FSOSS 2007 Analysis
Analysis of FSOSS 2007
November 1st, 2007
Andrew Fung 039031034
The following report is a summarization of two presentations given at this year’s Free Software and Open Source Symposium (FSOSS). It includes my personal opinions and the speaker’s view about how open source and its community are changing the technology, the web, the media and arts, education, and businesses in today’s technology driven society.
Given that this was my first symposium, I was nerved-whacked and intimidated knowing that “big-shots” from the open source community will be speaking about today’s current technologies. Knowing that IT professionals with a higher knowledge skill sets are speaking, it was naturally to think that you’re in a different league. Thus, I first attended sessions in which I could relate with my knowledge and personal. Being repeatedly mentioned that this symposium as a meaningful experience, I took advantage of the event and attended as many sessions as I could trying to cope with the technical material being shared.
Usability Anonymous: A 12 Step Program for Better User Experiences Jay Goldman and David Crow
Being one of the earlier talks in the symposium, this presentation was very interactive and fun as everyone was actively participating. From time to time, Jay and David would ask the audience questions and opinions regarding specific aspects of human usability, being an everyday product to specific applications like Microsoft Office. This presentation involved in discussing 12 main points that should be considered when designing a product for the users. All these points were explained and discussed thoroughly with related design examples. The following is some tips and techniques that drew some attention to me.
In many of our courses in the Bachelor of Software Development, there were number of times when our professors implicitly or explicitly mentioned that our application should be designed for our specific stakeholders. We even took several courses for Systems, analyzing and writing reports for clients. To start off the topic of stakeholders, Jay and David provided a beautiful explanation through the use of three park benches (traditional bench, traditional with modern hand rests, a modern city bench with no back support and armrests). David explained that even though each bench is designed for the same purpose, a problem arises with optimization. Depending on the variables, the constraints, the design decision, the product is optimized for different users. Through the transition of the three benches, the priority of each design shifts, hence depending on your stakeholders, these characteristics will shift and change as well.
An interesting point that David and Kay mentioned was that in many software, companies do not prioritize bug fixes for user experiences as the up most importance. When there a user has a problem with accomplishing something, there is a bug with the software, and it should be fixed. David continued with that point and suggested that bugs should be put on a plot matrix (Y-axis as the cost to fix the bug, and X-axis as the value to the user). The bugs that are plotted on the top right are the best ones to fix as they are the cheapest to fix, and are the most important to the users. This is an easy way to identify and prioritize the bugs may need to be fixed. Although we have identified the bugs, there are many developers who lack the confidence in fixing user design bus or problems. To argue this point, David explained the Stick Figure theory by Dave Gray from XPLANE. This theory explains that even if you do not know how to draw a stick figure, you can draw it by simply following a few basic steps. Similarity this applies to user experience. Although a bug may seem difficult, developers have the ability fix the problem.
Jay and David were both really optimistic with the open source community. At one point, they were inter-relating many things, one being Mozilla opening up publicly on user feedback. As mentioned in the presentation, “The more passionate the users are, the more they want to tell you. But you also find the more you allow you user to tell you about it, the more passionate they are”. The reason why that we as users are so passionate is because the experience is something we want to optimize so that we could accomplish our task efficiently and comfortably.
One point that drew my attention was when David explains the flaw in which Microsoft experienced with their Microsoft Office Suite. He guided us through the different versions of Microsoft Word since 1997 explaining the improvements and changes in each edition. Although the text editor has grew tremendously over the years, out of 60, 000 reviews of user experience problems, five of the top ten were constantly mentioned. Microsoft experienced a discovery problem, there were too many features and tasks hidden within the program making it hard for users to find and use them. Until the latest version Office, Microsoft answered back to the users with the new Microsoft Office 2007, after learning through the hard way – spending millions of dollars prior to this edition.
Although a user’s experience could greatly improve by following a few of Jay and David’s points, an important consideration is the ability to receive feedback from users. What you are developing is for the users, without the users, it doesn’t matter what you develop.
Background and Point of View
Jay Goldman, the president of Radiant Core Inc, is a user experience specialist and visual designer for over ten years focused on the interaction of human and technology through products from many platforms. He has worked in many industries, from pharmaceuticals to financial services, to help improve a successful product to users. David Crow, a senior user experience advisor from Microsoft Canada has also an intensive knowledge and experience in bringing technology and people together. He has been actively involved with many events such as BarCamp Toronto and DemoCamps. It is quite easy to say that both Jay and David are very fond of the openness of users in the community and the developers of products. Being an essential part of any open source project, feedback is important and over and over, Jay and David mention the improvement of user feedback to any product.
Product and User Experience Design in Open Communities Mike Beltzner
Mike Beltzner’s presentation was extremely useful as he explained the overall structure of the open source community. Although this topic has been discusses in our DPS909 class, the knowledge obtain from this talk adds flavor and more understanding of the overall community. His three main points were to listen to your community, lead your community, and have an opportunity for your community to play and experiment. Mike has a unique personality as he is one of the most optimist people when it comes to committee involvement.
One point that was compelling from Mike’s presentation was the amount of contribution by committee members to Mozilla’s Firefox through betas or newly builds. To show some numbers, from November 2006 to April 2007, thirty-seven percent of Firefox’s code was submitted by outside contributors. This shows how strong and important the open source community is to Mozilla Corporation.
For every member in the open source community, there were two points that Mike mentioned that should be accepted and understood. Although it is possible for anyone to perform a change to the source code, to request a patch, you have to be “smart, responsible and know what you are doing”. That doesn’t require you to have intensive programming training but you must have credibility. This brings to the point that there is “No easy buckets”. In other words, like any organization in today’s world, there is no easy way to earn credibility - You must earn it. Another key factor is that there is a sense of structure and order. The leaders, those who gain lots of credibility should help support by leading the community. Currently, there is a modular ownership where there is a final arbiter who will permit any changes.
In the open source community, sometimes there are chaos as numerous of people will group together fighting against each other regarding their idea. At this point, people are just arguing, not listening. To solve this, apply order by finding the smart people and give them credibility. This gives a positive feedback, and allows that person to likely contribute again and eliminate the people arguing against each other. Another way is to create small focus groups and allow them to finish the iterations as best as they can. This is similar to what Seneca’s open source courses are doing, this allows newcomers to play, experiment and an opportunity to learn. Another point to leadership is to treat any disagreement as a negotiation.
In conclusion, this presentation has given a clearer understanding of how the open source community is and shows how the Mozilla’s corporation is one of the success stories in the world of open source.
Background and Point of View
Mike Beltzner is known as Phenomenologist at Mozilla Corporation, in simple terms, he is a usability specialist and product manager for anything a user could touch related to Mozilla. Mike’s take on open source is that when a project is starting, it is important to take the time to learn and listen to the community, lead the community, and allow the community to explore and test out the deliverables. This will eventually lead to a successful and a well liked product which could live on forever.
Looking back at the two presenters, all the presents show and rely heavily on the characteristics of an open source community. In both lectures, the word “community” has been constantly talked about, showing great importance in the world of open source. Both presentations focused heavily on the use of user’s feedback through forms, blogs, or other communication means.
In Usability Anonymous, Jay and David mentioned the importance of having feedback for usability improvement, like in the case of Microsoft Office. The new Microsoft Office 2007 was created in hopes acknowledge the discovery problem in its older versions to improve overall better user experience. Jay and David’s main focus was the importance of the community involvement in the production and the improvement of any application or software.
Mike’s talk about Product and User’s Experience focused on how the open source community is operated and how it maintains its structure. It further analyzes how the community could improve and what new contributors to the open source should accept in order to gain credibility. Although both presentations are slightly off focused, one can conclude that if the open source community does not exist, products like Firefox will never exist.
My final Views on Open Source
After attending these two presentations, and many other interesting talks offered at FSOSS 2007, I can say that my perspective on open source community has changed. Although there were some things I knew about before walking into the presentations, the presentations gave a clearer and better understanding of how it is in the this community. There are things that you could read about in a book, or on the internet, but when a “big-shot” who came from another country takes the time to come and speak about specific topics, it gives a sense of “wow” and importance to it. It is just extraordinary to see this many passionate people in the open source community and help making it survive.
I was exposed to an open source product when I was young, but there wasn’t any push or motivation to try the Red Hat operating system. From time to time, my father would ask, but it seemed like that weren’t any advantage for me to learn this since I was told or educated about it. Now, being actively involved in the open source community, I have installed Ubuntu in hopes of learning something new in open source.
This symposium is a great opportunity for new comers to explore the alternatives and see the world of open source. It has definitely been a positive experience and is something I would be looking forward for the near future.