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Wikis in Open Source Projects

Wikis are great to collect information and they work well, the more active users they actually have. With the growth of Wikipedia the number of people who understand how collaboration works in a Wiki increased dramatically (even though in fact many users of the Wikipedia still do not seem to know, that they can actually edit pages).

For smaller numbers of contributing users I found, that it is sometimes difficult to keep information up to date or delete spam, that appears even though Antispam modules and Captcha tools are set up.

For example in the English LXDE wiki, we have quite some hits on the wiki, but if we look closer, many pages have outdated information about releases and roadmaps. As the wiki is available in many languages, it gets even worse in other languages with less community members engaging. A reason why the LXDE wiki might not be so active is probably because the project is more a project of developers collaborating with other developers. Developers are already busy coding. My observation is, that they simply do not have time to keep Wikis up to date.

Another example is the lubuntu wiki. Over time different people contribute to the wiki. The wiki was originally modeled after wiki pages of other Ubuntu derivatives like Xubuntu.  We had the advantage to use a basic structure, that might have taken others years to achieve. A very important point was also that there is an established model to deal with different opinions in a wiki. The lubuntu wiki is set up within the Ubuntu wiki. When we started there were already a lot of people who we could cooperate with and there was a functioning administration and hosting model, that we did not have to take care of. The wiki developed into a good resource and brought in people who also took on the special help pages for lubuntu.

Freifunk Wiki

Finally the freifunk wiki of the free wireless community. The wiki is in German, but during recent years also other languages were included as people from across the world started to participate in freifunk. There have been steady contributions to the content from different kinds of people. While some local communities themselves have often more content, the wiki remains to be an important resource and basis especially for new communities. The wiki is managed and maintained completely by the community. As we have many capable developers and IT experts in this project, it should be easy to maintain the wiki system and perform upgrades. The fact is though, that the activity level of people, including my own engagement, ranges vastly. This makes it very difficult to administer a wiki. And for newbies it is difficult to support a group as well. The most difficult part is to get into the group of admins. You need to get access and often root access to infrastructure. It is difficult to establish a level of trust with newcomers. Longterm members start families, might not show up at offline meetings and might not always be available. In a community there is usually also a previous experience with newcomers that disappear after some time or people who could be perceived as trolls. So, the result is often an attitude of a wait and see approach. In return newcomers, who want to push ahead with new cool stuff, get frustrated with this attitude. I have not seen a perfect approach to resolve this issue, but I find that real world meet ups that bring contributors together can help to solve this. In Germany many local communities have local meet ups. There are also bigger community events like the Wireless Community Weekend and even International get togethers like the Battle of the Mesh.

So, whatever you do, try to meet some people face to face and you will see how it also becomes more fun to work in the project.

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What works well for community projects – wikis, blogs, forums, cms, IRC

I guess in any project – open software, hardware, content –  there are established working models and processes, that develop over time and help everyone involved to get things done.  Those processes need to be explained and communicated to newbies taking time and adding overhead to volunteer projects. Tasks not everyone is interested in as experience also shows that not all newbies stick with projects. So, what to do? 

A way to reduce overhead explaining newbies how to involve is to stick to established channels, standard collaboration tools and work processes. Forums, wikis, content management systems, IRC channels, mailing lists are all great tools, but when does a wiki make sense for a project? When do forums, IRC and mailing lists all make sense?

Generally saying my experience is that projects that are more focused on technology and with lots of developers tend to do good with mailing lists, IRC and sometimes forums. Wikis and website documentation works much better, if you have people who can actually invest time in creating and updating content. Documentation is a weak point of many software projects as it is not always fun and takes time. For most developers it is much cooler to develop a new feature, than to write a document about it, but if you have people who would like to support other areas, but cannot code, then go for it. Maybe even start a documentation team.

Project blogs work well if the project team is not too big, as people seem to be somehow feel attached to a project to blog. It works well for projects with real “core people” and are small or midsized. On the other hand if the project is very big, the question arises who has the right to write on the blog? Or, who will actually write something, if the community is diverse and dispersed?

Of course there could be projects where things are different, but the above is how it works in my experience.

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Interview about lubuntu with Full Circle Podcast

The full circle magazine did an interview with me to learn more about the lubuntu project. Listen to the first part here.

Full Circle Podcast #8: More Opinion Than You Can Handle 

In this episode, Dave and Ed argue about evolution… of  Ubuntu One and Lubuntu.

Opinion: Why we need Lubuntu

Interview: Part I of the Lubuntu Project

Thanks to Dave and Ed for making people aware about lubuntu!

Creative Commons license of the podcast: (cc) BY-SA 3.0 Unported

How to make lubuntu better

PCMan, the founder of LXDE, told me a few ideas about "how to make lubuntu better":

One thing I think every developer can do to make Lubuntu better is quite simple. Lubuntu developers can help check if dialogs in LXDE programs can conform to Gnome HIG. Currently, most dialogs in PCManFM/libfm are designed with Gnome HIG in mind, but there are still some missing bits. Since glade is used to create those dialogs, it's not difficult to fix them. If a dialog is too big for devices with small screen like Netbooks, "this is a bug" and should be reported in the trackers. Help is also needed to make them fit small screens. Most of time I develop them with small screen in mind so this might not a problem, but we need to make sure. Another thing you can do with the source code is making sure every GtkDialog is created with gtk_dialog_set_alternative_button_order() called. This is required to make all apps work in consistent ways. To improve user experience, those are things need to be ensure.

Links:

* Lightweight X Desktop http://lxde.org

* PCManFM/libfm http://pcmanfm.sourceforge.net

lubuntu first alpha releases

lynxis published the first lubuntu test iso based on the seeds by David Sugar and additional patches. The first release was 381 MB and a second one only 292 MB. Following test images are also around this size. After crashing the c-base server several times with the lubuntu images, the LXDE team kindly offers the download from its website: download.lxde.org/lubuntu-9.10

lubuntu
lubuntu logo suggestion by gusion

The lubuntu project was started in February after I met with Mark Shuttleworth in Berlin. We talked about how to cooperate between LXDE and Ubuntu. Mark agreed that a light Ubuntu distro would definitely be worthwile to proceed. I started the lubuntu project with the goal to create an Ubuntu derivative that is fast and lightweight just as the goals of the LXDE project.

LXDE, "Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment", is an extremely fast, performing and energy saving desktop environment. It is maintained by an international community of developers and comes with a beautiful interface, multi-language support, standard keyboard short cuts and additional features like tabbed file browsing. LXDE uses less CPU and less RAM. It is especially designed for cloud computers with low hardware specifications like netbooks, mobile devices (e.g. MIDs) or older computers. LXDE can be installed with distributions like Ubuntu or Debian. It provides a fast desktop experience connecting easily with applications in the cloud. LXDE supports a wealth of programs, that can be installed with Linux systems locally. The source code of LXDE is licensed partly under the terms of the General Public License and partly under the LGPL.

The lubuntu team already had IRC meetings, face to face gatherings in Singapore, Berlin and other cities. And, I am excited to see the team getting together and releasing first results now. lynxis who is most of the time in the c-base just over the street from my appartment joined the team a few months ago. I am looking forward to more people joining up with us.

There are many ways you can support the project. Firstly download and test the current test releases. If you are a developer you can submit patches. If you are a tester, please leave info about bugs in the bug tracker. Secondly you can join us and create desktop backgrounds and logos for lubuntu. We have not decided yet, what the final logo will look like.Check out the lubuntu Artwork Forum and leave your ideas there. You can also help with translations, if you speak another language and translate the desktop of LXDE. Or you can help to improve or write Wikipedia articles about lubuntu and LXDE.

lubuntu logo idea by genelyk
lubuntu logo idea by genelyk

lubuntu design idea
lubuntu Design Idea by leo

Download lubuntu test iso: download.lxde.org/lubuntu-9.10

Links

* lubuntu on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lubuntu
* Join up with the LXDE community http://join.lxde.org
* lubuntu Artwork Forum http://forum.lxde.org/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=437
* Bug reports: https://bugs.launchpad.net/~lubuntu-desktop
* Seeds and Code of Lubuntu: https://code.launchpad.net/~lubuntu-desktop
* Launchpad Project: https://bugs.launchpad.net/~lubuntu-desktop
* How to make a LiveCD: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/LiveCDCustomizationFromScratch

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