Need for better community communication

I was pleased to see the blog announcement about the hiring of a new community lead for Zotero some weeks back. I'm frustrated, though, that there still seems to be very poor communication with the Zotero user community. In particular, I'm often frustrated that there is so little communication around future plans and upcoming releases.

For example, I had to come on the forums and read through a long post to find out that the 2.1 beta is supposed to work on FF4. If I relied on the Zotero blog and the main web-site, I would have no way of knowing that there were any plans at all to support FF4. I also see hints in the forums about an expanded web interface, but there is nothing in official communication about any of this. I find this frustrating in part because the future direction of Zotero will influence my decisions about buying hardware and software. Will I be able to use my Zotero library via my new iPad (whether on the web or with an iOS client)? When might these developments roll out? Or should I wait to buy an Android tablet this spring because Zotero will not be usable on the iPad in the next couple of years? At present there's nothing in community communication to help me make these decisions.

I find this particularly frustrating because the lack of communication is out of keeping with the way FOSS project development is usually done. Most open-source projects will have a public development roadmap, with some estimates about a timeline for future releases, a discussion about priorities, etc. So far Zotero seems to be unnecessarily silent about future plans. Aside from anything else, a more public development roadmap might encourage more community members to contribute to the code base.

So now that there's a community lead, can we at least start to see more information about what's coming up?
  • For example, I had to come on the forums and read through a long post to find out that the 2.1 beta is supposed to work on FF4.
    No you didn't. From the 2.1 Beta page:

    "Zotero 2.1 requires Firefox 3.6 or Firefox 4.0."
    I also see hints in the forums about an expanded web interface, but there is nothing in official communication about any of this.
    Yes there is. From the Zotero Everywhere announcement:

    "With full read/write access to bibliographic data, attached files like PDFs, and the citation formatting engine, developers will be able to integrate a full range of Zotero features into their own web, mobile, and desktop applications, and users will be able to take advantage of this functionality at"
    I find this particularly frustrating because the lack of communication is out of keeping with the way FOSS project development is usually done.
    Really? Zotero developers read every single post in the forums and contribute many times a day—and that's completely separate from the new community lead. I'm not sure how much more community involvement you want, but if you have a question, just ask. If there's no answer, it's because there's no answer, not because we're being "unnecessarily silent". We can't make up roadmaps and timelines that don't exist.
  • The community involvement here is less about big announcements and well-publicized roadmaps and more about the entire team and all interested parties actively communicating with everyone in the community. It's actually a lot of fun and pretty encouraging to know that there is no big enterprise behind the scenes-- the ordinary people who make it all happen are always quite accessible right here in the forums.
  • I don't think I have to mention that I think overall developers here are doing a tremendous job communicating. I see two issues, the one easier to address than the other.

    1. The forum is a harder place to follow for low intensity users than a blog. I understand that developers don't have the time to maintain an active blog to highlight some of the main things that are going on etc. - but now that Debbie is on board, a blog post once every two weeks or so to tell people what's new together with maybe some interesting tips/tricks thrown in (something that Trevor started, but never got very far with) would really make it easier for people who don't have the time to read/post/follow the forum to feel informed.
    For example, there is no post announcing the new beta 2.1 and highlighting some of its
    features - including FF 4 support
    2. I do agree that it's sometimes hard to know where something is in the devs list of priorities. I gather from what Dan has been saying in the past that such a list simply doesn't exist - but this clearly is something that even faithful and involved Zotero users such as mark, who has brought this up in the past, are frustrated by. I guess a wiki page with "frequently requested features" that includes a brief summary and a link to the relevant threads might help a little?
    About the roadmap - iscott is right that most other similar programs do have roadmaps (and Zotero used to have one) - but in most cases (Zotero in the past included) they confirm so poorly to reality that they're really not worth it and just create wrong expectations. That said, couldn't it still make sense to at least have a short-term roadmap that includes what you guys are _currently_ working on with a little more technical detail than the Zotero Everywhere post?
  • [N]ow that Debbie is on board, a blog post once every two weeks or so to tell people what's new ...
    I agree with adamsmith; this would be very welcome. Even those of us inclined to obsess over technical things have a non-technical side to our personalities (somewhere), and it strengthens any group's sense of belonging to periodically receive collective recognition through a little missive -- following the news, even if trivial, is the webworld way of hanging out. As grist for such a mill, you wouldn't need to expose internal matters or give hostages to fortune (and I don't think anyone would expect that); the fortnight's traffic on the forums, server stats, twitterisms, and the occasional heartwarming story of time saved and projects rescued would provide plenty of material for a mini project newsletter.
  • Hey everyone,

    It's Debbie, Community Lead. Thank you so much for your feedback.

    I put a premium on frequent communication and getting feedback from the entire community, from new users to developers. I want to know what is working for people, what is not, what could be improved, etc. I aim to create paths of least resistance in order to provide you with the information you need - whether that be collating frequent requests, including "tips and tricks" to get newer people up to speed with Zotero, improvements in documentation, updates on development, and so on. I will also be posting links back to changelogs, former threads and so on to collate technical information as it pertains to upgrades on the forums.

    As I get my bearings I will begin also to blog more frequently to provide everyone with updates, and be more heavily involved in Twitter. I agree that this is important.

    re: "use cases"- Yes, publicizing use cases is a big part of my philosophy of connecting people in a digital community, and shows that Zotero really flourishes thanks to contributions of the users. This is a great idea.

    I actually just started last week and am still getting up to speed on everything. I know I've been a bit quiet, and I ask for a bit of time and patience from everyone. :) I am drawing out some plans now in the hopes of improving the user experience that relate to many of the points made above. I am very excited about them, though can't go into detail about them just yet (like I said, just started).

    Thanks again for your interest in the project!

  • Thanks Debbie and Dan (and others) for your responses. To Dan in particular: Please understand that I'm not trying to be hyper-critical and I really do value what you're doing with Zotero enormously. Now that I look at the info page on the beta download, I see that you're right about the Firefox 4.0 compatibility being mentioned there. My point is simply that as Zotero moves from being a marginal tool to being a mainstream (even dominant?) research platform, it's important to provide for communication with people who aren't going to dig around for information too long. I think I'm more willing than many to spend an hour searching in the forums. But even that didn't give me the info about Firefox 4. On the other hand, I don't expect beta release notes to be the place I go to learn basic things like whether/when the next version of Firefox will be supported. Again, I'm pretty savvy about these things (much more than my colleagues in my department), and I didn't think to look there. So I would suggest that one thing Debbie could do is make some frequent, brief blog posts about these sorts of specific issues users may wonder about.

    Again, on the issue of the online interface plans, I looked back and saw that you're right--the original Zotero Everywhere announcement did mention the web interface. I hope you can see, though, that from a user's perspective that announcement was very vague. It didn't really say anything about what kind of functionality you are envisioning. There also hasn't been any followup announcement (that I've seen) about broad timelines or about whether that web development has started yet. I know that from a developer's perspective that kind of announcement is really hard to keep up with and there's the fear of making promises you can't keep. As a user, though, it is really important for me to have some more specific sense of where the tool is going and when so that I can make plans. Here again, my time reading the forums (including when I've posted suggestions myself) haven't yielded this kind of concrete "this is what's coming soon" information about the web interface. And again I think the gap could be filled simply by Debbie making a brief blog post offering a few more details and even a rough target date.

    Another piece of information that would be helpful to see in the blog is announcements about the release of new beta and alpha testing versions. I subscribe to the blog, but I didn't know there was an alpha of Zotero Standalone out (stellar, by the way!). Maybe that, too, is the kind of thing Debbie could announce on the blog.

    Once more, please don't take my constructive criticism here as an attack on the project or its developers. I am consistently amazed by what you folks produce. Kudos.

  • @Ian: Thanks for your thoughtful post. FYI, you might want to verify your subscription to the Zotero blog, where there was a post on standalone Zotero a couple of days ago:
  • I have to agree with the OP.
    I really appreciate the work developers are doing, and the communication through the forums is swift and helpful. And Zotero has made my life so very much easier.

    But there's very little communication on the front page. My Firefox just updated to Fx4 b11 earlier today, which resulted in a bunch of the translators breaking. Searching the forums let me know that this is a known issue due to a last-minute change the Firefox developers made, and will be fixed by z2.1b6.
    This is the kind of thing that deserves a really quick and short blog post explaining the situation.
    The same is true of when the Firefox SDK got fixed and Mac Word integration started working for the Fx4/z2.1 combo. That was a happy event for me, although I didn't find out until several days after it happened.

    The longer blog posts like Monday's about the Standalone alpha are really great, but quick snippets just saying that something is finally working, or you know something just broke would be a great addition.
  • I don't know - there's a trade-off - too much information will deter exactly the low information frequency users that a blog should reach. Even if time allowed this, I don't think it'd be a good idea to blog about all issues and solutions of the alpha and beta software.
    If you're running two beta versions of software, you have to be willing to check forums when things go wrong - and this was easy enough to find when you did in this case.
  • I gathered the information about the Firefox breakage and fixes by following the commit timeline ( Very interested people could do that as well, but keep in mind that that info is really not very user-oriented.
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