On Critical Mass
A brain-dump / reflection on some of the topics discussed at the 2nd ODL Admin Meetup in May 2014 in Düsseldorf.
This is a cross post of an entry in my blog - because over there discussion via comments is possible
At the second ODL admin meetup, held at the Garage Bilk coworking space one day after the 2014 Beyond Tellerrand conference in Düsseldorf, we discussed, or better started to discuss, the possible need of some kind of "quality signage" or even a "certification" mechanism in order to help people to find the "right" Open Device Lab for their needs.
As the ODL "movement" picks up momentum, suddenly we are faced with diversity. For example, we have ODLs
- situated inside/alongside agencies or companies
- situated in co-working spaces
- situated in it's very own location like a shop
Among these are ODLs with only a handful of devices, and then there are others with hundreds of devices.
We have ODLs that are more or less left to their own devices (no pun intended), and others with a firm administration, and/or having staff who are giving support to visitors and testers, or ODLs running their own business model. We have ODLs that are highly visible, and others, that, well aren't.
We have ODLs that have several visitors a day or a week, and others that are barely visited at all.
Again we discussed the need for ODLs to do some sort of marketing, to get the idea out of the bubble and into the heads of decision makers on the other side of the project chain, to promote the enhancement and advantages to invest time and budget into device testing.
We discussed the need to get device manufacturers involved, and that it maybe is better to connect with their PR-relations and not only developer-relations. Now here the interesting bit starts. If a device manufacturer has a certain amount of devices that he is willing to let go for testing or marketing purposes, he will certainly look for the most 'popular' ODLs. The ones with the most traffic or the best visibility. So with all this variation in what and how ODLs are at the moment, it seem to me very difficult to approach device manufacturers, esp. if you have an ODL inside a company that is not very large and not very busy in terms of visitors.
As Tom Quay puts it:
The challenge for us as labs managers is to demonstrate a return on these donations and a sustained benefit to the manufacturers who we’re asking to support the initiative. That’s where I think events and community engagement are the key to solving this. The talks we’ve given and the events we’ve put on are the steps we’re taking to prove the theory.
And what can a visitor expect from an ODL at the moment? Let's assume that an interested person looks up the opendevicelab.com website, locates an ODL near to his or her own location: A list of device manufacturers covered in that ODL, some info on the status of the ODL, and maybe some comments by other visitors can be obtained from that entry point. Everything else is left to the ODL's own website, and depending on the energy and effort put into that site, the visitor may or may have not a chance to see if this ODL fits his/her needs. Is app testing possible?
Are the devices available at the time of the planned visit?
Do I have privacy or am I testing in the open?
Will my project be monitored or cached somewhere?
Is support available?
And in case of an in-house ODL, can I take my work to a possible rival?
I think this is where the idea, or proposal, of 'some kind of »quality« criteria is needed now', started. If on the one hand, 'the ODL thang' needs some kind of promotion outside of the developer/designer bubble, then there has to be a common 'thang' - which is not really there besides the idea of having free devices available for testing purposes, no matter the amount and actual circumstances on location.
I'm not sure about this quality thing, mainly because I don't see or want an instance where these ODL standards should be defined. The whole idea of the ODL to me is DIY, but maybe that's because I'm romantic about the punksnotdead attitude :)
At the ODL admin meetup we collected ideas to make these kind of conflicting interests meet, mainly by offering ways to make more data visible at the opendevicelab.com ODL profiles. And the ultimate 'quality' sign should be the comments and ratings by visitors, which still is a problem for less frequently visited ODLs (which seem to be most of the in-house ODLS).
Since this is more a brain-dump as it is a structured blog post, I'm more than happy to discuss in the comment section of my blog (sorry, currently we have no comment system in place here).