Forum OpenACS Q&A: Response to How long can the OpenACS community get away with being an island?

Thanks, Peter, for bringing this up ...

We definitely need to make OpenACS more popular. The question is, though, whether it's just a question of attracting more attention, or whether we need to make the product more edible.

What I'm afraid is that if we do manage to attract a lot of attention, a lot of people are going to check out the software and then turn away. Those people are going to be hard to convince to come back and check it out later, when it's improved.

I know that I'm certainly very impatient when I check out other software products. If I have to work too hard, or I can't see what value I get right away, I leave. Is it just a question of explaining the value better, or do we also need to raise the level of quality? I'm afraid we need to raise the level of quality.

I usually tell people that what the OpenACS has most of is really potential. It's got the potential to be a really productive platform for building collaboration-based applications, but it's not quite there yet.

What I'm talking about is the fact that there are too many half-finished things pointing in different directions, half of which are deprecated, and you have to know the history of the toolkit, and you have to be able to debug and understand the templating system and the request processor in order to develop for the system. And it generally looks like shit out of the box.

What I want to work towards is cleaning up the system: Nicer graphic design, more usable interfaces, a limited set of supported, bug-free, feature-complete applications, cleaner APIs, removing the crud. In short, establishing a base line level of quality and completeness that we can be happy enough with to be able to document it and go out and tell people "here's how you use and develop for this platform."

How urgent is this? Very. As in end of this year. Can this be done? Don't know.

The problem right now is that it takes too long to get to know the system enough to be able to move it forward in a solid direction. We need to get to a situation where the direction, the focus, and the documentation is good enough that we can have people get up to speed in days or weeks, not months.

Can we spec out the road map in enough detail and with enough consensus that we can start recruiting people and have them productively contributing in a week or two? And can we put up a demo site that clearly illustrates what value this brings? And can we explain in simple terms what makes this platform superior to what other products under what conditions? Then attracting more people becomes very interesting.