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[Delayed] Summary of the web team BoF at DC18




[ Please note the cross-post and Reply-To ]

Hey folks,

As promised, here's a quick summary of what was discussed at the web
team BoF session in Hsinchu. Apologies for the delay in posting...

Thanks to the awesome efforts of our video team, the session is
already online [1]. I've taken a copy of the Gobby notes too,
alongside my small set of slides for the session. [2]

DebConf18 Web team BoF
3th August 2018, Hsinchu, Taiwan

Migration to git
----------------

Since the BoF last year, we finally managed to migrate away from CVS
to git. We managed it *just* before alioth went away. There was quite
a lot of work involved:

 * Actual migration of the data and code from CVS to git, very slow
   due to the huge repository we have full of many thousand small
   files

 * Changes to the translation helper and tracking scripts to use git

 * Changes to the wml itself - some of the template pages contain
   quite a lot of embedded perl which needed updating too. Also needed
   updating to use git.

 * Lots of work needed to make the new git-related code work with
   acceptable performance. Builds a cache of git revisions to allow
   for version comparisons that we used to do by directly comparing
   CVS versions. In the end, website rebuilds are now much faster than
   we were using CVS. \o/ Still not fast enough, but we have a very
   large site...

 * The workflow afterwards is *almost* the same, but had to change how
   smart_change.pl works due to the way git works

 * On the translation dashboards, we've had to drop the direct diff
   links that we used to have. Instead we now have cut and paste
   command lines for git diff commands. Needed as otherwise this
   causes too much load on salsa and it times out on the links often.

Main point to take away: the migration has happened! It should now
allow us to work on more intrusive changes to our website that would
never have been feasible before. Hopefully it might now also encourage
more people to contribute, who were put off previously.

We already have merge requests coming in via salsa to make small
improvements to the website, which is a good sign! We can now be more
agile / more daring with rapid website changes.

Design work
-----------

There was already another session earlier during DebConf, run by
Thomas Lange [3], focussing on the www.d.o front page and top-level
pages. We could do with making these easier for *new* people to use,
to find out more about Debian and how to get involved. Most DDs rarely
use these pages, so we have a lot of content that is not actually
useful for any audience. We should improve this. See

  https://informatik.uni-koeln.de/public/lange/debian-homepage/

as an example look from Thomas.

Steve's own pet project here is a clean new "download" page group to
replace the huge, scattered set of conflicting, out of date pages we
have now.

What else should we do with design? A new look?

Content
-------

We have too much content on the website. Good content is great, but
very old stuff that hasn't been updated in a decade and is now
clearly out of date is really not helpful. Really old information for
users about how to use Debian isn't valuable, and is more likely to
put people off or maybe even be dangerous.

With too much content, it's also likely to put people off when they
want to change things. Which pages need changing? Which ones are users
actually finding? It's difficult to know, and demotivating.

Should we maybe split the website into multiple repos? We spoke about
this last year...

Suggested workflow for layout / page look changes:

  * Go and work on a branch and make the changes
  * Send a MR, and post screenshots alongside to show what the new
    pages look like

That way, people can see what's proposed. Merging changes are easy,
even if we need to tweak translations afterwards.

We now (again!) have https://www-staging.debian.org/ available, thanks
to work from pabs. Maybe we could use that to compare before=and-after
changes.

Other points
------------

 * Build using GitLab CI?  (this looks quite difficult! proposals welcome :-))
 * More discussion with Thomas about changes to the front page
   + Why Debian? - add some simple points
   + Too much information in sentences - just remove lots of that, and
     switch to links to further pages for more info
   + Remove the security updates links - just link to the security
     tracker once, or a top-level /security/ page? The level of detail
     on the front page right now is both too detailed and not detailed
     enough, depending on POV
   + Remove the duplicated sets of links, in particular the blocks at
     the top of the front page.
   + The "News" section is not great, just lists our stable and
     oldstable updates. Is that really News? What about DebConf? Talks
     by prominent DDs? Links to other people talking about Debian?
   + Make things more visual and welcoming
 * Remove duplication - far too much of our information is found in
   multiple places (web, security, wiki, etc.) and doesn't match up
   and doesn't get updated. Let's make things more relevant and more
   sustainable
 * Remove lots of the "developers" links as they're out of date and
   not used? Or move to subsidiary sites? Move policy and devref to
   separate sites? Simplify what we're pushing at end users.
 * Why not split https://www.debian.org/doc/ out? sth like
   https://docs.debian.org/
 * Time for a fresh start? Maybe competition for students? Will it
   work on all devices? Is our information relevant now? We have many
   years of cruft that's been building up.
   + Move stuff to an archive if we care, with clear warning "this is
     historical information"

Top-level design
----------------

If people are working on a new user-facing site, there are three
simple questions that jmw mentioned earlier for a good
website. Answer these questions:

 1. am I in the right place?
 2. does it feel good?
 3. where do I go next?

Work out clean requirements for what we want *before* we just hack
and slash things. We *could* even send out tenders for commercial
people to work on stuff then if we wanted, although as Debian we'd
more likely prefer to encourage new Free Software / free design people
to work on this.

If we can do this, get a new clean design and the fit in
content. Let's plan properly.

Misc
----

 * Is javascript still considered bad? Not necessarily, no. Lots of
   people do bad things with it, but that doesn't mean we should. If
   there are useful things where it will assist but the site still
   works without then we're happy. Graceful fallback, etc...

 * Integration with security-tracker.debian.org
   + We have 28.000 dsa-*.wml files (more than 50%), let's lose them
     or move most of them to an archive. Old security advisories are
     no use to anybody.

 * Removing lots of content will also make rebuilds etc. massively
   quicker!

 * What content is needed in what language? Probably not all. We
   expect most people caring about security advisories will understand
   enough English, for example. But making the Debian front pages and
   high-level information *absolutely* needs to be well translated to
   make it more accessible to many people. Lots of the "translated"
   security advisories are done mostly mechanically already - are they
   actually useful? Let's please spend valuable translator time on
   things like the installation guide instead!

 * The target is to have quality docs, not just quantity!

 * Should we take steps to move away from wml, perhaps? It's very
   difficult for translators. Is gettext and po a much better way to
   go? Maybe use it with another markup language? rst like the policy
   folks? wml development stopped a long time ago and it's getting
   stale. Macros etc. are great as an idea, but it's also very
   difficult to learn. If we're simplifying the website already and
   removing lots of the duplicated content, maybe we don't need wml's
   features any more? Let's investigate options. A new VCS with good
   branch support will help us to try more things out.

 * Somebody(?) highly recommends the use of Hugo
   (https://gohugoio.io/) to replace WML. Hugo is already in Debian.
   ;-)

Sprint
------

Is it time for a sprint? Definitely! Let's visit Laura in Madrid. :-)

Getting together to work on specifying, re-designing and
re-architecting things is probably the best way to make things
work. We have general agreement for removing lots of content and
shrinking our website a lot. Shout now if you disagree!

Things to think about for a sprint:

 1. Let's work out what is wanted from an end-user perspective. Can we
    find a volunteer to help?

 2. New design ideas - can we get some suggestions together?

 3. What would we use for a new backend if starting from scratch?

Any other ideas? Please share... :-)


[1] http://meetings-archive.debian.net/pub/debian-meetings/2018/DebConf18/2018-08-03/web-team-bof.webm
[2] https://www.einval.com/~steve/talks/Debconf18-webteam-BoF/
[3] https://debconf18.debconf.org/talks/156-making-debian-more-user-friendly-by-changing-the-web-start-page-wwwdebianorg/

-- 
Steve McIntyre, Cambridge, UK.                                steve@xxxxxxxxxx
Is there anybody out there?

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