The Accessibility, Design and Technology committee oversees technology-related projects within the OTW. Currently we are responsible for designing and building the Archive of Our Own. Our regular meeting updates keep you informed about developments on the AO3!
This was a nice busy meeting - 11 of our 14 staffers were able to attend! Managing different timezones and meeting times, as well as other commitments, means that it can be challenging for everyone to attend every meeting, so it's nice when lots of us make it (although some of us were off celebrating birthdays *looks about shiftily*).
Improving our code commits and deploy process
This is an important subject to us, although one that isn't immediately apparent to our users! When a coder writes some new code, they 'push' it to our code repository and then submit a 'pull request' to ask for it to be included in the main project. Another coder then looks at the code and (if they don't spot any problems) merges it into the main project; when we have a few changes to that, we put all the code on our Test archive for testers to work on. Ideally, this whole process should be pretty quick - it's nice for coders to have their code accepted quickly (or sent back for changes) and it's nice for users if we get new code tested quickly and thus out onto the live site!
Right now, this process isn't as fast as we'd like it to be. Unfortunately, our automated tests currently take a significant amount of time to run, and that causes a bit of a chain reaction: coders run the tests as they work, run all the tests before they push their code out, run all the tests before they approve somebody else's code, and have a job set up on our development server to run all the tests every day and email the whole team with any failures. While we work on making the tests faster, we're hoping to do some reshuffling, where we reduce some of the duplication and the time required to merge in code, while doing more manual review. We'll be aiming to get code merged in and out to our testers on a quicker and more regular basis, so that ultimately users will have faster access to fixes and new features.
Ana and Jenny have been working on some ideas for improving mentoring for coders. We have lots of informal mentoring - one of the great things about coding with the OTW is that people on the project are so generous with their time, and are happy to answer questions and support new people. However, sometimes people feel awkward about asking for help at busy times, or they want some more intensive one-to-one mentoring to help work out a big project or get over a specific learning 'hump'. It can be challenging for us to provide this kind of mentoring, because we have such a small number of developers, all of whom are volunteers and many of whom are also learning this stuff as they go! The new plans are designed to make it a bit easier, and to make people more comfortable about asking for a specific mentor if that's what suits their style.
We're continuing to work on changes to the HTML and CSS of the site. lim has been radically reworking the CSS to make it more flexible and much much easier to skin. Meanwhile, we have been working through front-end issues logged in our Google code issues project to identify old issues which still need attention, and close the ones which are now obsolete. Thanks to everyone who has been working on this!
As most of you will have noticed, this deploy did not go as smoothly as we'd have liked! One of the problems with performance enhancements in particular is that they are very hard to test, since there's no way of reproducing the exact conditions of the live site. So, we were alarmed when after our big deploy (full of performance enhancements) the load on the site went UP instead of down. A whole lot of investigation and work later, our wonderful Systems team were able to get everything under control. The site went up and down quite a few times while all this work was going on, but the good news is that the server load is now lower than it has been for the past six months! The site is running correspondingly faster. We have a list of additional changes to make - one of the useful side-effects of the problems was that they highlighted some things we could improve - but we're really happy to see the 502s banished at last! A million thanks to Sidra and james_ who did a LOT of work to fix everything!
News from our sub-committees
- Coders did lots of last-minute work to get everything ready for the deploy, then the senior coders and Systems staff worked like CHAMPIONS to resolve the issues that showed up during the deploy.
- Testers also worked like champions getting this deploy ready for primetime. Jenn, Kylie, Seph, Tai, Weimar, xparrotx and Zebra, you all deserve a special shout-out after the hard work you put into sorting out this monster deploy!
News from our sister committees
- Support continue to keep up with tickets after their amazing work overcoming the backlog. They are happy to answer all kinds of questions about the Archive, whether you think you've found a bug or you just want clarification on something - please don't feel shy about asking if there's something you'd like to know!
- Tag wranglers will be holding an open house on Saturday 15th of October at 22:00 UTC. This will be a drop in session where you can find out about volunteering as a wrangler, ask about tags, help out with fandoms we don’t have wranglers for yet, or just have a chat about what we do. It will be held in the OTW Public Discussion Room - if you've ever been curious, drop by and find out more!
If there are things you'd like to do or say, please share them in comments, via the AO3 support and feedback form, by volunteering, or in whatever medium you feel comfortable with. Everyone is welcome to this party!
This meeting round-up by Lucy.