An apology, and hopefully looking forward for IxDA

(I posted this message on IxDA.org today; if you want to comment please go to: http://www.ixda.org/node/26075)

Dear fellow IxDA members,

I’m heartsick about how the state of the new IxDA infrastructure has caused problems for our community. Firstly, I want to personally apologize to you, my fellow members, for any technical problems and unpleasant experiences with the new mailing list and/or website that you might have had. At the same time, I also want to reset people’s expectations about what was delivered, and provide my own perspective on the situation looking forward. 

Some history, in case any folks reading this message don’t know: I was IxDA Vice President and the Project Manager & Creative Director (aka “Chief Wrangler”) of the 18-month infrastructure project we code-named Conan. During this time, I led a volunteer team of about 30 IxDA members to design the new site, coordinated efforts to select a technology platform, and led the collaboration with a professional development partner to implement the new website with integrated mailing list technology. And then, we launched everything with a big bang on February 28th. All told, I put in about 1,000 hours volunteering on Conan. Within a month of Conan’s launch, deeply burned out from this project, I fully stepped away from managing and supporting IxDA infrastructure efforts (plus I also resigned from the Board, with due notice). 

One of the most glaring failures of the project under my direction was a lack of QA & testing of the mailing list system. This area created numerous painful issues in the first weeks of launch. I was so keen to stick to our publicized launch date, so lacking in experience launching a major website, and so focused on other aspects of managing the implementation & launch that I neglected to ensure that the central Discussion feature was behaving appropriately. I feel terrible about this oversight, and hope your inboxes will someday forgive me. Talk about lessons learned! 

We’re now almost exactly 4 months past the launch date of the new website & mailing list, and as many have pointed out, all is not perfect. Some of today’s problems are technical, mainly affecting the mailing list. Some of today’s problems are process-related. And some of today’s problems are also design-related. The design critiques of IxDA.org have been excellent, vital (and I happen to agree with virtually all of them). There remains much to improve, large and small.

In this area, it’s very important for me to take this opportunity to reset people’s expectations and clearly restate the underlying premise of the IxDA community of practice infrastructure. Even before I took over the project from previous Board members, Conan was always envisioned as *release 1.0 of a new, extensible platform for IxDA growth*. Turns out Conan was more like a beta release, but still the point stands. We all saw Conan as the first in a hopefully long and exciting series of releases that would improve on both the design and technology of what we created. This is why we chose an open source platform (Drupal) and why we worked as a large, global team throughout the whole project. Conan operated with a very limited budget compared to the scope of our hopes and dreams. Many design compromises were accepted consciously in order to deliver as much broad underlying technology as possible in the initial, professionally-developed release. 

This approach may sound like something you may have experienced professionally in the real world, which of course it was. A major difference is that IxDA.org belongs to the community. It needs you to succeed. The key outcome going forward I hope to see is that you, dear reader, and other members of the uber-talented IxDA community can truly feel like you own the IxDA.org platform. Your participation is certainly needed and was always desired in order to make things better going forward—in ways already identified as well as awesome ways that are as-yet-unforeseen.

People today are working on solutions to various open issues, while others remain unaddressed, at least as far as I know. To the best of my knowledge, the IxDA Board is overloaded managing a large number of organizational responsibilities and is not able to put additional resources to work on IxDA.org. Some of my own thoughts about what should be happening to address the technical, process, and design issues include: 

  • establishing a clear path for IxDA volunteers to contribute infrastructure improvements; this includes opening the source code to technically-skilled members and forming a design team or teams to address usability & design issues 
  • committing how ever much money is required right now to fix the Drupal-based mailing list implementation so that it behaves as much as possible like the legacy Mailman-based list did (principally with regard to its email headers and usable digest features); tackling this fully might even warrant the more technically risky & costly path of turning off email delivery for a time, throwing away the Drupal tech and integrating a Mailman-based solution 
  • instituting a policy to automatically unsubscribe members who send Out-of-Office messages to list postings
  • hearing from the IxDA Board more frequently and more clearly about what exactly is going on “behind the scenes”
  • assessing the new social dynamics that have arisen in the globally-distributed online IxDA community; addressing issues identified here might include creating a formal community moderator/manager role, further considering the impact of local/regional concerns on participation, and forming new online groups organized around special interests
  • creating informational materials that are pushed to new members (and at least once to all existing members) with regards to the existence of the Job Board and Local Groups, as well as general Discussion guidelines
  • building bridges with the large Drupal development community so that IxDA can seek to improve its infrastructure and contribute its solutions back to the Drupal core without necessarily having to stress about major funding for every aspect

Again, I apologize for the mistakes that were made under my watch. Although I’m no longer in a position to actively lead, I’d love to see other concerned members rise to the occasion. You are needed. Ultimately, I hope to see IxDA thrive despite its present challenges—and I for one have the audacity to think that it will. 

Finally, if you made it this far, thank you for bearing with my long-winded missive. Onwards & upwards! 

Cheers,
Liz

0 thoughts on “An apology, and hopefully looking forward for IxDA

  1. Liz, normally I’m not one to cross-post but in this case I think it’s warranted. The original message I posted on the IxDA list follows in its entirety.— Liz, thanks for taking the time to explain — in some detail — the history of the Conan project to everyone and place the current technical issues firmly in context.Embarking on an undertaking like this is a challenge, even moreso with a volunteer team distributed around the globe. The natural inclination for most of us is to defend our work when it is criticized, especially when one is heavily and personally invested in effort, emotion and time. I can only applaud the humility and openness with which you have approached this and received critiques, and thank you and the other 30 volunteers for undertaking a gargantuan task in your personal time.The baton has been passed to your successors and I hope that others with the necessary skills will offer their time and support to all who sincerely work in the best interests of the IxDA and its membership. Many hands make light work.Thanks again.-K

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