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As the 2.6 code freeze approaches, it's a good time to do a gut-check and reflect on where we are and where we're heading from a UX, and in general, a product perspective.

For those of you who don't subscribe to the lists, you might have missed the first UX improvement design project that took place earlier this year. The project's goals were to re-design Sakai to be more web 2.0 friendly with a widget based UI that brings richness, flexibility, and dare I say it... "personality" to the user's experience.

In addition to these lofty changes, the effort was aimed at making it easier (and arguably better) for end users to find and join sites, create a site of their own, and manage their sites.

As is often the case with design, some of these goals were fairly well defined upfront, while others emerged through the creative nature of the process. In the end, our community gained 32 new HTML screens that covered all of the above, and hinted at more.

Alongside this effort was a groundswell of ideation around Sakai 3.0, which promises to make our product the next big thing in academic open-source technology - assuming we can pull it off!

The only thing that stands in our way is us. The challenges we face in working together as an efficient, well coordinated team are not in the least bit trivial. But silver is beginning to line our historic clouds.

Last week, an open meeting took place to discuss how and what we plan to do with the 32 HTML screens produced from the UX improvement project. While the meeting itself had its fair share of confusion, a few brave souls stepped in to commit resources aimed at implementing the screens. Bravo!

Others soon joined in the leap-of-faith, and now, while still understaffed, a small team has come together to tackle this work.

In the meanwhile, progress is being made as the Authoring Summit gets underway, K2 is picking up momentum, and a Sakai roadmap is working hard to get off the ground. At the same time, there's plenty of discussion being had around team building and organizational issues that are key to the herculean effort required for 3.0. All very positive signs!

What's needed now is simply to connect a few UX dots.

So far, the UX screens produced this year have oddly been labeled as 2.6 designs. Given the gravity of the 3.0 vision, as loose as it might be, the knock-on effects (burrowing one of John's lines) of mislabeling the screens has lead some key community contributors, who have an eye on 3.0, to view them as already passé.

This misunderstanding has unfortunately already lead to certain inefficiencies.

To help correct any misunderstandings, I'd like to be clear that these screens were designed with Sakai in mind, not 2.6, 3.0, or any other specific release. The challenges that these designs address are both universal (ex: administration of stuff) and fundamental to Sakai (ex: building, managing, and joining sites).

No matter where we go from here, these issues will remain relatively constant. We'll always need sites and a way to create them. Having a personal dashboard doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon either.

So despite concerns that these screens are passé, imperfect, incomplete, or what have you, the fact remains that they do solve the design issues they intended to solve in a reasonably elegant way. We now have a good solid frame for where the meatier 3.0 stuff can live. In fact, my plan for designing 3.0 is to work within the body of these screens.

Here's a crude but hopefully helpful example to illustrate my point.

So the question is not about whether your institution plans on using 2.6, but rather how efficiently we can produce 3.0? In other words, do we want to be faced with implementing these screens next year, along with all the additional 3.0 screens, or can we stay ahead of the curve by implementing these screens now and avoid worrying about them once the additional 3.0 screens come about?

That's the first dot: These screens lay the UX foundation for 3.0.

The second dot is freeing me up to focus on content authoring and social networking - which requires more resources lending a hand in implementing the UX screens. Currently we need more JS programmers, a committed project manager, and some minor design support.

Assuming that happens, there's still quite a lot of work to be done! From a UX perspective, the heart of 3.0 consists of three large parts:

  • A new content authoring paradigm (major mental shift in how we perceive content creation, ownership, and sharing - as well as how existing Sakai functionality is migrated to those contexts).
  • A light authoring solution (something needed in the short term - imagine a wysiwyg widget with some ability to pull from tools like Resources.)
  • Social networking (a basic framework for ad-hoc user/group interaction that weaves into the content authoring paradigm).

Tangentially, there will likely be a need to re-evaluate the nature of the current Resource tool. Should it continue to be what it is?

The third dot is to understand where OSP fits into 3.0 and Sakai's future in general.

At present, I'm working with the OSP folks to make some 2.6 UX enhancements. While the changes will be relatively minor for this release, they'll hopefully smooth a few sharp corners. More importantly, investing time now will help the OSP folks and me to identify parallels between OSP and the 3.0 vision. From what I can already tell, the parallels are huge!

The last and final dot is all of the other great work being done to change the underpinnings of Sakai to better support the functional parts of the 3.0 vision. Of course I'm referring to K2, but also consider the work that Oxford is doing with hierarchies, the work Cambridge has done with widgets and dashboards, and the various other odds and ends.

So where does this leave us... what's next?

Well for me, the plan is to focus on the following areas over the next few months:

  • Keep the ball rolling with implementing the UX screens produced earlier this year. I firmly believe this to be a crucial step in setting the stage for 3.0. Plus, getting beyond this point will results in lots of serendipitous efficiency across the community - I'm confident of that.
  • Getting seeped into OSP to help with short-term needs, but more importantly, to plan for bridging long-term 3.0 related goals - which is already a top priority for some of the leaders of that project.
  • Working with Jim Eng and other community leaders to foster the content authoring movement which is at the crux of the 3.0 vision. Look for contributions from me on the project planning page as well as the UX planning page (and hopefully, at the Authoring Summit).
  • Carving out time to plan for, and do a little sketching around, social networking. I'm playing this one by ear at the moment until some of the other parts I mentioned start seeing some movement.

With a little luck, and your participation, all of this might just come together. No doubt, this is an exciting time for Sakai!

So those are my plans... what are yours?