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And then what?

·5 mins

By now, you know where Launchpad is at. You know what our top priorities are, you know the other important stuff that we’re still working on, you know the other bits and pieces we’ve got going. You might even know why.

What you might not know, and what this post hopes to tell you, is what we are thinking about right now. Humans are plan-making creatures, and product strategists perhaps more so than most. What follows is a brief description of the half-formed thoughts and plans that I have for Launchpad. (Also, have I mentioned the roadmap yet?)

Strategically speaking, there are two major approaches we can take to our work on Launchpad. The first is working on things that bring new users and new projects to us. This would mean finding something that we can provide that alternatives don’t and potential users want, or assuming that we already have such a thing, find the blockers that stop people from using Launchpad and remove them (the blockers, not the people).

For example, if we thought that open source developers wanted their hosting site, say, to be part of the semantic web, we could go and do that and be relatively confident that no one else will. That would be finding a competitive advantage.

Or, to take another example, we could say that our awesome bug tracker, our translation support and daily builds are heaps plenty good advantages, but people don’t use Launchpad because we only have full support for one VCS and we provide no place to host a project shop-front web site. That would mean adding Git, Subversion and Mercurial support, and adding some kind of wiki / webhosting. Personally, I find this much more appealing than semantic web shenanigans.

All of that’s one strategic approach: attract new users. There’s another major approach that we could take: make things better for our current users. All things considered, I think I want to take the second approach.

There’s so much we could do here, partly because Launchpad itself is so broad. Some key things stand out though.

First, there is a cluster of problems related to the way that people approach the website. Although we tout cross-project collaboration as one of our big things, we don’t make it particularly easy. We need to provide each user and each team with a view that shows them all of the things that are interesting to them across all of Launchpad. In fact, we probably need to give them two views: one that’s historical and chronological, and another that’s forward looking and more dashboard-like. In my head, I’ve been thinking of this as walls (ala Facebook) and dashboards.

If we dig into this, there’ll be other changes: better, fairer karma; more social interaction; better person, project and team pages; a “waiting for” section in the dashboard so you can see who to hassle; a better experience for new users; and probably death to the home page for users who’ve got accounts. Lots of goodness here.

Second, it’s becoming increasingly clear that blueprints are a good idea with a sub-standard implementation. Persuaded largely by Matthew Paul Thomas, I think that we should merge the blueprint tracker with the bug tracker to make a combined issue tracker. A lot of people get worried when I say this, because they really like blueprints and they understand that bugs and blueprints are actually two different things. Please don’t worry. There will almost certainly always be something in Launchpad like a blueprint or specification that is visibly different from a bug. However, I think we ought to change what lists they appear in, what statuses they have and many other things. The loss of distinctiveness will be more than made up for with an increase in capability.

Third, the way we search and the way we display results of searches needs to be revamped to be faster and more flexible. I want to see easy forms, a good search string mini-language, sexy URLs, searches that can be saved and shared.

There’s so much more that we could do, that we ought to do: make mailing lists rock; inline commenting on merge proposals; eliminate all of the silly “refresh this page” business that we still have; go to series and milestones with a sharp axe and a clear conscience; provide top-notch tools for QA teams; show way more cool stuff based on our data; make filing bugs upstream a complete no-brainer; clean up the terminology we use for naming things; provide an event sending interface for launchpadlib so that people don’t have to poll. I could go on for a very long time.

I call out the three things above – cross-project views, merging bugs and blueprints and better search – because I think they are things that will make Launchpad better for absolutely everyone who uses it. In particular, done right, good cross-project views turns a weakness into a strength. It takes the vast, daunting size of Launchpad and instead turns it into a huge realm of opportunity.

Now, none of this is fixed in concrete. There’s still plenty of time to discuss, plan out, change our minds and what not. But it’s what’s in my head right now.

That’s it. Right now, we’re working on privacy, performance, derived archives and desktop integration as our top priorities. We’re still plugging away at daily builds and making links between distributions and upstreams, and we’re working on a host of useful, important things. In the future, if my plans go as … planned, then we’ll have dashboards, activity walls, a combined issue tracker and excellent search.

What do you think?