OTW update

Jan. 2nd, 2016 11:30 am
jennyst: Jenny on a photo of space (Default)
[personal profile] jennyst
Chatter about the OTW seems to have gone quiet again since the election. This is a critical time, as things calm down again - as puckling said, having engaged members in between elections is really useful for the org. Someone was setting up a Google group, on which I haven't seen anything for several months. It would be great to get that going again.

Reading minutes from 15th Dec, the board appointed the other candidates (apart from Andrea and Sanders), which I think was a good move. Atiya becomes Treasurer, which is a tough job. They're still trying to get a budget published. The next meeting is 8th Jan.

A load of things are obviously delayed by the holiday period - some volunteers suddenly have a lot of free time, and others suddenly have none, which means things move in odd fits and starts.

I've volunteered as a coder and tester again, which is interesting. I haven't yet been officially inducted, so I'm not getting all the back-channel discussions or volunteer communications, but I've been hanging out in the main chat channel as well as getting familiar with the status of things.

My 5 big posts on the state of the servers were all written several weeks ago and are stuck in holiday limbo, waiting for approval from several different committees.

The holiday period has been hard for the core team - the 10 or so most active people across Systems, AD&T and Support who keep everything up and running. Yuletide was a drop in the ocean compared to the sheer mass of people spending more time reading during the holidays, though they did have some specialist support for their assignments and tags, which was made easier by half their founders and mods also being OTW founders and volunteers. Having Elz working full-time as a contractor is good. James has been spending a lot of time coaxing the servers through overload. He's suggested $6k of new hardware which should give some breathing room, but it's going to stay painful until we get that bought and installed. The last deploy (.100) has helped the databases a bit, but we had a lot of downtime when the firewall went temperamental. There are 40 open pull requests, and a lack of senior people with time to review things, though not nearly as bad as it used to be.

For context, an enterprise application of this size, if it's business-critical or business-important, will often have a team of over 200 full-time employees, across operations, 1st line support, application development, application maintenance, all the design, build and test teams, project management, etc. If you exclude tag wranglers and translators, which are a special type of work, the AO3 has under 100 volunteers in equivalent areas. And although many are very dedicated and spend a lot of hours working for the org, it's not reasonable or sensible long-term to rely on volunteers spending 40 hours a week or more on org work. AO3 has 700k users. You could easily have 200 people working on a business system with 10k users, though obviously there are also examples on the other end of the scale with millions of users, lots more than AO3, with even fewer people running it.

Volunteer management is the hardest thing around, in many ways, and is an old and well-worn problem. The OTW has a lot of easy tasks that you can dip in and out of, like Fanlore editing, and some bits of Translation, Tag wrangling or help with Journal. But there are a lot of tasks that require keeping up to date, current skills and large amounts of time. Writing and editing the major journal articles needs experienced academics, though the Symposium section of the journal and the Fanhackers blog welcome essays from everyone. Several of the groups that keep the Org running need people who are familiar with all the processes and areas of the org and up-to-date with what's going on in each, and that needs a certain amount of ongoing time - improving efficiency helps, but fundamentally you need various roles that are in touch with each other. Support need to be familiar with all the Archive functionality, common mistakes by users, common requests for features and the official answer. The documentation is all there, but getting familiar with it takes time. And the biggest one - coding and sysadmin work takes skills, and those skills take time to develop. Either you need to be someone who already has those skills, from their day job or elsewhere, or you need to learn them, which takes a lot of time. And even once you have those skills, you need to get familiar with this particular project. Obviously there's more that could be done to make it easier for people with those skills to drop in to the AO3, but it's a lot better than it used to be, and fundamentally this is a problem that all volunteer projects face - it takes a lot of time, and dedicated people are thin on the ground.

How can we get some of those people who were spending lots of time talking and writing back in October, and get us to keep talking, to keep reading meeting minutes and news posts, asking questions, and spreading knowledge? How can we get the word out to people who were keen to help back in October, and get them now to do little but useful things like explaining to their friends how to recognise when "The AO3 looks weird and broken" is "Bug, report it via Support" and when it's "CSS hasn't loaded, hit refresh, report to Support if it keeps happening"?
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