OpenFarm launched to the public on January 18th of this year – just about 6 months ago. In the time since launching we’ve seen some incredible progress. In this blog post we’ll look at where we’ve come and where we want to go next.
A focus on community
Ever since we started on this journey, we’ve been putting community first. That’s partially why we sought financial backing from 1,605 individuals through our Kickstarter campaign, why our software and data is open-source, and why we’re a non-profit. We think our focus on community has been instrumental for us to get to where we are today, it largely defines the culture and ‘product/service’ we offer, and we think it will continue to be a fundamental force in determining who we are and what OpenFarm will grow into.
With community at our core, we started off the year with a lot of momentum and excitement – mostly coming from our Kickstarter backers and our core software development team. It seemed that we had adequate software development resources because we launched on-time, bugs were being fixed quickly, and we were sending out new releases of the software often. We also had people joining our Slack group almost weekly.
With so much support for software, it felt strategic for us to begin engaging with our community on the ground, face-to-face. We wanted to gain feedback on the website itself, build relationships with existing organizations and individuals interested in OpenFarm, grow our database of Crops and Growing Guides, and ultimately bridge the gap between online and offline community. We hired two part-time Community Developers, Kat and Kevin, to take on just this. We decided to hire two people so that they could work together and learn from each other’s successes and failures. With Kat based in Montreal and Kevin in California, we were excited to see how their two communities would respond to our efforts in both different and similar ways.
Kat and Kevin have hosted events, led workshops, attended conferences, and began the ongoing process of sharing the OpenFarm story with the world. They have conducted numerous one-on-one interviews with academics and everyday people alike, uncovered desires for new features, determined priority of needs, and built a necessary feedback loop to the software development team. In short, their work has been vital in keeping us on-track to build a thriving community and software product that is rooted in solving real needs.
Realizing we’re in a marathon, not a sprint
Since January, we have also made a tremendous amount of progress on the software. We transitioned from a community of users to members, updated our homepage, are continuously improving the guide creation flow, optimized the site for mobile, integrated with our email newsletter service, improved the new member flow, implemented the digital badges feature on the backend, and introduced member profile pages – all while squashing bugs and keeping our test coverage up.
However, our initial sprint and momentum of software development has seemed to wear away, and the general trend since launching has been a slow but steady decline in development activity. Our one part-time software developer, Simon, has done a fantastic job thus far; though he plans to take a step back from the lead developer position this Summer, which will really slow things down if we don’t do something soon.
So what we’ve been realizing is that we’re in a marathon, not a sprint. And we need to continuously concentrate resources on ensuring that our software team can continue moving forward effectively for a long time to come. Sprints will come and go, though we need to be proactive in continuing forward while in between them.
An unfortunate truth
Talk to any software developer and you’ll learn that software is never done and it always needs maintenance. We’ve found this to be especially true with OpenFarm. To make my point (as painful as it is to say in such a public place) – right now you can’t make a Guide on OpenFarm. That feature is broken. Its a bummer, we know, and we’re working hard to fix it. But you see my point: the feedback, room for improvement, bug reports, feature requests, and new ideas are never ending. And with declining software development resources (read: people and their time), these issues are taking longer to fix than desirable.
The unfortunate truth is that the core software of OpenFarm is broken right now. And we’re just realizing that what would have been a quick, couple day fix back when we were sprinting in January, is taking us a few weeks to fix as we catch our breath now in June.
All of this means that our community development efforts are being stifled or even stopped. How can we build community around a website whose core functionality is broken? How can we gain any valuable insight when what we hear about in every member interview is the same bugs or feature requests that have been on the back burner for months? Our community developers’ hands are tied.
A shift in focus
Our core team met online a few days ago to figure out a plan. We think a shift in focus to our software development is key to get back up and running. And though we’ve gained huge value from our community development efforts thus far, we need to put them on the back burner until the website itself is up to snuff.
Specifically, we’re going to try to engage the people we call ‘side-liners’ – the dozens of people who have expressed interest in helping write software, but haven’t helped quite yet. We’re also going to make concerted efforts to better on-board new people by offering software mentorship, a more clear and public development roadmap, better on-boarding documentation, and by highlighting tasks suited for a newcomer. Last, we’re going to focus more energy into building our core software team by hiring a new lead developer. (Psst: Send your resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org)
We hope that these steps will allow us to fix up what is broken and keep it that way, while increasing the rate at which we improve our software platform. This, we think, will lead to more effective community engagement and development efforts down the line, and to a more robust and thriving OpenFarm community.
Peace, Love, Plants,
– The OpenFarm Team