.  Once the core bugs have been resolved we'll move into redesigning these flows and pages.

Also, for filtering your email: you should be able to filter really easily on the list-id header (gmail has this built in, not sure about other clients), or reply-to.

Hope that helps!

Matt.

Syndicate content Get the feed