Observe as Dylan ernestly makes a mountain out of a molehill, then desperately backpedals in an effort to not sound like a pretentious bozo.

There is a prominent feature request / bug report for Ubuntu’s installer slideshow. It’s titled “Precise Pangolin – Please include ubuntuforums.org in the slideshow.” Right now there are 84 people who agree that should happen, and many of them have been pointed there from a couple of forum threads. The forums are very good at that.

I’m just going to go and say it: I know it’s important to people, but that isn’t going to happen for Ubuntu 12.04. I’d love to talk about it in the future, and it might happen, as things change, in another release. Here is why it isn’t happening today:

The install slideshow appears for about fifteen minutes, for every Ubuntu user who does a full install from the desktop CD. And then it never appears again. It is fundamentally incapable of being a reference guide. And that’s good, because we already have many excellent reference guides and support sites. The slideshow is not trying to be definitive or in any way, shape or form a distinct source of information.

What is it, then? I want it to be a simple source of ideas, inspiration, and – most importantly – confidence as people dive in to Ubuntu. And I want it to be those three things without sounding any more important than it is (which is not at all). This is a very little thing. My path is rather erratic, but there are a few points I’m quite sure about.

When you help someone think “I can do amazing stuff with Ubuntu that I couldn’t do before,” you’re doing it right (and you deserve some kind of trophy). The “I can” is important, because we do have a large number of “they can” situations, and those aren’t the same. It’s good if people feel powerful right out of the gate.

Two thoughts that do not inspire confidence: “I’d better memorize this” and “OMG so much stuff!”. These thoughts come as soon as you present new information that isn’t a natural part of old information. Ideally, to avoid them, you’ll present “new” information that was already on the user’s mind, and keep the stakes low: if anyone is worried what might happen if they “forget” something, it isn’t working. I want people to know what’s there, but they don’t need to know any details yet. Ubuntu is well designed, anyway: everything will just work as long as people trust it to work.

There is a particular quota for things we should introduce, and that should vary depending on how important each of those things is. We can’t put six things on the screen at once and expect any of those things to be noticed. Right now, I think it’s all maxed out. I don’t think there is room for any more slides’-worth of information, so the ideal thing is refinement (and maybe even removal) of what’s already there. If anything is being added, something else needs to be removed, or at least changed.

We need to be sensitive to the fact that people are currently installing a new operating system, perhaps for the first time, so there is already a lot of new stuff going on.

I know it isn’t doing this yet, but I think a really good installer slideshow will do lot of showing, and much less telling. When we just tell about things, people compare what they’re being told against their existing assumptions (“you probably have to do that with some terminal command,” “I bet they’re all neck-beards”). Quite often, it ends up with the assumptions winning.

“So, that’s a lot of babbling, Dylan, but why Ask Ubuntu and not the forums?”

This one is a mix of things.

The install slideshow ends with a slide that is about getting help. Right now it’s pretty heavy on tech support, but the idea is “don’t worry, you are not alone!”

Yes, I know there's an excess of Planet Ubuntu on the right. Don't worry, just teething problems.

It has a new Twitter thing which I think plays an interesting role, but its main copy points at Ask Ubuntu, and it ends with a link to ubuntu.com/support. Now, I didn’t actually write the copy here, but I’d like to explain what I like about it.

I like that it links to Ask Ubuntu as something to look at right now, because I think it’s possible to show instead of just tell about Ubuntu’s community support. The second link is pretty well just ubuntu.com, so I’m hoping the viewer will think “I already know that,” instead of actually worrying about writing it down, or even looking at it. If we just throw in a third thing, like ubuntuforums.org, I think we’re wandering above the (very unscientific) new things quota, as we start having these two brand new items competing for the same kind of attention, both for the same reason. It’s not unlike having two web browsers installed by default.

Why Ask Ubuntu and not the forums, then? I’m not terribly invested either way, but let’s just compare the two landing pages.

With Ubuntu Forums, the information available at a glance is that you really need to REGISTER, there are a lot of categories, there’s a category for absolute beginners, and (if you’re especially observant) people post quite frequently. The last two pieces of information are quite compelling, but I’m put off by how far the viewer of the slideshow is from actually seeing people get help.

I think Ask Ubuntu just does a better job for the quick glance – “hey, this place looks helpful” – kind of thing. First, there is no obligation to register, and I like that for making things a little more relaxed. Second, the site is all about Q and A and the landing page has a prominent list of questions and their answers. The site also has an “Ask a question” button whether you’re signed in or not, so I think it’s a little more inviting. I think someone can see Ask Ubuntu and understand it in three seconds.

Now, I love the forums, but I think the slideshow needs to be streamlined, and I think Ask Ubuntu gives a more streamlined demo than Ubuntu Forums. Actually, I think we’d be doing the forums a disservice here. There’s a risk that someone’s first taste of the forums will be “whoa, too much new stuff, not now!” (in some fashion), because that’s just the nature of the forums: the forums are big, and complex, and there are a lot of fascinating people who do a lot of different stuff. It’s a huge piece of the Ubuntu community, and it doesn’t fit well in the small snippet of time the slideshow aims to consume, much as the slideshow isn’t linking straight to the Wiki or the IRC page.

I think there’s lots of room to talk about the Ubuntu community in the slideshow, but we need to be gentle. Let’s talk about the forums somewhere that a person can discover the site when they’d like, and be able to give it a full fifteen minutes. There are some great places to bring up UF. There’s the default browser bookmarks, there’s the (kind of neglected) Get More Help section in the Ubuntu Desktop Guide, and there’s ubuntu.com/support. The forums can appear in lots of useful and interesting places, and I’d love to see that happen.

But the slideshow is not something that you can just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of slides!

4 Responses

  1. In my mind we have two excellent community resources for end-users: Ask Ubuntu and the Ubuntu Forums. I see no reason why we should not provide references to both in the slideshow.

  2. Hello,

    I have submitted a slide to Bodsda, which cycles through ask Ubuntu, Launchpad and Ubuntu Forums logos using a jquery slideshow with fade transition. I have also updated the slide text to include a link to all 3 websites. It can all be done on one slide :-)

    If you would like I could send you a copy of the files I sent Bodsda for review.

  3. Jono: I agree with you! I’m just not at all keen on adding it within the current framework – especially at the end, beside Ask Ubuntu. I’m trying to be careful about keeping the slideshow simple, and I think part of that is making sure we never overload on content. I know it’s just a little tiny thing, but it’s a little tiny thing that adds a lot more clicky orange text, and another direction to launch people in.

    I had a weird bias at first (which, indeed, sucked) and I regret that some of it is still kind of floating around in my head, but the point of my post isn’t a link to the forums can never belong. I think it deserves scrutiny. I think it’s weird that we have these two overlapping resources people choose between, when Ubuntu is so good about avoiding that with settings and default applications. It’s fine and healthy to have the two sites, but the overlap and the competition is where it gets weird.

    I think new users should be shielded a little from that weirdness, and introducing these two things at different times and in different ways (not directly adjacent to each other) could be exactly what’s needed to establish them as differently excellent. The trick is introducing UF somewhere, and I have my doubts about making that the slideshow’s job because you can only do so much in a fifteen minute slideshow.

    s.fox: Sounds interesting! I’m not (yet) convinced about cycling through logos, but multiple images for a slide could be really neat on its own. There was talk from some parts about making a Community slide, so that might be a good idea to build on as well. The end could be rejiggered accordingly. At this point, (since UI freeze a few weeks ago, really), we should be thinking about Ubuntu 12.10 – or maybe 12.04.1 – for any new copy, unless it’s simple stuff that won’t affect translations.

    Part of me wants to change the Firefox screenshot to show Ubuntu Forums, at least as a gentle call-out, but I’d be breaking the “minimize writing in screenshots” rule again, so I probably shouldn’t. But maybe I should anyway :/

    By the way, the reason for the gigantic blog post is because I want to reference it for other things that have nothing to do with UF. So, don’t worry, I’m only kind of ridiculously obsessed with this. The rest is not craziness, but planning for the future. Honest!

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