J. Fairchild and Community Space

Katrin Verclas, co-director of Aspiration and co-organizer of the FLOSS Usability Sprint, wrote a fantastic piece entitled, “Great Good Spaces for Community, Activism, and Better Software.” It’s no accident that we connected when we first met at the Advocacy Developer’s Convergence last June. Even though our missions are different, there’s great overlap in our thinking and philosophy. That holds true with the other organizations Blue Oxen Associates has partnered with as well.    (ID7)

A critical element in building strong community and in facilitating effective collaboration is having the right space. As Katrin points out, this holds true for both physical and metaphysical (or online) spaces. I had three intellectual inspirations in starting Blue Oxen: Doug Engelbart, Christopher Alexander, and George Lakoff. Christopher Alexander is an architect who wrote about Pattern Languages in the 1970s, which was all about designing great spaces, spaces that were alive, that had this Quality Without A Name. Blue Oxen is trying to understand and discover patterns of effective collaboration, which encompasses issues of space.    (ID8)

When Katrin wrote her piece, we were looking for a space to hold our sprint, and we weren’t finding a place that satisfied us. Luckily, I had a wildcard in my back pocket. Jeff Shults was the manager of the knOwhere Store in the late 1990s, which was MGTaylor‘s showcase for its collaborative environment and process. When the store closed, Jeff purchased all the furniture and bided his time until he could open his own space. That time came late last year, when he struck an agreement with SFIA to manage their new space on 10th and Mission in San Francisco.    (ID9)

I first met Jeff at Planetwork in 2003, but the first time we worked closely together was at the 7-Domains Workshop last July. Jeff is literally an environmental master. He has this sixth sense for configuring spaces to maximize collaboration. He has both thought deeply about the subject and has practiced it for some time. He’s also a fantastic listener, which is an attribute he shares with all the great facilitators I know.    (IDA)

I had seen the space last fall, and to say that it was in rough condition is an understatement. But in early January, when we still hadn’t found a good space, I decided to call Jeff anyway. The transformation the space had made in the course of two months was amazing. Although Jeff hasn’t officially opened his facility, he not only let us use his space, but he agreed to be one of our sponsors.    (IDB)

I can’t tell you how many people walked into our event last week, looked around, and said, “Wow, what a great space!” I’d hear this, laugh, and respond, “You don’t know the half of it.” All of us have an intuition that allows us to recognize a great space when we see one, an intuition that sadly doesn’t wake up often enough. But you have to discover the thinking and hard work that goes into creating such a space before you can truly appreciate it.    (IDC)

Jeff’s company and space is called J. Fairchild. If you need a great meeting space in San Francisco, talk to Jeff and let him know I sent you his way.    (IDD)

FLOSS Usability Sprint Redux

We wrapped up the FLOSS Usability Sprint last Sunday, and I’m just about recovered. It was a wonderful, wonderful event: thought-provoking, inspiring, and most importantly, productive. The key, as always, was having a great group of participants, great facilitation (thanks to my partners in this endeavour, Allen Gunn and Katrin Verclas), and a great space (thanks to Jeff Shults, environmental and listening master). Also, many thanks to our sponsors, without whom this event would not have been possible.    (ICD)

We accomplished many things. First and foremost, we helped improve the usability of the six projects that participated: AMP, Chandler, CivicSpace, Fotonotes, Identity Commons, and OpenACS. So far, the follow-through with this event has been significantly better than that of previous events with which I’ve been involved, and we’ll be able to point to some very concrete achievements that are a direct result of the sprint.    (ICE)

Second, we explored several broader issues surrounding usability and Open Source software. It was an unbelievable learning experience for everyone involved. Those of you who have heard my Blue Oxen spiel know that my ultimate goal is to foster a Learning Community around collaboration. My claim is that these collaborative learning processes are many times more effective and accelerated than traditional learning methods. They are also better suited for continuous learning. Our participants got a first-hand taste of this phenomenon this past weekend.    (ICF)

Third, we laid the groundwork for what I hope will be a burgeoning community devoted to improving the usability of Open Source software. This will not be a quick process, and it will depend on brilliant, passionate, good people. We were fortunate to have forty of them at our event, and I’m already looking forward to reconnecting with all of them.    (ICG)

I’m in the process of writing up a final report about the weekend’s accomplishments, but if you’re interested in seeing the unpolished artifacts of the event itself, check out the sprint Wiki and the photo gallery. I’ll also be speaking about the event at next month’s BayCHI (March 8 in Palo Alto), and I hope to see many of you there.    (ICH)

FLOSS Usability Sprint, Feb 18-20

Blue Oxen Associates and the good folks at Aspiration are organizing a usability sprint for open source software. The sprint will be held at Jeff Shults‘s fantastic new facility in San Francisco, February 18-20. Those who should apply:    (HTW)

  • Developers who want to improve the usability of their Open Source projects.    (HTX)
  • Usability practitioners who want to help improve the usability of Open Source software.    (HTY)

I got the idea from a breakout session at the Advocacy Developer’s Convergence last June. A few months later, I accidentally ran into Zack Rosen on the CalTrain, and our conversation pumped me up about the idea. The next step was to find a partner in this endeavour, and Aspiration was the natural choice.    (HTZ)

This event is going to be very exciting. It will be the first gathering of developers, usability practitioners, and users devoted to improving the usability of Open Source software. It’s going to be high-energy and productive, as all Aspiration workshops are. And, it’s going to have a real and immediate impact on the quality of several applications.    (HU0)

Most importantly (from Blue Oxen‘s point of view), it will showcase outstanding collaborative processes and tools, both face-to-face and online. As always with Blue Oxen projects, the goal is for this kind of event to be replicable by anyone, and the expectation is that this sprint will be the first of many.    (HU1)

Go to the web site if you’re interested in participating. Contact me if you’re interested in sponsoring the event or if you have questions or thoughts.    (HU2)