oss4lib: An Interview with Paul Everitt and Ken Manheimer of Digital Creations, publishers of Zope Page 2

Ken Manheimer: Yes! Computers enable profound increases in the scale of communications, over space and time. Without sufficient measures for organizing all this stuff being cast around, we inundate people as much - or more - than we help them get the answers they're seeking, when they need them. Establishing the "spaces between" the information - the context, the relationships - as explicit content, the system can take the context into account, and we can develop strategies and mechanisms that help fit answers into context. We can help fit collections of answers into stories.

oss4lib: Traditionally, libraries gather metadata and information about content relationships in reference sources (in holdings catalogs as well as acquired encyclopedias, directories, indexes, atlases, union catalogs, etc.), enshrine these in a reference section, and put reference librarians in the "space between" this section and library visitors. Your approach, very cognizant of this traditional model, creates and organizes as much of this information as possible automatically, and allows users to fill in many of the gaps themselves if they choose to behave certain ways.

Manheimer: I think that's the gist of it. The idea is to organize the process and interface so that whatever metadata can naturally fall in place does fall in place. (Note that this is different from doing complex inferencing, eg ai or iterative collaborative filtering. Using collaborative feedback will have a big place, I think, but I shy from elaborate inferencing, at least until we've milked the overt stuff that can be gathered in process...)

oss4lib: In the recent Zope Directions Roadmap, you're making another push to simplify how people approach Zope (e.g. moving away from DTML), and to target your audience further (e.g. restated focus on developers). There must be a difficult balance to maintain when making things better and easier runs the risk of introducing change for some of Zope's most loyal fans. This issue faces libraries every day, especially with longtime users unfamiliar with new interfaces. We usually struggle with such decisions and end up trying to please everybody. How do you make these decisions?

Everitt: In the "fishbowl". That is, we make fairly formal proposals and put them up for a review process. We've struck a nice balance between the power of global collaboration and the coherence of benevolent dictatorship.

People have found the Zope learning curve too steep. In retracing the cause of this problem, we found that Zope tried to be all things to all people. Not knowing your primary audience leads to usability prolems. Thus, order number one was to pick an audience for Zope, and then allow Zope extensions to go after other audiences.

This leads to the Zope Directions document you mentioned. Zope is for developers who create useful things for other audiences.

Note that our idea of developer, thanks to Python, differs dramatically from other systems which use low-level systems programming languages like C++ or Java for extension.

oss4lib: Clearly, you pay close attention to what your consulting customers want from you, and to what active members of Zope's open source development want from Zope. As each community grows, how do you manage to keep listening closely to both? In what ways do the ideas you hear overlap?

This article was originally published on Mar 16, 2001

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