Sunday, April 20, 2008

Thoughts on www.FreeBSD.org (2 of 2)

In the last post I identified some of the strengths and weaknesses of the current www.FreeBSD.org website. As promised, I've collected some specific suggestions that I think would improve the site:

  • Better integration with CVSWeb, P4Web, ohloh, and cia.vc. A number of sites offering third party open source metrics have become available in recent years such as ohloh.net and cia.vc. We should ensure that our content is available on those sites and better utilize some of the features they provide. For example, customizable RSS feeds of code changes in specific subtrees should be made available, perhaps even only those changes that match complex search queries. Dynamic lists of the most active developers, or the parts of the source tree that are changing most rapidly could be displayed.

  • Better utilization of our own structured data. We have geographic information about usergroups and events, and so it is natural to display the information to the user as a map rather than an extremely long list on one giant HTML page. It would be even better if this could be displayed as an image map or with javascript popups or integrated to one of the large online maps services.

  • Enabling comments and feedback on items posted to the site. Readers of the site should have the opportunity to comment on newsflash entries and vote on development project ideas/priorities. Requiring updaters of the site to manually edit news.xml may not be the best way to handle this. Perhaps some kind of blogging software could be used which is then scraped into a static newsflash.html file while providing links back to the official blog to facilitate user comments.

  • Integrate with other web sites. Since we have structured data representing events and other content on the site, we could construct links to videos or photos tagged as 'freebsd' on Flickr or YouTube during the days of each conference. There is no excuse for the technical content from any recent BSD conference not ending up there. Likewise, we should automatically update public Google/Yahoo calendars, and allow anyone visiting the site to instantly add an event to the calendar software of their choice.


Some of the particular areas that I'm interested in working on include utilizing the Google Charts API to provide visual representation of our structured data in XML files (events.xml, usergroups.xml, etc..) when appropriate. I wrote some XSLT code to generate some basic maps for the events and usergroup pages this weekend, but further improvements are needed.


I've also written a prototype web application to replace the Ideas database (ideas.xml). This application allows users to add new development project ideas, to comment or vote on existing ideas, to search the database, and to subscribe to RSS feeds of a specific search or the comments and activity on a specific idea.

It's possible to implement most all of these features on our existing xml/xslt infrastructure as long as we are willing to use web services provided by others (such as external blogs/commment feeds, links to search and graphing apis, etc.) Although not strictly required, I think it's probably time to start allowing Javascript on our pages as long as it degrades gracefully and the functionality provided is compelling enough to warrant it.

Thoughts? Comments? Better ideas for improving www.FreeBSD.org? Which open source organizations have particularly useful websites?

4 comments:

Grogal said...
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eberkut said...

There's some really great ideas there. Most of your ideas would enhance something that is not very obvious right : community spirit. In particular, being able to comment directly on the website would give better involvement of casual users who do not necessarily follow the mailing lists or only a few of them.

Hopefully most committers would be okay with having features ideas being voted on by regular users.

As for the events, it seems only right to integrate more of the basic multimedia features offered nowadays on the web like pictures or videos.

All in all, great ideas. Sure hope they'll get implemented soon.

kace said...

These are some excellent ideas. Having community feedback mechanisms (voting, comments), I think is the big one that is not compatible with the current sgml structure.

Maybe something like that could be launched separately on a sub-domain, so as not to disrupt the current page structure. The current set-up does have several big pro's, as you pointed out in your previous post.

My thinking is that the project home page is largely for people that are new to FreeBSD anyways. So, it's not a real problem for it to be basic, [mostly] static information. ... But, the time is certainly ripe for a great community feedback site.

Murray Stokely said...

Just wanted to follow up to note that today I updated the FreeBSD Events page (http://www.FreeBSD.org/events/) to integrate the upcoming events with upcoming.yahoo.com.

There are also Flickr and Google Blog Search links for all past events to link to content from previous conferences. There is still no good centralized source of video taped technical presentations, however.