I’ve been watching the Ubuntu “power users” group set up with enormous interest. Although Ubuntu has aimed squarely at being easy to use, I’ve never seen it as being particularly unfriendly toward power users, and the idea of needing a specific area in which people can talk about power user issues seems somewhat odd. However – judging from the activity, it seems to have hit a real nerve. Whether or not it is a good idea in the long term remains to be seen: I’m firmly of the opinion that splitting communities into factions is a bad idea, so how they will overcome that in time will be a challenge, but clearly it’s meeting a real need.
Fedora, on the other hand, hasn’t really ever had much of an issue catering to “power users”. While the standard Fedora install is incredibly easy to use, for the most part people using it have a reasonable idea of what they’re doing. But it got me to thinking, is there a gap in the Fedora community, in the same way as there apparently was one in the Ubuntu?
Let me ask a simple question. If you are a new user to Fedora, are the resources helpful and is the community a welcoming place? (by “new user”, I refer only to experience of Fedora, not computing experience more generally). Allow me to chuck out a few selectively-chosen “facts” (yes, this is biased, etc.):
- the Fedora FAQ, while being high-quality, doesn’t have many metrics on frequency. It’s the number one resource listed on the “Get Help”page, and is undoubtedly a useful resource, but covers a range of different use cases and user types. I don’t think one of the frequent questions a new user “getting help” would have would be “When is the next release?”, which apparently makes the top 5.
- the link to the Docs project is also a link to high-quality information. But you get a lot of information all in one go, and the navigation isn’t amazing – for Fedora 14, the “Power Management guide” and “Musicians guide” have equal billing with the install and user guides.
- the links to online resources are numerous. Hit the Forums button, you’re given a choice of three different fora to start with, none of them “official”, and one labelled “Fedora” is really tough to navigate (and I say this as a supporter of online forums). We’re also offered IRC, which starts with a warning that you might be banned if your identd isn’t setup right (wtf) and you can’t get in until you learn IRC and register, and then a list of some probably 50 different IRC rooms. Most would pick the first on the list, #fedora – my experience there yesterday was one of name-calling and abuse as much as help. And then you have mailing lists. Again registration, again the Heinz 57 varieties.
- No knowledge base, troubleshooter or other self-help mechanism people might be used to.
I offer the above not as criticism of the various resources: everything can be improved. But, as they say, you only get to make your first impression once. Many of the resources are truly excellent, but excel mostly for existing/experienced users. So, I would make the claim that for someone who is new to Fedora, the situation isn’t great – in fact, I suspect for many, it is entirely off-putting and unreliable.
I think Fedora, as a community, needs to do something in this regard, and currently I don’t see anything. We have some great SIGs – marketing and ambassadors in particular – who do wonderful work promoting and explaining Fedora to the wider world. But there is no group currently working toward a cohesive, designed experience for new users coming to Fedora.
I’d like to suggest, then, that a Fedora Greeters SIG be set up. Please take this blog post as a request for comments: I’d like to know whether or not other people think this is needed, and if so, whether or not they’d be willing to help contribute – as part of their role in an existing SIG or specifically for this.
The over-arching goal would be to make Fedora a more welcoming community for those arriving, whether from Windows, other distros, or new to IT in general, but more specifically to present the wider Fedora project and community in a manageable and more easily understood fashion. Specific goals, though, could include:
- developing “conversion” guides for people knowledgeable about other systems, allowing them to transfer their knowledge into Fedora and understand our system. Other systems have their own jargon, and Fedora certainly has plenty of its own too – sometimes just knowing what the words mean is a barrier in itself.
- creating new support resources, or working with existing SIGs on their resources, to specifically address the needs of new users and their support requirements.
- providing more interactive “signpost help” – Fedora has many great resources that simply go unused because people don’t know they’re there.
The great thing about this is that honestly, there’s not an awful lot to do in many areas: a lot of the resources needed are already there! But there’s no co-ordination in many respects. I also think this is going to become increasingly important over the next few months and years: Fedora now has a track record of some extremely stable releases, and with other notable distributions deciding to develop a vision of the desktop which is on a trajectory away from the GNOME community the need for Fedora to be open and welcoming is more important now than ever.
Update: I’ve started a wiki page about this, to develop the ideas more fully in a more appropriate place than my blog