Last week the staff got together in person and took a critical look at where the project is now and what we want to achieve in the next year.
We asked ourselves a series of questions, including: “We have some successful, enthusiastic users who rely on Chandler daily: how are they using it? What are their success stories? How can we build on that and grow the user base?” and “Why do we only have 100s of unique desktop users syncing to the Hub daily when many 1000s of users have downloaded the desktop?”
Looking at users who *are* successful and potential users who run into difficulties, we had this insight: Chandler succeeds at meeting the needs of users who are tracking ‘knowledge work’. What do we mean by this? We’ve observed people tracking ideas and questions for tasks they need to do — the kind of things people otherwise might jot down in notebooks, on scraps of paper or in text files. They selectively add important email messages to Chandler (the ones they might have flagged if they were only using their email client). They share collections of these items with other people as they develop an idea, using Chandler to record the ‘knowledge’ about a shared project. Quick item entry, stamping items onto the calendar or a task list, and items in multiple collections are all signature features that help users evolve their ideas into tasks and projects. While the design includes tasks and a hard calendar landscape, Chandler is not oriented around calendaring per se or around a complicated task and project landscape with many dependencies. We don’t have enterprise scheduling features, for example, or task and project dependencies. Instead of adding more features for calendaring and task/project management over the next year, we’d like to build on Chandler’s more unique strengths, excelling at meeting the needs people who currently find Chandler compelling.
Of course, many users who *do* have similar needs to the successful users run into barriers when trying to use Chandler. The application is too slow for their hardware, they are overwhelmed by non essential functionality visible in the application, they don’t know how to get started, they run into a roadblock when creating an account, etc. We want to remove these barriers.
The flip side of this is that some people who have been drawn to the project are really *not* target users. Chandler doesn’t meet their needs because Chandler is not designed for them. We just don’t have the resources to make all of these people happy — we really do have to focus. More on this in the “what we are not doing” section below.
Another idea that came up in our discussions: we want Chandler to be more viral. We want Chandler to be easy to explain to others. We want Chandler to be found in contexts where people are already spending time. We want Chandler to be of great use to the individual using Chandler on their own, and to be even more useful as that user pulls in other people to collaborate. We want happy users be successful evangelists for Chandler.
What we are doing next
We made some important high level decisions about what we’re going to be focusing on in the next year, and in particular for the next 3-4 months. It was most concrete for us when we discussed exactly what each person would be working on (in particular what each developer would be working on), so I’ll use that to frame our strategy.
Grant Baillie: Incremental progress on the desktop. We decided that we can’t stop and take time out to rewrite the desktop or build a complete web based home for our target users, so that means continuing to maintain the current desktop code base. Grant will focus on bugs and small feature changes that remove barriers for users who otherwise would value Chandler’s feature set. We are not far from a 1.0 version of the desktop. One of the first projects that Grant is working on is a pass at simplifying the UI by removing rarely used email functionality — reducing the number of new concepts that users need to get started.
Travis Vachon and Jeffrey Harris: Web widgets. We’re turning our focus on the web away from replicating the desktop functionality, and toward making Chandler more viral and better at facilitating idea gathering and collaboration for our target users. Travis and Jeffrey are going to build web widgets that might be deployed in different contexts — iGoogle, Facebook, on an iPhone, etc. Widgets will give read/write access to a particular item (instead of a whole collection), allow users to search for a particular item, allow quick entry of items, etc. We’ve started the design work on the chandler-dev list. One requirement for the web strategy is that these widgets should be compelling to a new user who does not use the desktop, in addition to providing features that complement the desktop. Eventually, the widgets can be building blocks for developing out that web based home for our target users.
Brian Kirsch: Thunderbird plugin. Brian has already blogged about this idea; we’ve decided to proceed with it. We think it will be a great way to introduce Chandler ideas to a new audience.
Jared Rhine: Email related features on the Hub. Jared will explore adding email notifications/reports from the service, and email as a way of entering data into the service. Again, these features are a way of making the Hub more viral — data access from other contexts where people spend their time. This work is in addition to Jared’s many other responsibilities (managing the Hub service, build and release management, etc.).
Randy Letness: Chandler Server improvements and support for web widgets. Randy will continue with security work that has long been planned, as well as server support necessary for the new web widgets.
Phillip Eby: Desktop rearchitecture. We will continue to make a modest investment in the rearchitecture project that we embarked upon last year, as the rearchitecture is our path to really solving desktop performance problems. The rearchitecture will also provide a much better platform for other developers to contribute to the project.
Mimi Yin: Product design and strategy. Web strategy and web widget design, Thunderbird plugin design, desktop prioritization, project website improvements, etc.
Sheila Mooney: Evangelism strategy. Develop a pitch and a demo, meet with stakeholders, etc. One of the barriers for potential users and partners is really a marketing barrier — helping people understand what Chandler is intended for.
My job is to manage the project overall and give the project its best shot at thriving beyond the end of the year.
What we are not doing
We are not trying to be an open source Exchange/Outlook competitor. While this would be a worthy goal, it is not our passion and we don’t really have the right product or organization to pull this off. It has been a misperception in the press that this has *ever* been our goal — probably because so many people want an open source competitor to Exchange/Outlook. We have not designed Chandler for enterprise calendaring. Actually, the Microsoft product with the most overlap with our design objectives is probably OneNote.
Being a CalDAV reference implementation is not a priority. We believe that calendaring standards are important and hope that they are adopted in the world, and much of OSAF’s energy in previous years was directed at making that a reality. With our current need to focus, however, our strategic objective wrt calendaring standards is to be able to interoperate with popular clients (e.g. iCal and Lightning). For this reason and because we are not trying to do enterprise calendaring, we will not be implementing CalDAV scheduling.
We are not trying to be a GTD specific tool. Yes, we paid a lot of attention to GTD as we were designing Chandler and we were inspired by ideas from GTD. We also looked at how people who have never heard of GTD really use their inbox to manage their world, and taken inspiration from that as well. When getting into the specifics of Chandler’s design, we focused on user scenarios and workflows that would make our target users successful — not necessarily designing to GTD processes. We’ve recently taken a critical look at how well Chandler meets the needs of someone following the GTD process strictly. In doing so, we realized that we didn’t want to prioritize staff time to work on changes that would make Chandler a GTD specific tool, and that Chandler’s philosophy is different enough from GTD that it would be misleading to call Chandler a GTD tool. We’ll need to change our messaging — our landing page, blog and other places that refer to GTD. That said, we recognize that some developers are interested in features that would help people use Chandler for a GTD process, and we encourage anyone who wants to contribute code for such features.
We are not going to add full email functionality to Chandler desktop, or contacts (at least not in the next year, not on OSAF staff time). Yes, we know that many people want these features, and we’d love to design them and implement them if we had the resources, but we don’t have the resources in the next year. Again, we’d *gladly* accept code contributions that implemented these features, or additional funding to implement them. We are willing to spend time to help make people successful contributing code for these features (or other features that complement the current product).