The Next Stage of WP API

As you may have seen, my Summer of Code project is now over with the release of version 0.6. It’s been a fun time developing it, and an exceptionally stressful time as I tried to balance it with uni work, but worth it nonetheless. Fear not however, as I plan to continue working on the project moving forward. A team has been assembled and we’re about to start work on the API, now in the form of a Feature as a Plugin. To power the team discussions, we’ve also been given access to Automattic’s new o2 project (which I believe is the first public installation).

Throughout the project, I’ve been trying to break new ground in terms of development processes. Although MP6 was the first Feature as a Plugin (and the inspiration for the API’s development style), the API is the first major piece of functionality developed this way and both MP6 and the API will shape how we consider and develop Features as Plugins in the future. However, while MP6 has been developed using the FP model, the development process itself has been less than open, with a more dictatorial style of project management. This works for a design project where a tight level of control needs to be kept, but is less than ideal for larger development projects.

I’ve been critical, both publicly and privately, of some of WordPress’ development processes in the past; in particular, the original form of team-based development was in my opinion completely broken. Joining an existing team was near impossible, starting new discussion within the team is hard, and meetings are inevitably tailored to the team lead’s timezone. The Make blogs also fill an important role as a place for teams to organise, but are more focused towards summarising team efforts and planning future efforts than for the discussion itself.

At the other end of the spectrum is Trac, which is mainly for discussing specifics. For larger, more conceptual discussions, developers are told to avoid Trac and use a more appropriate medium. This usually comes in the form of “there’s a P2 post coming soon, comment there” which is not a great way to hold discussion; it means waiting for a core developer to start the discussion, and your topic might not be at the top of their mind. In addition, Make blogs aren’t really for facilitating discussion, but are more of a announcement blog with incidental discussion.

Since the first iteration of teams, we’ve gotten better at organisation, but I think there’s more we can do.

This is where our team o2 installation comes in. I’ve been very careful to not refer to it as a blog, because it’s not intended as such. Instead, the aim is to bring discussions back from live IRC chats to a semi-live discussion area. Think of it as a middle ground between live dialogue on IRC and weekly updates on a make blog. The idea is that we’ll make frequent posts for both planning and specifics of the project, and hold discussion there rather than on IRC. It’s intended to be a relatively fast-moving site, unlike the existing Make blogs. In addition, o2 should be able to streamline the discussion thanks to the live comment reloading and fluid interface.

Understandably for an experiment like this, there are many questions about how it will work. Some of the questions that have been asked are:

  • Why is this necessary? As I mentioned above, I believe this fits a middle ground between live discussion and weekly updates. The hope is for this to make it easier for everyone to participate.
  • Why isn’t this a Make blog? The Make blogs are great for longer news about projects, but not really for the discussion itself. They’re relatively low traffic blogs for long term planning and discussion rather than places where specifics can be discussed.
  • Why is it hosted on rather than Two main reasons: I wanted to try o2 for this form of discussion; and there’s a certain level of bureaucracy to deal with for Make, whereas setting up a new blog on was basically instant. The plan is to migrate this to Make if the experiment works, of course.
  • If you want to increase participation, why is discussion closed to the team only? Having closed discussion is a temporary measure while the team is getting up to speed and we work out exactly how this experiment will work. Comments will be opened to all after this initial period.

Fingers crossed, this works. We’re off to somewhat of a slow start at the moment, which is to be expected with starting up a large team from scratch on what is essentially an existing project. There’s a lot of work to do here, and we’ve got to keep cracking at the project to keep the momentum going. Fingers crossed, we can start building up steam and forge a new form of organisation for the projects.

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