Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ubuntu Brainstorm - inside the sausage factory

Brainstorm gets about 2,000 submissions each year.
What do we do with all those ideas?
How can they help you, without bogging you down?

Well, we close about 85% of them immediately. That's good - it keeps the system from being spammed by all those bugs, complaints, and other not-really-ideas.

About 2% get reviewed by the Ubuntu Technical Board. We try to get the most out of that 2%!

Most new Brainstormers are new to the Ubuntu community - they find Brainstorm in their first excursion looking for a way to contribute. A Brainstorm idea is their first attempt to speak up, so we try to handle them carefully.

(If you were, er, untactfully treated by any moderator in the past, then please accept my most humble apologies. If you find a recent idea we handled tactlessly, *please* let me know!)

The Idea Sandbox

Of course, most of those first-ideas aren't very good. My first idea was awful, too.
- Make it more like my old OS
- Fix this bug
- This doesn't work very well
- Hey, do this. It's self-evident
- Substitute application X for application Y in the default install
- Create a whole new distro for a very small audience
- Develop a whole new application
- I don't like this
- Someone should be in charge of this
- Make this incredibly minor change to one application
- If only my perfect idea would reach SABDFL, *he* would appreciate it, though none of you other fools do.

In the Sandbox, we gently address every idea. Is it a bug in the wrong venue? Is it a dispute or complaint in the wrong venue? Does it clearly describe a real problem that has multiple possible solutions? Has the problem already been solved some other way? Is this a duplicate? Was it discussed by the community before (and the result)? Is the submitter still interested in the idea, or was it a fire-and-forget notion? Is the issue handled within an existing project or team, or does it cross boundaries?

Most submitters, of course, abandon their idea when they realize that nobody will implement it for them...or that they need to do some research or file a bug report or otherwise become a contributing community member.

We do a lot of basic instruction on how the Ubuntu software ecosystem works, and try to change many of them from a customer-mindset to a community-member mindset. That's a hard transition, and we're still trying to find better ways to do it.

This is an opportunity to recruit new members for YOUR project/team, and turn a lot of potential complainers into contributors and advocates. We're trying, and good ideas on improving our methods are welcome. So are more drop-ins from other teams - come in, answer a few project-specific questions, and leave with the contacts for a half-dozen new people interested in your subject.

30-day voting

15% of that 2000 pass the Sandbox - the problem statement is real and clear, and it won't waste the community's time. Some of that 15% is marginal - the problem is real enough, but needs community input to refine.

We leave those marginal ones open for only 30 days, to give the submitter the public feedback they want. These have the clear understanding that we're leaving it open for feedback to help refine the issue - it won't be seen by the Ubuntu Technical Board.

30-day wonders are also helpful to developers who want to use Brainstorm for project-related polling or questions. Just ping a moderator in #ubuntu-brainstorm so we can skip it past the Sandbox for you.

6-month voting

Around 10% of the original 2000 are left open for the full 6-month voting period (and, indeed, left open long after that. We have still-open ideas from 2008).

If you find a question that's relevant to your project or team, and have an answer, please ping a moderator in #ubuntu-brainstorm, so we can put your answer in the "Developer Comments" section of the idea, and close it for you.

Similarly, if the issue has been raised and answered somewhere else (Launchpad, AskUbuntu, Blog Post), just post the link to the answer, and flag the idea so we know to close it.

The Ubuntu Technical Board

Every three months, the UTB selects 10 of the highest-voted ideas to review. 40 a year out of 2000 initial submissions, or around 2%. The 'review' isn't a promise to implement - indeed most result in a "hey, we agree this is a great idea, somebody in the community should implement this..." Some get added to UDS discussions, some turn into milestones for future releases. Some simply become bug reports.

Every idea that the UTB reviews that simply becomes a "hey, great" or a bug report is a wasted opportunity. You didn't need to wait three months for that kind of feedback - by being involved with the right project or team, or filing the bug report yourself, you could have done all that yourself!

We incorporate past UTB feedback into our moderation - for example we now routinely close ideas to create a whole new project unless they include a realistic resource plan. We encourage idea submitters to engage the appropriate bug tracker / upstream project / Ubuntu Team directly whenever possible. We want the best 40 new ideas before the UTB, real head-scratchers that will require research and create discussion and show up at UDS...and then as taskings.

We have resources for your project

Brainstorm doesn't need to be a filter for only the UTB - we can be a structured-community-feedback filter for *lots* of projects and teams. We have a lot of very smart and knowledgeable community members that help refine the ideas and solutions. If your project/team reviews Brainstorm input on a regular basis, please let us know. If you're looking for certain types of ideas, or want us to moderate your relevant ideas in a different way, just pop in to #ubuntu-brainstorm and let us know.

Are you ready for the challenge?

If you're an AskUbuntu or Forums or IRC guru looking for the next challenge to your technical and diplomatic skills, looking to help shape the next generation of contributors...well, come on by.


bkerensa said...

I was rather disappointed when a idea I recently submitted to brainstorm was closed and it was suggest that it was a bug.

I suggest bringing back proxy profiles which was a very useful feature in prior releases of Ubuntu up till 11.10.

By all means such is a "Idea" or "Suggestion" and not a bug since the feature was likely intentionally removed.

Ian said...

There was NOTHING WRONG with your idea. Unfortunately, Brainstorm simply wasn't the correct venue for it.

I did research it before closing it. In my response, I linked to the bug report, the workaround, and the investigations by others that led me to the conclusion.

There's no evidence I could find that Gnome developers woke up and decided that proxy profiles were useless. If so, features like that would be deprecated for several releases. Instead, I found circumstantial evidence that changes to keep the feature in Gnome3 had been made...and perhaps a ball had been dropped to actually expose the feature. That makes it a bug.

The other reason I closed it is that Gnome does not monitor Brainstorm for feedback (that I know of), though they are welcome to! Instead, Gnome currently uses their own channels. So you're better off taking the issue to Gnome directly.

For example, the Gnome Bug Tracker.

nuthinking said...

Hi Ian, if you admin, or know who admins,, could you get in contact with me? Thanks!