August 1, 2007

A Great Resource Ruined

I recently visited the SourceForge web site, as I am taking another look at the mingw toolchain. What a disaster the site has become. It seems like it is now organized with the principal intention of maximizing the number of page views, and hence the revenue that can be gained from advertising. All thoughts of user convenience appear to have been banished.

Back when SourceForge was the major repository for open source work it was easy to find a project and download it. The interface wasn't particularly glitzy but it was usable, and you could get where you needed to be with relatively few clicks. Now even a relatively simple download forces you through a chain of links.

I take Inkscape as an example, because I was interested in obtaining an up-to-date copy. The project home page has a friendly-looking link on it that says "Download Inkscape." The first glitch is that although there's a green graphic to make the link look like a button, the graphic isn't part of the link so you have to click on the text! Clicking doesn't download anything, however, it merely takes you to the download page. This page contains a list of files, each of which has a friendly green button (that again isn't really a button) labeled "Download".

You've guessed it - clicking on the text link doesn't download anything, it takes you to yet another download page. Then, finally, you get to download your file by clicking on its name. I don't think the people who designed this site read Jakob Nielsen's work much.

What's even worse is what they have done to the mailing lists. I was having trouble with Msys apparently not actioning the /etc/fstab file so I searched for msys ignores fstab using Google. The first hit was on SourceForge, but the page I obtained by following the link was not only completely useless, it also bore absolutely no relationship to the cached copy page that Google provided, and appeared to be badly broken. There's probably a reason for it, but I was no longer prepared to give the site the benefit of any doubt.

I am so glad that the Python development team took the decision a long time ago to migrate away from SourceForge's repository (they wanted to use Subversion, and SourceForge were taking way too long to offer it as an option). I hope that the final migration of the issue tracker will soon mean that Python development is no longer dependent on what appears to have become a sadly broken system, though I understand there may be issues with content migration.

I suspect that SourceForge's justification for the changes was that they needed to generate revenues to pay for the continued operation of the site. Just the same I will be very surprised if they haven't completely lost their dominant position in five years. Given the right resources it would be so easy to do a better job. Someone is going to see this as a business opportunity and eat SourceForge's lunch before too long. This is a great pity considering the service that the site provided to so many open source projects through the end of the twentieth century.


Doug Napoleone said...

nuf said.

PJE said...

Actually, they've signficantly *improved* the download process -- you no longer have to do the crazy mirror-selection thing, and they've made the download links more obvious than they were before.

That being said, it still leaves a lot to be desired -- like everything you mentioned. But to be fair, the current state of things is actually a significant improvement compared to a year or two ago; IOW, they're getting better, not worse.