Drupal.org redesign

Praise for good old paper in the Drupal.org redesign process

I was initially a bit surprised seeing Mark and Leisa running a physical suggestion box in Washington DC for the Drupal 7 user experience rework. After all, we had IRC channels and twitter for the session rooms to discuss presentations, forums and groups to get input and all kinds of nice digital tools to discuss ideas. However, using paper probably made for a good way to actually drive people to the table, get them pull a piece from the stack and write down their suggestion. This allowed Mark and Leisa to engage them in a conversation, get a feel of what they think, and resulted in a better outcome compared to just using all these nifty digital tools.

I've had a very similar experience with the drupal.org redesing on paper. Initially, I had this idea to set up a website with an image annotation tool and get people discuss the wireframes using that. Drupal had a stable module called fotonotes, which mapped the library originally used to build out the Flickr feature to Drupal, but I liked the concept of the image annotate module better. This later one was based on jQuery UI, but had some flaws. So I contacted the author and sent in fixes and test results. As the project page says:

Compared to Fotonotes (another module for placing notes on images), this module uses the latest jQuery (shipped with Drupal 6) and the state of the art jQuery UI module, while Fotonotes is dependent on an old (last updated in 2006) custom JavaScript library.

After all my work put into making this work, I realized we might as well have a better way to bootstrap our work. We were just heading into Drupalcamp Germany in Cologne, the Drupal.org upgrade sprint in Cambridge MA and the Drupal.org redesign sprint in Paris in succession. All these events could use materials to look at and discuss with the drupal.org redesign. I figured that having the wireframes on screen does not allow for all the flexibility that we need.

So I ended up printing out all the pages of the redesign from Mark on my home printer and went on a "world tour" with them. Using the printouts turned out to have a fantastic effect on our productivity, since we could use them in an amazing number of ways:

  • In Cologne, we used the printouts to define what kind of major feature areas we need and delegated research to some people. Having been able to see multiple pages at once helped us identify patterns much more easily compared to just staring at pages one by one on screen.
  • In Cambridge, we looked at the pages to identify the initial feature set for our Solr rollout and used to target project module improvements so they are implemented with the target features in mind.
  • In Paris, the pages were used by designers to discuss remaining tasks, they were used to note problems with missing comment styling elements for example. People picked up pages and run with them to implement landing pages and design elements. We even scored a coffee stain on one of the pages, showing people actually made the mockups of their own.
  • Finally (so far), in Washington DC, we were able to sit down with Mark Boulton and discuss all the notes the themers and feature implementors made and got annotations on some of the pages from Mark.

Excerpt of a drupal.org page scannedThe printed pages were better then just looking at the digital versions, since we could code on our laptops while looking at the printouts, compare different pages, sit around pages and discuss and have all this goodness at our fingertips.

How can the notes on paper get fed into our process? Well, through the sprints, people working on features were there in person, so they could see and absorb all the notes. Since we are more open now with tasks better defined and broken down for a bigger team of contributors, it became important to make note of the diversions we are going to take from the design. Therefore I made scans of the pages we discussed and documented decisions on the redesign implementors group. There were also finer grained themer discussions, which were rolled into the themer TODO list.

The spotlight time for paper in the drupal.org redesign might be over with issue queues and wiki pages taking on, but it was nevertheless a fun time using these printouts so far.

How does the drupal.org upgrade / redesign help you?

On Drupal.org, user HongPong asked a valid question about our Drupal.org upgrade/redesign fundraiser:

I am curious if these codesprint efforts will be useful for other projects. I think it's fantastic so many people are organizing, but I wonder if whatever form the bulk of this takes will be released - or is it mostly a one-off effort that is too customized to be generally useful elsewhere?

I thought it would be useful to have a blog post about this instead of just sending the reply in the comments, since I think this is an important topic to talk about.

  • As Niel pointed out, the modules used on Drupal.org will get attention. I've just started to use the "drupal.org upgrade" tag over the weekend to mark issues requiring an attention for the Drupal.org upgrade: http://drupal.org/project/issues-term/346 General purpose existing modules used on the site including simplenews, comment_upload, comment_alter_taxonomy, image or imagefield, and so on will be tested and fixed where required. New modules will be used on Drupal.org and will get similar attention: CCK and Views are the first obvious contenders (right, Drupal.org is not using these modules as of now).
  • Drupal.org runs some custom core patches to improve performance by handling master and replicated databases. We will take a deep look on these changes and will implement a similar or better solution for the upgraded site based on Drupal 6. Our caching setup will have similar attention. Having this insight we will be able to document what best practice we found to scale drupal.org. This will join documentation on ways to make Drupal more scalable. Such efforts on Drupal.org also helped improve general performance in Drupal itself (both current stable and current development versions) in the past.
  • The upgrade is planned to omit some of the current features on Drupal.org such as the current search implementation and the custom Drupal based distributed login system. OpenID and a new search implementation are about to be implemented in place instead. It will be easier to find stuff on drupal.org for your day-to-day development and you will be able to reuse your Drupal.org account on any OpenID supporting site.
  • These items above all happen as products of our upgrade, even if there is no redesign. While all of the above items are great by themselves, the redesign will be the biggest hit. It will help you use a more fine grained navigation, move around the Drupal.org subsites seamlessly, find and understand modules needed for your projects, and so on. But what's even better is that it will be a site you can point possible customers to. It will help you market your services, consulting, books, courses and so on more effectively, since the Drupal site itself will do a better job to help the community and the project market itself and flourish in the times ahead of us. If you earn (part of) your living from Drupal related work, this will give you a boost. If you do not yet earn (part of) your living from Drupal, you'll be more tempted then ever to do so.

We are making exciting things happen, but your help is still vital to make this a reality. You can help by donating some money to get the expert teams together (use the ChipIn widget in this post) or by contributing to the sprints yourself either via the issues listed at http://drupal.org/project/issues-term/346 or by coming to the sprints. Thanks for being part of getting this huge improvement into production!

Drupal.org redesign sprints in Cologne, Boston and Paris

Drupal.org is in need of some makeup, and we know this quite well. It runs on the old and stable Drupal 5 codebase, while Drupal 6 is out for almost one year (and is just as stable but way more useful especially with all the new contributed modules). Drupal.org also sports a design which was last refreshed in 2005. So it does not really give justice to the software it helps to flourish. Therefore the Drupal Association hired Mark Boulton to help with a community based redesign of the site, and the results are outstanding. Now people from the community need to get together and actually implement it.

We are set out to make progress quickly, so Dries Buytaert decided to organize a series of developer sprints where people get together and plan and execute on the redesign. First we need to upgrade drupal.org to Drupal 6, so that we can work with up-to-date APIs to implement the new features. Then we can move on to actually implementing the redesign.

Thanks to Acquia letting me put some of my time on this job and my scheduling over the holidays and some free time put on these tasks, I've contributed work (to upgrading the existing theme, eliminate modules, help upgrade some other modules, etc) and had quite a few overviews, blog posts and call for actions. Now, these code sprints will actually get the real people together, so for example, two lead maintainers to the project module suite will be in the same room to implement, discuss and review updates to Drupal 6. We expect to make good progress this way.

However, your help is still needed! While some exceptional companies help fund and plan this sprint already, we need more funding for some of the people and also other members of the community who are willing to join and do the work. Sprints will happen in Cologne, Boston and Paris over the next few weeks (exact timing and more details in the drupal.org front page post); and we expect we will continue working on it while in Washington DC for Drupalcon and onwards. We found these places with people to help in mind, not so that we can travel around the globe (there is little overlap between the North-American and European sprints in terms of people, but some overlap is required for consistency in setting goals and planning). I've already contributed to the chipin and encourage you to do so!

If you are more into help doing the work, and you're available to attend one of these sprints, and if you have the time and dedication to work on the drupal.org redesign before, during and after the code sprints, join the redesign infrastructure team and let Dries know in the comments of the drupal.org post, and we'll figure out how and when you can best participate.

Drupal.org upgrade sprint in planning

Dries Buytaert recently posted his Fields in core code sprint debrief, in which he mentions toying with the idea of organizing a Drupal.org upgrade sprint at Acquia. This is what Dries has to say:

All things considered, this [Fields in core] sprint was a big success, and I'm now toying with organizing a "drupal.org upgrade" sprint at Acquia during the last week of January. The goal would be to upgrade drupal.org from Drupal 5 to Drupal 6, and make progress on the drupal.org redesign work. Is anyone interested in participating in or helping fund this sprint? If so, more soon.

From my previous involvement and blog posts, it is probably not big news that I am very interested in helping out with that. Are you?

Help us upgrade Drupal.org to Drupal 6 to get to the redesign!

Update: The final design iteration is online! Check it out! Added screenshot to the post.

About five weeks ago, I blogged about that the redesign process is coming to an end soon, and that it is our job to take over and actually implement what was designed.

The first steps to get to a better drupal.org is (1) to see what we have, (2) keep what we are going to use forward, (3) implement migration paths for whatever we drop and (4) start adding functionality afterwards. In my previous blog post I referenced my report titled Where we are with Drupal.org modules vs. Drupal 6? which covered some of (1), and provided some ideas for cleaning up for decisions in (2).

At the start of the redesign, ideas of single sign on for drupal.org subsites, splitting out project management to its own subsite or merging all subsites into one were tossed around. A single unified node id space among subsites was discussed but more concrete implementation details were not made up. So there are lots of bigger scale infrastructure questions, and we need dedicated people to deal with these, drive the directions, make up solutions.

To facilitate teamwork, I decided to bring findings in my report to a wiki page and encourage all of you to come and sign up for tasks. The Drupal.org to Drupal 6 upgrade collaboration page is a wiki page which lists major module sets on drupal.org and calls out some ideas / directions we might/should take in each area. There is place for people to sign up and for relevant issues to be posted to have an overview of all the items needed.

While the focus of the page is to update drupal.org modules to Drupal 6 (some of which lag behind considerably, especially project handling related modules), the upgrade itself poses some questions. Some of the functionality is not meaningful to update given new plans. Two examples:

  • The drupal.module based distributed authentication model for Drupal.org is planned to be OpenID going forward, and we will drop the old drupal.module based authentication scheme. This needs action on drupal.org to set up an OpenID server and provide migration for those using their drupal.org names on sites such as groups.drupal.org for example.
  • The xapian and search modules now hosting the search functionality are target of much criticism. Jacob Singh, Robert Douglass and Peter Wolanin have a better proposal for drupal.org based on ApacheSolr, which will offer faceted search as well: http://dc2009.drupalcon.org/session/more-search-how-apachesolr-changes-w... So why would we update the xapian module then?

While there are some questions, there are clearly required modules, such as the project module family, without which drupal.org will not live as happy as it is planned to be. There are numerous smaller modules in the drupalorg.module, or items like comment_upload which need attention if you can help out.

As Kieran Lal writes, today is the day when we will see the last design interation from Mark Boulton Design, and from there we are left with designs we need to build actual working functionality behind. With the risk of repeating myself from my previous post, I'd say again, that there is nothing like building a website for more then 300,000 users and 720,000 unique visitors per month. You might not catch such a project soon, if you miss this one! So get on and work with us in this exciting redesign!