Alex Hudson

Thoughts on Technology, Product, & Strategy

Fedora Greeters

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 🙂

Previous

Drag Me to Shell, p2.

Next

Developing a “Fedora Welcome SIG”

9 Comments

  1. Rahul Sundaram

    Seems a idea worth trying. If you want to take a stab at it, feel free. I would also like to point out there *is* work happening in this area. I for one am working on

    http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Askbot

  2. Alex

    Hi Rahul,

    Thanks for pointing me to askbot – I think I’d seen it a little while ago, but forgot that was on its way. But my point isn’t that nothing’s being done – actually, a huge amount of work is being put into some excellent resources. I think there just needs to be a bit more design in the whole process.

  3. Rahul Sundaram

    Well, sure. Like I said, if you want to lead/coordinate that effort, we could certainly make use of it.

  4. As a new Fedora user (I used it for about 6-12 months a few years ago, and am back again now) with substantial Debian and Ubuntu experience, my experience so far has been that there is a fair amount of good documentation available but it can be hard to find. For example, I was looking for information on The Right Way to rebuild a source RPM, and it took a bit of digging to find How to create an RPM package. The page is very good, but for some reason it felt a little harder than necessary to find it. The “conversion guide” concept sounds like a very good idea, particularly if it discusses philosophical differences as well as terminology ones and provides pointers to similar resources (e.g. the Fedora equivalents of {bugs,packages,packages.qa}.debian.org).

    I think it would also be useful to have “how-to” indexes pointing to documentation on tasks of varying difficulty. There might already be such documentation that I’m not aware of, or it might be partially covered by the FAQ, but pointing users to documentation even on such more advanced topics as “How do I rebuild a package with a new patch?”.

    It is great to see people seeing the need for good introductory documentation for users with various backgrounds and not just “newbies”. I tend to become a power user of whatever system I’m on, I just don’t know the Fedora landscape and lingo yet.

  5. Hi Alex, these are all good and fair points. The new http://www.fedoraproject.org redesign was meant to be a step in this direction in at least getting folks new to Fedora to an understanding of what it actually is, what makes it different from other distros, and linking them to other resources. I think once you get to those resources though in some cases such as the ones you pointed out, the experience isn’t quite as smooth. I find the ident requirement on freenode annoying, for example, especially if I want to set up a web IRC gateway and the web IRC gateway isn’t allowed in #fedora! I would love to be part of such a SIG and think it’s a good idea!

  6. The Freenode #fedora community is very unwelcoming, I was very disappointed with it. If we behaved like that to our Drizzle or MySQL communities we simply wouldn’t have communities or community developers.

  7. Dave S

    Alex,

    I’m using Fedora again after moving to Ubuntu. I was looking for something “that just worked.” Fedora works as advertised, so do the other distributions. Ubuntu works as advertised and when there is a problem it’s easy to fix — until Unity I just don’t like Unity. That’s why I’m back and eager for Gnome 3. I’ll put up with some bleeding edge technology for a while to decide whether or not I like Gnome 3.

    To answer your question though I’d have to say that requesting help in Linux (Fedora included) is more intimidating than it should be. No one wants to look bad or be told to RTFM. If the software was intuitive there would be no need for such questions. There is always a learning curve and the path through that curve is not always clear.

    The desktop is how real people connect with the OS and applications. To much insulation makes that interaction to abstract, likewise not enough insulation means that people need to learn more than they are willing to learn.

    Who is the audience? People that have never seen a computer before? Nerds? Geeks? Dissatisfied Windows users? People running in fear of Unity? It has been my experience that people willing to try Linux as a desktop are those who are dissatisfied with Windows (cost, blue screens, malware, etc.) and don’t want to take out a 2nd mortgage to try a Mac.

    Your suggestion of Fedora Greeters is a good one. Any tool that eases the trip through the learning curve nightmare helps transform a newb into an evangelist. Newbs are looking for occasional friendly assistance not someone who will do it for them. They want someone to walk them through the process. This method also lessens the likelihood of a newb taking advantage of or latching onto anyone helping them since the actual work would be performed by the newb. This is the method I’ve used in the past and I’m sure there are other methods that are just as good or perhaps better.

    Or to put it another way write the process steps as though for someone who has never used the product.

    Cheers,
    Dave

  8. Improved support for non-experienced users is a great idea. It might be good to look at the kind of thing that Mozilla is doing in regards to this. I believe about a year ago they even started up a community powered live chat from the web site, much more accessible than saying “hey go to this IRC thing”. Although arguably similar could be accomplished utilizing the freenode webchat url with a quick push into the #fedora channel. Except for that whole “unwelcoming” bit. I know that my experience there has always been a mixed bag.

    http://support.mozilla.com/

  9. lukev

    I just switched to Fedora 15 from Linux Mint 10. I’ve dabbled with a Linux since middle school. However, it was only with the discovery of Ubuntu that I realized Linux is a viable option. I have been a Linux only user for the past couple of years and have became fairly familiar with Linux Mint but, certainly not a power user by any means. Fedora has been very discouraging, I have not been able to find any resources like omgubuntu or really anything for that matter (and I am pretty handy with google). I enjoyed Fedora 15 and I do like the GNOME 3 but, the lack of good documentation has lead this lover of Linux (I’ve proselyted quite a bit and converted a few over to the dark side) to reluctantly go back to my old distro. This is the first time I have every commented on anything on the internet in my life. I feel that you make some very valid points and I hope that Fedora can make the necessary changes. Great distro, thanks y’all.

Leave a Reply