March 28, 2005 | Category:

Open Source Woes

At Solitude, we like our open source software. There are all kinds of interesting ideas out there that people are giving away for free. The problem is the websites are almost always shit. Now, I’m not knocking the visual look; it probably doesn’t matter that the website for most programs isn’t attractive.

The main issue, illustrated by almost every open source project I’ve ever seen, is that they assume the user knows what the project is about. Wrong. I usually find out about these things through a vague link. Putting the news section immediately on the front page is a bad thing. The first thing I want to know is exactly what the project is about, not that version 0.65c has just been released with new enhancement X.

Three guidelines:

  1. Have a section on your website explaining in plain English, no marketing jargon and as little technical gibberish as is necessary (which should itself be explained), exactly what the project is for, what it does and why anyone should care.
  2. Begin the front page with a careful, one-line abstract of the explanation page followed by a “read more” link. If you can’t construct such an abstract, you’ve already got a problem with the structure of the project.
  3. Clear, single-click downloads. Note that Sourceforge pages put most people off.

These guidelines will improve your site greatly and are not hard. We’d name names of projects who don’t live up to expectations, but I’m sure that it would take far too long.