The New JCP.org is Here
The growth of trees is measured in rings. The growth of people is measured in inches as well as by noting passage through various biological and social stages. Web sites are also discussed in terms of life. Their growth is measured in numbers of pages and, more importantly, by observing their evolution from simple infancy to a more complex maturity.
The web site of the Java Community Process (JCP) program is following the same growth curve. It all started with a very basic home page, jcp.org, to which capabilities were added to meet the changing needs of users who were also growing more and more sophisticated. Incremental progress on the home page continued until recently, when all of the assorted improvements accumulated to a point that called for a bolder step. It was time for a broader rethinking of the individual capabilities and more particularly of the underlying connections that would enable new features to spring into life.
The user feedback collected over the years by the JCP Program Management Office (PMO) helped the home page grow. This input came from several usability studies that captured what folks preferred to see changed, questions from users about information that was already on the site but couldn't be found easily, and the PMO's own internal list of desired improvements for faster and better service to the community.
This push to overhaul began at the instigation of the PMO. Harold Ogle, the longest standing PMO staff member, has been integrally involved in the site redesign from inception to roll-out. He says that although some of the noted flaws were addressed in iterative changes to the original site, the database of collected suggestions for improvement became the starting point for the overall redesign. The new site is expected to make services more efficient, enable personalized content, be user-friendly, and enhance participation, communication, and transparency.
More Efficient Services
Sometimes the current web site services slow things down unnecessarily. For example, the process by which users become members of the JCP community can be aggravating and even impact an Expert Group's formation. The original prospect of printing out a form, filling it out by hand, and submitting it to the PMO was a sticky wicket. Having been invited to join an Expert Group, folks might delay applying for membership in the JCP until the Expert Group was about to close. If their faxed-in, handwritten form was illegible at any place on the form, or if the person who typed the information into the database introduced a typo, the applicant might not get their passwords or introductory information ironed out within the remaining time window.
The new site streamlines this process by having the applicant input their data directly into an online form. The form can then be printed for legal review, signed, and submitted. Not only is it quick and easy, but there is a much smaller chance of introducing errors. As a result, getting into an Expert Group is that much easier.
In the web site's not-so-olden days, members may have had to remember several log-in procedures. The necessity of this would depend on their level of involvement and whether they were a general user, a JCP Member, an Expert serving on an Expert Group, a Spec Lead, or an Executive Committee (EC) representative. Now this log-in information is consolidated for each user, who has only one sign-on name and password.
The feature of customizing the JCP Program's content for a person's individual needs is finally here. Some folks are breathing a big sigh of relief over this new capability.
As the number of JSRs has grown, users have wished for a way to focus more easily on the particular JSRs that they have an interest in. Now each user will have their own My JSRs Page. This page is a watch list with three sections: JSRs I Lead, JSRs I Serve On, and JSRs I Watch. Whenever something changes for a JSR listed on the page, an update icon appears to let the user click through to whatever has been changed. This page also contains quick links to areas of interest for those JSRs: the Community Update pages, the Expert Group private pages, and the JSR Discussion boards, among others.
Question: What could be better for a user than going to the web site to see what's up with all this personalized content? Answer: Having the ability to view it from a favorite mobile reading spot, wherever that might be. To make it easier to access preferred JCP content without actually going to the web site, busy people can now subscribe via Really Simple Syndication (RSS) to updates on the technologies, specifications, and discussion boards they're tracking.
"In order to involve the large user community, we've needed a vehicle that permitted the public to see what was happening with a JSR," said David Nuescheler, chief technology officer (CTO) of Day Software and Star Spec Lead. "The new web site enables any user to organize a list of JSRs to watch, and they can view public comments on the discussion boards. The easier the JCP program makes it for users to contribute their ideas, the better our specifications will be."
The web site is full of helpful and interesting information on technologies, procedures, and community members. However, if the content is hard to locate, it's useless. The revamped site includes the same content as before, but with a more logical flow of menus to make it easier to navigate to the preferred information. Moreover, an improved search engine allows any JSR to be located by its number, its name, or by keyword descriptions. This is a major help since about half of the JCP members recall a JSR by its number, while the other half remember only its name.
Enhanced Participation, Communication, and Transparency
The entire JCP web site is built around the JSR development process, and that isn't changing. But much has been done to streamline Expert Group output for review by the community.
Expert Groups have always been given simple email aliases for communication, but they were too simple, Harold says. Spec Leads wanted a more robust method of communication, so the PMO has implemented message boards to enhance a more open, transparent exchange of ideas. Message boards allow users to interact with them through email or by a web interface. Moreover, message boards on the new site include an archive that is much easier to browse than the partially-implemented archives of the old site. With such browsing improvements, Spec Leads may find it less necessary to write summary messages that recap a given thread of discussion.
"JCP is based on collaboration between Expert Group members. Having online forums significantly enhances this collaboration," said Jean-Marie Dautelle, individual member of the JCP program and Java ME EC representative. "As an Expert Group member, I am quite happy to move away from the rather convoluted and time-consuming e-mail based solution!"
Message boards are not just for Expert Groups. There is a general JCP Program board for members who wish to talk about any aspect of the process or program. Each Java technology platform (Java Enterprise Edition (EE), Java Standard Edition (SE), and Java Micro Edition (ME)) will have its own message board. Other boards will provide a gathering place for those interested in a particular technology group, including Operations Support System through Java (OSS/J), Java APIs for Integrated Networks (JAIN), and the Extensible Markup Language (XML).
"I'm looking forward to seeing the community take advantage of the new message boards that promote discussion of various Java technologies and platforms, especially the one that I oversee, Java Enterprise Edition," said Bill Shannon, distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems, Star Spec Lead in the JCP program. "To stay informed, it's critical for me to keep the pulse of the JSRs I'm leading and overseeing as well as related JSRs. Being able to have my own personalized page as a gateway into those particular content areas will also be a big time saver."
These message boards provide space for getting the nitty gritty work done. They also form the virtual equivalent to the socializing "water cooler" area, a place for informal networking and shop talk.
Benefits for All
The new jcp.org web site enables everyone to do more than was possible previously. Even public users can take advantage of the opportunity to personalize their view of the site, access message boards with the public's comments included, and quick-search for JSR pages. In addition to those features, Spec Leads will find it easier to edit JSR pages and update JSR community pages, as well as use the new message boards to make their own announcements to the user community. EC members will have their own message boards and will have a single login process to enter the balloting area so they can vote on JSRs.
"The new JCP web site is a dream come true for every Spec Lead who has had to work so hard to keep the Expert Group updated on discussions and decisions," said Nasir Khan, architect of BEA's Weblogic SIP Server product and Spec Lead for JSR 289, SIP Servlet v1.1. "The message boards, personalized pages, and RSS feed are exactly what is needed to improve communication among ourselves and with the community at large."
More on the Way
The PMO's database of suggestions for how to improve the web site is extensive, and every detail is not being addressed in this roll-out. But this site was built with more in mind, so stay tuned for additional improvements. For example, in the future, the search engine will also be able to search for articles, success stories, case studies, tutorials, bios, and other content.
According to Harold, no features have been dropped. "Details on the list will be implemented sooner or later," he says. Moreover, JSR 306, Towards a New Version of the JCP, is still in the works. The process changes it is specifying have had "no impact on the current launch, but will certainly affect future revisions," Harold predicts.
EC members and other users tested a prototype of the site in Spring 2006 to offer their early reactions and suggestions. And in the weeks leading up to the launch, Harold and his team spent considerable time testing the web site. Harold says, "What I've seen so far is very satisfying. I'm enthused about the launch of the site. I anticipate that the community will likewise be enthused, especially the more involved users, such as Spec Leads and Executive Committee members, who will be able to do more."
"Clearly, the benefits to the JCP community are going to be substantial," said Eamonn McManus, Star Spec Lead and architect for the Java Management Extensions (JMX) team at Sun Microsystems. "Efficiencies have been made on nearly every level, from the online application for membership to the archiving of discussions and the ability to personalize and search for content. It will be interesting to see how much this boosts the speed and productivity of Expert Groups going forward."
Everyone Can Sign Up
For anyone who has even the slightest interest in the goings-on of the JCP community, there's really no reason to continue lurking outside the gates. Membership is free for individuals, and signing up is easier than ever. Register now to take advantage of all that the new jcp.org web site has to offer.