Scale is an interesting thing. It affects all kinds of things. Companies grow and don’t seem quite the same as they used to. Bands make it big and then they disappear up their own arses. Restaurants get popular and the food often starts to go downhill. One way or another, it seems that the old wives/husbands tale of scale is that when things get bigger, quality can often suffer.

This is a misnomer; scale doesn’t mean quality must decline, but it does often signal increasing complexity that was wasn’t there before. This is just a part of life: you add more ingredients into the mix and things get more complex.

Like many, I have seen this in the company I work for (Canonical). I joined Canonical when it was pretty small. We had an office in London that could only fit about twelve people in it, I knew everyone, and they all knew me. Things are different now. We are a big company now with things like HR and Finance departments, we need a company directory, and we have staff events that have the echoing resonance of “by eck, there are a lot of people here, I remember when…“.

The same happens with communities. Well, some communities. Many communities never face the issues of scale because they stay to a comfortable manageable size, and that suits everyone just fine. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Ubuntu. We are big, and I think our size is causing the seams to split open a little.

Recently my sub-conscious has been pestering me about this. I have been noticing that while our community continues to grow, which is awesome, it feels like getting involved is getting more complicated. We now have hundreds of teams, many different diverse types of contribution, and a collection of processes and assessment procedures to ensure we accept quality work into the distribution. If you have no idea of MOTU/core-dev/PPAs/Daily Builds/Package Sets/Archive Reorg is, you are probably going to find you have a lot of reading on your hands.

I want to change this. I want to make it better and easier for people to participate.

No one is at fault for us having this complexity; it is part of a passionate community growing every day, but I think we need to take a step back and take a good hard look at how it feels to get involved if you are new around here.

Understanding What To Fix

To help with this I have been talking with some our key community contributors and have put together a Community Review plan to assess the new user experience.

The plan is simple: I first created a report template that serves the following purposes:

  • To identify how discoverable our community is – how do people find out about a type of contribution and get involved?
  • To assess learnability – what resources and experience do we provide for new contributors to learn the skills to participate?
  • To explore how new contributors do things – with a knowledge of the community and the skills, how do contributors know what to work on?
  • In addition to this, I believe the most insightful commentary on these things is from people who have just joined our different communities; we need to capture that input while it is fresh.

So, I formulated this report structure (an example of which is here for the Translations method of contribution), and I have asked the following people to lead this assessment process in these different types of contribution:

  • Total Beginner (this is people who are entirely new to Ubuntu in the first place) – Jorge Castro
  • Translations – David Planella
  • Packaging – Daniel Holbach
  • Documentation – Matthew East
  • Advocacy – Laura Czajkowski
  • Support – TBC
  • Art – Martin Owens
  • Quality – Ara Pulido
  • Server – Ahmed Kamal

Now, I know there are other teams who are not included here, but we need to start somewhere, and I think this list nails most of the major teams.

The next step is that each of these folks will follow through the requirements of each report (the reports are all linked on this page) and add content, and then we will draw conclusions for solutions.

If you have input that you would like to share, please go here, click on the report of interest to you, and enter your comments in the Commentary section; please do not add content to other parts of the report.

I think this is going to be an excellent first step in helping us understand how to better react to the scale; what an awesome problem to have. 🙂

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