Over the recent few months I’ve spent a fair bit of time working on projects.apache.org. It’s an idea that I had stored away in my memory for a very long time and one that I strongly believed in. Now that it’s almost complete I still have trouble believing that it’s actually happened. The basic concept, like many of the best ones, is very simple – create a set of indexes and pages that allow people to find out which projects within the ASF may interest them. As the ASF has grown it’s become more and more relevant and I’m very happy with the outcome.

It’s designed as a “delegated” system, where all the data is controlled by the projects themselves – the actual site simply uses the information they provide. This has strengths and weaknesses, but given the size and diversity of the ASF is the most logical solution. Not all projects have yet embraced it and in fact one even rejected the recent email I sent asking for participation, but over time I hope every project will participate.

While working on the project I cam to realise that there was another area where the ASF was sorely lacking – news. One of the things that projects.apache.org finally offers is a centralised feed of releases by ASF projects. It also provides a per project feed that lists their current releases, both generated automatically from the information they provide. To check on a number of projects you can now visit a single web page (http://projects.apache.org/indexes/releases.html) that lists current releases. This is, in my opinion long overdue. It also made me wonder – why don’t we have anyting like this for all the news that is generated within the ASF?

Of course much of the news around the ASF and it’s projects is simply announcements of releases, but there are also announcements of events such as ApacheCon, involvement in things like Google’s Summer of Code. Surely having all of these on one web page would be desirable? Having them all in an RSS feed would be even better and allow people who were interested to keep up. The possibilities are endless, and as I’ve proven with projects.apache.org once you have the data it’s easy to create a large number of different views of it.

The problem is that while announcing a release is a simple fact, making an announcement about other aspects of the ASF and it’s involvement isn’t as easy. Straying into the murky world of public relations, press contacts and associated arena’s is something done carefully and with a lot of consideration. Over the last few years more and more companies have started using ASF software as part of their offerings, producing an ever increasing demand for press releases and associated publicity. While flattering, it’s also a challenge to maintain the neutrality and independence of the ASF. Having a centralised news site for the ASF would obviously intensify these concerns as posts would be seen as “official” and stating the position of the ASF.

What I think is needed is an overhaul of the entire system that the ASF uses to broadcast news. Presently there are various announce lists which projects use in a somewhat ad hoc manner. Some releases are notified to every list, some to just a small subset, some to no announce lists at all! Some projects add their release information on their home pages, some don’t. Consistency is not a strong trend within the diverse world of the ASF – and that’s good! I don’t think the entire ASF should be produced from a single mould, but I do think we should have some central mechanism that allows every project to maintain their own identity while permitting the ASF to advertise and broadcast their news. That’s what I feel is very sorely lacking at present.

Ideally the ASF should have a “news injection” system for the projects and anyone else to use. It would allow a single submission of a news item to be sent to all the correct announce lists, be added to appropriate feeds and appear on relevant web pages. All from the project writing a single piece of text and “injecting” it once. Nothing would change for the individual projects own sites and methodology, this would simply replace some of their current channels with a single channel – potentially reaching more people. Such a tool’s time is overdue.