An Open Source Brief

July 22, 2010  /  Home

You’d be forgiven for reading the title of this post and thinking it’s about a crazy approach to project briefing that somehow mimics open source development - as interesting as that sounds, it isn’t the case and my motives are much more simplistic and sinister. What I’d like to do here is put a brief together for an open source project called Mezzanine. This brief isn’t specifically geared towards programmers so if you think this isn’t for you then please continue reading and let me prove you wrong.

What is Mezzanine?

Anyone who follows my updates will know it’s an open source CMS framework I’ve been working on over the last couple of months. It now has a concrete feature set having come remarkably far in a very short amount of time. This might lead you to believe an entire team of people have been working on it but in fact it’s mostly been myself alone — it’s thanks to the incredibly rapid development that using Django brings you that so much has been done so quickly. For those readers who aren’t familiar with it please go ahead and check out the overview in the documentation, play around with the live demo and have a read of my previous article that talks about why I started Mezzanine and what I hope to achieve.

Why would I want to help?

Perhaps you’re an end user of a poorly designed CMS and you’ve often wished you could do something about it. Perhaps you’re a developer that’s had the unfortunate experience of trying to extend a seemingly user-friendly CMS that’s built using archaic technology, and wished you could be working with something that’s much more cutting edge and elegantly designed. Perhaps you’re someone who “gets” open source at a deeper level but always felt as someone who isn’t a coder that you couldn’t contribute. Perhaps you’re in business development and you’re tired of trying to sell “enterprise” crap with completely absurd price tags. If you have anything to do with web development then there’s something in this for you.

What do I get out of it?

As much as you put in of course. The experience of contributing to open source software on paper can often be a competitive advantage over other candidates for a job interview or even development contracts for your business. There’s also the chance of notoriety — imagine being responsible for the user interface or branding of the next Wordpress. Imagine your staff are core contributors to one of the web’s leading development tools. Again the success of the project will only match its contributions so it’s ultimately up to you.

What can I do to help?

A common misconception about open source software is that it’s something that only coders can participate in. Unfortunately the result of this is that the majority of open source software ends up being only contributed to by coders and is incredibly lacking in a variety of areas. I’m talking about visual branding, copy-writing, UI development — all these areas that fall outside of coding but are equally crucial in successfully shipping a professional piece of software. Mezzanine has now reached a point where it can only continue to move forward at a consistent pace by bringing in these skills that I don’t specialise in. So without further ado, here are the specific roles I think need filling and what the focus of each would be.

Graphic Designer

The entire project is desperately in need of some visual love. At the simplest level it could really use some basic branding such as a logo and “powered by” buttons. Then there’s the Mezzanine website, documentation and default site that are all currently quite spartan looking.

Interface Developer

So far the template mark-up for the default site is as minimal as can be. While this is intentional to some extent in order to best serve those that would come along and customise it for their projects, I think this idea could be improved upon with a greater level of modularity. I’m also keen to introduce a CSS framework like Blueprint into the default site. Once that’s all in order then I’d like to address what theming would look like. Is this simply a matter of packaging up copies of the templates as separate themes? A great milestone for Mezzanine would be to have a handful of built-in themes created, as well as documenting the process for creating your own.

UX Designer

I’ve introduced a handful of user interface elements into Mezzanine that could definitely use some ironing out from a usability and accessibility perspective. The main contender is the navigation tree in the admin that’s used for managing the hierarchy of the entire site as well as being the entry point for accessing most of the content management. There’s the dashboard interface for the admin area which is in a very early stage. There’s the overall layout for both the project’s own site and the default site. Lastly and of great importance, there’s the entire system for in-line editing which is featured in the default site — making this feature as user-friendly as possible is critical.

Technical Writer

Mezzanine currently has a good start on documentation but at the moment it’s mostly focused on developers. I’d eventually like to have a lot more material aimed at both end users of Mezzanine as well as marketing material geared towards business decision makers.

Product Evangelist

This is probably the easiest task of all. We simply need the word to be spread. Learn about Mezzanine and use whatever medium you like to let the world know how great it is, be it Twitter, mailing lists or blog posts.

This list isn’t entirely complete and some of the tasks certainly overlap. If you think you fit the bill or know anyone else who would get a kick out of working on Mezzanine then there’s no time like the present to get started. There aren’t any obligations with this so contributions of any size are welcome. If you’d like to get involved but don’t know where to start just post a message to the mailing list and let’s talk!