Providing support for open source projects

A few days ago I posted a brief blog entry about what I’ve been working on: SitePen Support (Dojo, DWR, Cometd)

We finished the work for the initial launch of this service immediately before I left for PyCon, so I didn’t have a chance to properly blog about it. Getting SitePen Support going has been my primary task in the time since I joined SitePen, so I’m anxious to write about it now that it’s public.

I’m going to start with some of the rationale for the service, and in another post at a later time I’ll talk about how the service is put together.

Imagine that you’re a developer who is facing a deadline or you’re a manager with a team that’s about to become stalled because of an unexpected problem. When working with most open source projects, you’ve got three mighty tools at your disposal:

  1. the documentation
  2. the source
  3. the community

I don’t know how many open source projects you’ve looked at, but #1 is almost always not quite where you want it to be. The unusual situations that are likely to trip you up the most are also the least likely to be documented… so, there’s always #2. Dive into the source directly and check it out for yourself. Of course, Dojo is more than 100,000 lines of JavaScript. Even though it’s nicely organized, there are some tricky concepts being applied and it can definitely take some time to get to your answers.

Which leaves the community. Generally, community support is pretty good at helping you find an answer via forums, mailing lists and IRC. Unfortunately, though, you never know for sure that you’ll get a response from the community, and if you toss a really tricky problem out, project developers might not go after it if they’re in the middle of other big projects.

Now, for Dojo, DWR and Cometd, there is a definite place you can turn for help: the SitePen Support service. SitePen Support is a way for you to bring core project people into your development process when you need them most. All of the plans give you hours of assistance to track down the tricky issues or fix bugs that are important to your projects. They all have a guaranteed initial response, so that you know we’re there keeping an eye out for you. Many of our plans have a feature called “Ask the Experts”. If you can’t find something in the docs, Ask the Experts is a way to find the answer, and we’re even likely to update the docs if need be. For some of the plans, we’ll even troubleshoot and fix your application’s code in addition to the project code.

We’ve also been working on making the service as easy to use as possible. In addition to being able to exchange information via email, we’ve got a Dojo-powered interface for keeping track of what’s going on with all of your support requests.

SitePen Support Screenshot

It’s this interface that I’ll be writing more about later.

If you’re using Dojo, DWR or Cometd and would like some expert help for your projects, check out: