Sometimes your favorite free software has a piece of spinach in its teeth, and they need you to let them know.
We had a really great group at the inaugural SpinachCon. Around 30 people participated in friendly user-testing, aka pointing out the “spinach” in free software. Four projects; Hyperkitty — a user-facing Mailman application, Inkscape — fantastic vector graphics editor, LibreOffice — a free office suite and MediaGoblin — a decentralized media-hosting platform, brought machines and tasks for users to test. We had a mix of people who were in town a bit early for LibrePlanet and locals from our awesome Boston/Cambridge area Desktop GNU/Linux Users group. The end result was a lot of great and varied user feedback for the participating projects over the course of the five hour event.
You might be wondering what kind of feedback we got. There’s a great write-up on what Hyperkitty got out of the event here. A lot of the MediaGoblin and LibreOffice feedback was procedural, which I think is probably some of the hardest stuff for developers to see for themselves. Examples included critiques; “I couldn’t find the search box” and “I thought it was going to confirm, but it didn’t” as well as positive comments like, “I liked the simplicity of the interface” and “The overall feel is nice.” All of the folks who brought projects in for user-testing said they were really glad they did.
As the person who asked everyone to participate, I have a ton of thank-you’s to dispense. Industry Lab was very gracious as we slowly sucked all their spare tables and chairs into the spacious room we took over for the day. MediaGoblin’s technical lead Chris Webber took time out from the middle of a busy funding campaign to set up some testing instances. Robinson Tryon took an incredibly early train down from Vermont to lead people through LibreOffice tasks. Máirín Duffy brought HyperKitty (and her tiny daughter) into the city so we could all see the new face of Mailman. Martin Owens also brought his small daughter in and took notes as people worked their way through Inkscape tutorials. We hit some small snags — not unexpected whenever you’re trying to do something new — so I’d especially like to thank all our attendees for being so patient and understanding. Lastly, thanks to the Open Invention Network for providing USB keys and buying us lunch; lots of spinach salad and plenty of pizza was eaten.
We also have some exciting plans for the future. As you may have guessed by where this blog’s been posted, OpenHatch is going to be the official organizational home for SpinachCon going forward. Once we’ve sorted through the data and suggestions we gathered at the first event, we’ll improve the tests and materials so they can be shared and used at other events. OpenHatch has long been interested in finding more ways for non-technical contributors to participate in the creation of free software, so this is a great fit! OpenHatch already hosts the very popular Open Source Comes to Campus events at schools around the country. We often get asked, “What can we do next?” and hosting a SpinachCon will soon be one of the answers we can give.
In the short-term, we’re looking to schedule another local event. In the spirit of meta-spinach finding, we’d love to hear your comments on how to make the second SpinachCon even better if you attended last Friday’s event. We’ll be announcing the next local iteration via the Boston Desktop GNU/Linux Users group.