Technical

Toronto’s “mini-sprint”, and Sydney’s KDE/FOSS Community

During the holidays I met up with Eugene Trounev, (aka it-s), one of KDE’s awesome artists to discuss our reorganisation of KDE.org and the design aspects of it (which is coming soon in the series). It was a 2-day meeting and it was my first time meeting another KDE enthusiast face-to-face, as given my inconvenient geographical location in Malaysia I don’t know anybody else here. I won’t post the outcome of the sprint here but it will be released periodically with the rest of my kde-www war series. It was extremely useful and awesome of course (and yes, lots did get done), and since no photos were taken, here is one of a random conifer tree to make up for it:

I’ve just arrived in Sydney, Australia to get ready for my upcoming year of university, and so I wanted to quickly throw out the question to see if anybody in the KDE / Blender / FOSS crowd lives there. If you do, throw me an email/comment and if there isn’t an existing community, let’s start one :D

Technical

The kde-www war: part 1

In my initial post, I talked about the wall of text. I described some of the symptoms of the wall of text, and proclaimed that kde.org is terrible. I listed some of the basics of cleaning up text, and gathered some information about the “why” of kde.org.

Unfortunately, KDE.org is representative of a very large and vibrant community, and although formatting and eyecandy insertions will come in good time, we have to first understand the site’s structure to make informed decisions before tidying up small details. KDE.org’s wall of text problem is not simply due to a few bad aesthetic choices, but instead a side-effect of a more fundamental problem in KDE-www’s structure.

When I defined the wall of text issue, I described the problem being boiling to the essence of what you’re trying to communicate to the audience, and how to present it. Thus let’s look at what we are trying to communicate to the KDE audience – of which there are essentially two parties:

The uninitiated potential KDE user

The new user is interested in the single question of “What is KDE?“. They will want to understand that KDE is a community, and that its product is KDE SC – of which is a multidimensional beast full of wonders both for end-users and developers. When this has been answered, we want to tell them “Why is KDE right for me?“, and finally when convinced, “How do I start?“.

New users have a very specific workflow, and so we should recognise this, tailor it to them, and remove any potential “sidetracking” factoids.

The existing KDE user

The existing KDE user knows what KDE is and is currently using it, but most importantly, the existing user IS KDE. The rebranding effort was not about changing KDE to KDE SC, but instead about separating product from people. Technically, open-source is simply a business model, but in reality, open-source is a philosophy constructed by people. KDE’s challenge is how to turn one of open-source’s most intangible qualities into an axiom for all users.

So let’s talk a bit about KDE instead of KDE: SC. It has a “magazine” of sorts, the Dot, which gives “official” news on the ongoing events in KDE. It has an active blogosphere by PlanetKDE, which is populated basically by the people behind KDE: SC, which report upcoming features, discussions about KDE-related topics, ongoing physical events, and ongoing virtual events. It has a micro-blogosphere, by buzz.kde, which highlights recent Flickr and Picasa activity, YouTube videos, Tweets, and Dents. KDE’s community also has the Forums, which acts both as discussions, support and brainstorm. There is a multitude of Wikis: Userbase, the by and for users, Techbase, the by and for developers, and Community, used to organise community activities. There is KDE e.V, which does awesome stuff which isn’t publicised enough, and a variety of groups in social networks such as Facebook and Linux.com. Freenode’s network has a collection of IRC channels where KDE enthusiasts hang out. There is a variety of regional communities which all hold their own KDE specific stuff, and an entire of network of community-contributed KDE resources through the OpenDesktop API, and various other KDE connections through the SocialDesktop.

For your convenience, I’ve bolded what is KDE in the above paragraph. KDE-www, being representative of KDE, must stress that this is what KDE is – firstly by presenting in a digestable form the amazing influx of activity from all of those sources, and secondly by making it easy for any KDE user, old or new, to find out where they belong, and how they can add to the community. If you look at KDE-www from this perspective, it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that KDE.org is terrible.

But where do we start?

Given such a complex problem, let’s start by mapping out the ideal routes for each user. Here’s the proposal:

When looking at the chart above, notice how we clearly separate KDE from KDE:SC. I would like to highlight that the two final goals for existing users are not mutually exclusive. You can both contribute to KDE:SC but at the same time contribute to KDE – as long as you communicate your activity.

Now that we have identified the ideal paths for our target audiences, we can start making informed decisions about restructuring KDE.org. But before I get to that in part 2, feel free to add your opinion.

P.S. There is some wrong terminology used when it comes to KDE:SC, it should be referred to as KDE Software, as SC is more of a technical term used to describe a specific subset of packages in KDE Software.

Technical

Help KDE.org defeat the wall of text.

Everybody knows that effective design is very important to any succesful interface – be it an application, a website, a product, or a physical structure. There are lots of reasons behind this, but the one I’m going to talk about today is how design combats the most dreaded wall of text, of which KDE.org is a victim.

(Note: if you’re not interested in reading this post, just skip to the last paragraph where you can help give your 0.02 cents)

Somebody famous once said that it’s very easy to write. So easy, in fact, until the problem wasn’t with finding things to write about – it was finding things not to write about. The question was how to write concisely: boiling to the essence of what you’re trying to communicate to the audience, and how to present it.

But why is it so terrible? Despite what literature students tell you, people do not like to read. Ideally information should enter their brains without having to make any concious effort whatsoever. As interfaces are all about sharing maximum functionality with the user without sacrificing usability, knowing how to minimise (or present differently) the use of text is very important. Here are a few points to consider when critiquing – it is by no means complete and is not applicable in all scenarios.

You shouldn’t need explanatory paragraphs in your interface.

If the explanation is about your product, it’s ok to have it, but it shouldn’t be as long as a paragraph. If the explanation is about how to use your interface – that is the ultimate evil. The easiest way to remove these is to find isolate the most relevant element of the interface to which the explanation belongs to, then only make that explanation appear if the user is interested in that single option. Another way is to split up your interface into multiple interfaces to reduce the complexity of the things the user has to absorb in one go.

Don’t have more than 10 items in your main navigation.

Unless you expect a lot of repeat visitors who know exactly what they’re doing, of course. The point is that newcomers don’t like choice. They like the illusion of choice, but it is your job as the designer to secretly guide them through to the optimum “first impression” route. If you want to sell a product, you want them to be intrigued by X, then be introduced to Y, then be amazed by Z. And in that order. If you offer a service, you want to think what your target user’s daily functions are, and make sure those are in your main navigation. The rest, stuff it elsewhere.

Icons help. They really do.

Icons speak for themselves. A red X means more than a “No”. A greyed out X means more than a “Not available”. An “i” in a circle means more than “More information”. You can forego the word “Profile” altogether if you use an icon of a person. Plus, icons make your interface look prettier. If anybody isn’t sure what an icon does, they can just hover over it.

Be careful of how you present dates.

Dates are the easiest way to reduce readability of your interface. When given the date 04/05/06, Americans will read it 5th April 2006, Europeans will read it 4th May 2006, and Chinese/Japanese will read it 6th May 2004. The entire string “04/05/06” looks like code, and your brain has to do an awful lot of deciphering to understand it. It’s often best to give a full string “4th May 2006” if it’s in the archives where dates are important, a “Last Month” if the user is likely to only be interested in relative dates, or “4 May” (omitting the year if possible) if space is tight. The date is rarely the most important piece of information in a system, so hide it somewhere that only interested people would see.

Present your text semantically.

On computer systems it’s easy to think of text as lines with line breaks. Instead, get back to thinking of text blocked into paragraphs, with presenting one point per paragraph. If you have a list, use a list. Of course on the internet CSS makes this easy to do.

Create consistent visual format indicators.

Bolding text is good for emphasis, colour signify more information, italics hint at “quoted” text, font sizes represent importance, and alignment influences the workflow. It’s harder to do this on desktop applications, but still possible.

Over the next few weeks I will slowly document exactly how we can put this into practice through a live sample of KDE’s website. I will analyse each page and document it here. My objective is to not only beautify and improve KDE’s website (not only defeating the wall of text, but also improving it all around), but to also increase awareness about this in all of KDE’s applications.

Before I start, I need to collect some qualitative data from you, the community. Simply leave a comment to this post answering the following question:

Do you use KDE.org? (as in www.kde.org, not any subdomains such as the techbase, userbase, dot, etc)

If yes, was it a one-time “tour” use, or do you go to it regularly? If it’s a one-time, what do you expect kde.org to offer you? If you go to it regularly, what do you check most often?

Cheers, and until next time!

Uncategorized

KDE.org relaunch with a brand new design!

I think I can safely assume that although there were signs from the latest mockup that suggested the design that was released today nobody really expected what came out to come out. Well, the final layout is out and recorded as per protocol in the WIPUP project. It can be seen in detail here. As usual the full project timeline can be seen in my WIPUP profile page.

Well, go check out the KDE.org website to see the real deal. For those interested in more details they can read the KDE Dot article about the relaunch. Pretty awesome, except that I was originally credited as "Doin Moult" (now fixed). Hopefully I should be poking my nose into more KDE www projects in the future.

Also happy to see a spike up to almost 1000 views in the past week of WIPUP updates. I know it’s unfinished and all, but I must say I quite like using the system. Perhaps in the future I should try out some other media types in my updates to see how well they fare.

Uncategorized

Countdown to KDE 4.4 and the new KDE website: 1 day left

The new KDE website redesign is due any day now (with the release of KDE SC 4.4) and when it’s released you will be able to see how ideas were amalgamated from many different mockups and some which I’ve not had the records to post. The final design is different, much more aligned with the KDE "Air" branding, and most importantly a shared effort, like what open-source is meant to be. So don’t be too shocked if what is released is completely different.

Check out the latest mockup update here.

Past mockups viewable in full on my WIPUP profile.

Uncategorized

Countdown to KDE 4.4 and the new KDE website: 2 days left

Only 2 days left until the KDE SC 4.4 is released, but apparently the website design is due out on the 8th! Yes, that’s tomorrow. Today’s update shows a stage in the mockup which is natural to designers – the rejection stage. A new idea (in this case, minimalism) is chosen and we try out something new to see if we like it.

View the full update here. Full progress can be seen on my WIPUP profile.

Uncategorized

Countdown to KDE 4.4 and the new KDE website: 5 days left

Right, it’s a day later and it’s time to see where we’ve gotten with the redesign of the KDE website.

As most of you noticed yesterday, the main gripes were with the header of the design. Today’s update is a small but necessary one – one that shows the start of a new design idea. Very often the start of a design determines its success at the end, and people may or may not take an instant like/dislike to it.

I’d like to stress to those that perhaps didn’t quite get it that this work has already been done, I’m simply posting it out of good humour and I thought people would be interested.

Well, here it is.

Previous entries can be viewed in the WIPUP profile page.