On the latest LugRadio (Season 4, Episode 2 – listen to it if you haven’t) they discussed how to get people to contribute to Open Source projects in greater extent. Early on in the discussion somebody mentioned why people start reading mailing list, creating accounts on the wiki, the forums or whatever system that project uses for contributing and gets stuck there. I felt; this discussion is for truly for me!
I don’t know how many times I have pushed the edit link on a wiki page to try to improve the documentation for that Open Source project, been starting to write and then 30 minutes later been closing the web browser without saving. I’m now asking myself; why is that?
Could it be because the text I produce is not good enough? Is it because I’m afraid that people will tell me that I’m wrong? Because I think that documentation is useless and nobody would read it? Or might it be because I can’t select from the long list of things that should be fixed and my tiny contribution would feel pointless?
What I can narrow it down to is that the reasons for me failing are because it’s too hard to start contributing. When I want to contribute, I want to start writing the documentation right away – not start out by having to understand the quality process, the tools for contributing or any other ”project-configuration-mechanisms”. And then, there’s another problem. More than once I have gotten the feeling that I’m, in one way or another, a bit responsible or expected to keep on documenting or updating and that’s not what I’m interested in (right now at least). I just want to write, push submit, get the feeling that I did something good and go on with my other TODOs.
One possible solution would be the following.
I could go to the project web site, push a shiny, friendly button that says Contribute, select the category that I’m interested in contributing to (documentation in this case), select that I have 30 minutes (or five minutes) and push another button that says Randomize my contribution, a brief description of what I could spend 30 minutes on appears. I can now select that one or keep on pressing the Randomize my contribution button until I find something that I think would be fun. When I’m done writing I simply push a submit button and get a nice thank you message and I’m done. Easy as that!
This could remove or reduce the issues presented above. The problem with being afraid to commit (due to bad writing or that it might contains errors) is solved by having a review category. Many systems have review mechanisms today, so this might not be a totally valid point but if I’m afraid of this I could select not to publish my name. The issue with useless documentation might be solved by enhancing quality of documentation by committing in greater extent. My last issue with the selection and pointless to commit -problem is definitely solved since I don’t even have to see the complete list of things that should be fixed.
The ideas presented here is not a complete solution but it could be an extra option. If you have any ideas, comments or if I’m totally wrong just tell me!