User:Morgs/Activities survey

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Survey of Activity Authors

August 2008

I surveyed the authors of all the activities hosted in OLPC's git hosting on dev.laptop.org. For each of the activities I found an email address in git commits or my mail archive.

I sent out an email to the person I guessed to be the primary author, which I customised from the template here - modifying it slightly where I knew the person or some of the answers.

I didn't send the mail to OLPC staff and contractors who I knew to be active in maintaining their activity and on all the relevant mailing lists.

Summary of responses

I got 38 replies to 69 mails. I waited 15 days since the final batch of emails were sent before writing this up.

Most questions had a spread of replies, although my impression of going through all the responses is:

  • Only a few authors tested their activities on recent Joyride builds.
  • Half of the activities were last tested on build 656.
  • Several authors described their activities as "feature complete" although the activities were not necessarily "Sugar compliant" using the Journal, collaboration, etc.
  • While I didn't specifically mention or ask about my proposed mailing list for activity authors, some commented on it favourably or suggested a devel-announce low traffic announcement-only list for API breaks and important announcements.
  • Activity authors either keep up their interest and stay subscribed to the mailing lists, or drop off and stop reading actively, even if they remain subscribed to some lists.
  • Some activity authors are interested in the platform, but many just want a stable, documented API so they can make their activity JUST WORK and stay working with a minimum of maintenance.

Comments ranged from generally positive to extremely negative. A selection of useful comments have been appended to this report.

To highlight comments from one person with which I think a lot of others would agree:

  • "Right now external activity developers are not 'feeling the love'. Their work seems to get broken without much of a thought other than some internal goal/track-tickbox, and then no attempt seems to be made to contact them to let them know 'stuff had changed'. Perhaps contact should be made with an author at certain core dev way-points, a 'please retest your activity with build X due to significant changes' kind of thing."
  • "Without good sugar compliant activities, the goals of Sugar are dead or severely disrupted. ... We really need that stable core of APIs/services to build on."

Activity inclusion

Almost everyone was aware that activities are not included in the builds any more.

While some had heard of the control panel software updater, nobody knew specifically how to publish updates for it - a definite topic to communicate clearly and widely.

Activity status

40 activities had no reply to this survey. Of those that responded,

  • 2 activities are orphaned (maintainer has abandoned the project)
  • 1 activities are up for adoption (maintainer hasn't got time to be active)
  • 13 activities are actively maintained
  • 24 activities are occasionally maintained

I asked when the maintainer last tested the activity:

  • 17 activities were last tested on Ship.2 (650-656)
  • 15 activities were last tested on 8.1.x (7xx)
  • 5 activities were last tested on Joyride < 2000
  • 8 activities were last tested on Joyride >= 2000

Single maintainers:

  • only 7 activities are maintained by groups of people, the rest have a single author/maintainer, although many of these would welcome more developers or interest.

The full list of activities mentioned in responses is here.

Author status

  • 9 authors are actively maintaining their activities at present.
  • 17 authors are occasionally maintaining their activities
  • 7 authors are not at all active any more
  • 2 inactive because internship ended
  • 2 inactive because contract ended

Testing:

  • 2 tested their activities only with jhbuild as they had no XO
  • 11 last tested their activities on 65x (Ship.2)
  • 9 last tested their activities on 70x (Update.1 / 8.1.x)
  • 2 last tested on old Joyride (<2000) builds
  • 8 last tested on recent Joyride (>2000) builds

There were a few mentions of not being able to keep up with builds due to being on dialup or expensive bandwidth.

The full list of activity authors who responded is here.

Mailing lists

Not everybody responded on this question, so these numbers don't add up to the total. However, some who didn't respond are on lists, and others are not so the balance is approximately representative.

  • 19 authors are on both devel@l.l.o and sugar
  • 5 authors are on devel but not sugar
  • 1 authors are on sugar but not devel
  • 1 authors are on neither, but are on another list (iaep, games, ...)
  • 6 authors are on no lists

More detail:

  • 23 authors are on devel@lists.laptop.org
  • 28 authors are on sugar@lists.laptop.org
  • 6 authors are on community-news@lists.laptop.org
  • 4 authors are on community-news@lists.sugarlabs.org
  • 15 authors are on iaep/education@lists.sugarlabs.org
  • 11 authors are on other OLPC/Sugar related lists

Communication

  • 11 authors are overwhelmed by traffic on current lists which is not relevant to them
  • 12 authors are specifically in favour of another list like devel-announce for low-traffic, high importance announcements like stable releases, API breaks, etc so that they can keep up with the information relevant to them

Sugar Labs

Are you aware of Sugar's new home at http://sugarlabs.org as an upstream project?

  • 8 were unaware of Sugar Labs until my mail.
  • 25 were aware of Sugar Labs although many of these had not looked regularly at the sugarlabs wiki if at all.

Conclusions

I've written my personal recommendations here.

Comments about Documentation

There were many comments on the lack of documentation outright, or the struggle to find it in a logical place, or on code snippets on wiki.laptop.org being out of date. Here are a few useful comments:

  • "i'd love to see a "canonical activity skeleton", somewhat like what the gnome-hello module used to provide. this would present the standard way of organizing an activity dir, laying out code, setting up toolbars and activity sharing, etc. sometimes code is the best documentation."
  • "a centralized well written sugar documentaion (something like the Java API documentation) would make a world of difference to activity developers"
  • "A lot of [documentation] exists but finding it is extremely difficult as it is poorly dispersed throughout various websites and wikis. There are plenty of 'hello world' activity guides, and sugar code snippets, but just figuring out how to make a decent sugar toolbar and how to use the journal properly in an activity are really not explained well at all. If there was some SINGLE place to consult for help regarding sugar, that would be extremely helpful to activity developers."
  • "I think the documentation on the wiki could be improved. Especially when it comes to API's and certain unconventional aspects of Sugar. I think, new developers can get turned off from sugar development when they see confusing things like the datastore without an easy to find explanation on the wiki as to why things were done that way as opposed to a conventional approach."

Comments about Testing

  • "It would be nice if OLPC/Sugar could tell me, "Your .xo no longer launches with tonight's nightly Sugar. A bug has been filed in Trac automatically, and here is last night's ChangeLog." That way I can optimize the relationship between the time I spend working on Sugary bits and the usefulness of my activity."
  • "By testing activities thoroughly.We get the impression that activity testing has been abandonned. OLPC should have a "quality assurance" officier whose job it is to run activities through its paces. By passing on comments and suggestions from the field. By adopting an API that remains in place for a good while." This from a maintainer of an activity often considered "core"...

Comments about Communication

  • "I've followed the recent discussion on the devel mailing list about a new activity developers mailing list, and I must say that maybe having one couldn't hurt, but I've picked up a lot of interesting stuff on devel and sugar, and it would be wise to encourage activity developers to suscribe to

these as well."

  • "A good, clear, **official** activity author related subject name, posted to the sugar list, would be a good start. Internally the core team would come to agreement on some change with some external list/track/wiki chatter, and then officially post the formal resolution/change. As both an email, and as a wiki page of all past Activity developer notification of changes. Right now external activity developers are not 'feeling the love'. Their work seems to get broken without much of a thought other than some internal goal/track-tickbox, and then no attempt seems to be made to contact them to let them know 'stuff had changed'. Perhaps contact should be made with an author at certain core dev way-points, a 'please retest your activity with build X due to significant changes' kind of thing."
  • "Without good sugar compliant activities, the goals of Sugar are dead or severely disrupted. Ported Linux junk is a total joke to all but the nerds – and I do have a foot in that camp – they are completely inappropriate to the target audience without major UI improvements. Write, Browse, Chat, great – and a few others just scrape in so far as +'ve and useful edu experiences. We really need that stable core of APIs/services to build on."
  • "I'm on the devel list only. If there was a list specifically for Activity developers I'd join that and quit the devel list, which contains a lot of information I can't use. I see myself as an Activity developer only. I might write some Howto stuff for the Wiki too, but I don't see myself able to make and contribution to Sugar itself or even do much in the way of testing it."
  • "I think the best idea is to create a new mailist list, only for activity authors. I always felt confused with sugar@ and devel@, because I don't want to write libraries and firmwares (I think they are cool too, but I don't have time...), I just want to write my activity."
  • "the many (and changing) places where to announce/update a link for a new release are far from ideal. There's several pages at wiki.laptop.org and probably also on sugarlabs.org. I think it would be far more ideal if there was a single source for info about the latest version."

Comments about Community Building

  • "Activity jams or such 2-3 day events would be good to get people involved"
  • "if someone wanted to interview lots of Activity authors (the LUG-radio style comes to mind) that could be fun and helpful, but it would be a lot of work."
  • "Have a meeting [for activity authors] once in a month (Saturday/Sunday preferably) on IRC #sugar."

Help Needed

  • "I'm not sure I've done the right thing as far as i18n, and I don't know what it takes to get an activity into the Pootle."
  • "I have requested for the OLPC hardware long back (about 45 days) and the application got approved also but i have not got XO till yet."
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