I am glad to see this event again and hope that there will be many more like this – in other geographical locations, with totally different project participants.
I don’t generally get involved in these web2.0 brouhahas, but Flock has been on my mind recently. The most round of criticism comes after the release of Performancing a cross-platform browser plugin for Firefox that makes Flock pointless.
I was initially excited then skeptical of Flock, but it was at a talk about FireFox recently that I decided that Flock makes sense. Blake Ross and Asa Dotzler talked about how they had managed to create simple software in an open-source geek culture (not known for simple software). What struck me was that their method primarily seemed to be about having a small team that worked as gatekeepers keeping the non-essential stuff out. I am simplifying, but I have thought a fair bit about how to make usable software in an open source culture, and their method was definitely what I would term the “gatekeeper model”.
They also talked about Firefox’s current main challenge, which is to move beyond early adopters, and some early majority and go after more of the Internet Explorer crowd. Strategically, Firefox will be focused on a simple experience that is similar, but compares well to Internet Explorer. That is Firefox’s main battle especially with renewed efforts of Microsoft with IE.
Terry Winograd runs an excellent series of talks on HCI at Stanford. This Friday, he is featuring a talk by Blake Ross and Asa Dotzler of the Mozilla foundation. This is a topic I have discussed in numerous discussions with my open-source friends – how Firefox does it (create user-friendly software), and how other open-source projects can learn from it? I look forward to finally learning more. More information about the class here. And here is the title and abstract:
Next week I will be participating in the second open source usability sprint. It’s my second, and I am glad to do what I can, to promote usability in open source software. It’s also a welcome break from regular consulting work. This time, Eugene, Gunner and Katrin (from Aspiration Tech) are shooting for extreme usability. I am not quite sure what that will end up meaning in practice, but it should be interesting working that out. Thats partly what I enjoy about these sprints – going in without any preconceptions and collaboratively working out how someone with HCI skills can best contribute to open source software.
If this topic interests you, you might be interested in my writeup of the previous sprint.
Joe Krause recently wrote that “Its a great time to be an entrepreneur“. Yes, it is. Joe talks about cheap hardware, free infrastructure software, cheap global labor markets, and search engine marketing. There is another reason that its a great time to be an entrepreneur – an excellent example of which is Joel Spolsky’s latest project: CoPilot.
Take a good open source software. Something really useful. Something well built, that solves a real problem. Something like VNC. You can take your pick from the many flavors of VNC – Tight VNC, Real VNC, Ultra VNC …- . There is no better way to share your screen with someone – if you are willing to deal with the usability problems that come with it.
The last few months have been an exciting time for open source usability. Here is a first hand story of what has been happening, some photographs and reflections.
This article is divided into three parts.
Part 1: Some recent developments
Part 2: The issues around open source usability
Part 3: Why you should care, and how to get involved
PART 1: SOME RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
I first became interested in the usability of open source software (or the lack of it) while still at UC Berkeley around 2000. I did some work (actually my students did the work!). In the process, I also, met others interested in the topic such as Nancy Frishberg. But I was soon convinced that it was a wasted effort – open source developers did not really understand what usability had to offer, and it was difficult for a UX (User Experience) professional to have much impact.
No, I am not kidding. Tomorrow is the start of the usabilty sprint in San Francisco. Its a three day event bringing together developers from open-source projects, and several usability professionals.
“In a hands-on clinic format, usability practitioners will work with open source developers and users to make software more intuitive and user-friendly. A number of free/libre/open source (FLOSS) projects, including several nonprofit e-advocacy applications, will be part of the working sessions, putting usability principles to the test.”
Participating projects are
The sprint is the brainchild of Aspiration Tech and Blue Oxen Associates. Eugene Eric Kim from Blue Oxen will be speaking at the upcoming BayCHI about the sprint – so come by to hear all about it next month.
Apart from the participating projects, there are a number of observer projects. Its great to see this sort of interest in usability from open source developers and am thrilled to be part of this event. Hopefully, this will lead to the development of methods and means for usability practices to become an integral part of open-source software development.
For me, this will be a welcome break from consulting projects. Look out for updates posted from the sprint itself.