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The Power of Community

Posted by tball on March 17, 2006 at 2:54 PM PST

I've been a big fan of early community involvement in projects, especially after how much it helped drive Swing to its first release. Back then the general rule was to post an alpha, silently wait for feedback to trickle in, ship a beta months later, wait again, and then release the batch without any response to most of the feedback. Swing broke that process by releasing snapshots every two weeks (maybe that's where the Mustang folks got the idea!) and answered the hundreds of emails that helped improve those snapshots. It was exhausting, but I seriously doubt Swing would be what it is without the strong involvement of those engineers.

This week I was happily reminded of just how powerful community involvement can be. An early access release of Jackpot went out and Tor Norbye blogged about it within minutes of the announcement on the NetBeans development email alias. Tor included a screen snapshot of some sample Jackpot transformation rules, and within a day several engineers commented on a problem with one of the rules. I then got email from one of the commentators (Eylon Stroh) pointing that the issue could be fixed with two rules he listed; he then noted:

    Although, what would really be neat is

    { $p$; $v = $e; return $v; } => { $p$; return $e; } :: declaredIn($v, $p$);

    which seems possible in principle, but not with the current rules language.

The reason for his comment is that the rule language didn't have a "declaredIn()" expression. So that expression has been added, as described here.

There were two things I found really cool with this experience:

  • I got a simple, but very useful, enhancement suggestion. Especially with tools, a developer really isn't the best person to know what parts of a project are useful and what it is missing -- potential users of it are.
  • Even better is that I got a free code-review from some smart engineers who had never seen the language before. This is proof that good programmers can write in any language!

So thanks to all the blog readers who take the time to comment or email. Our developer communities become more powerful with each act of participation.

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