The Platypus Problem


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Drupal - and many other open projects -- get caught in the trap of inexplicable emergent complexity. Can taking the "Ecosystem" analogy seriously help us understand the challenges we face? I say yes. Because I think it can. Yes.

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The Platypus Problem

  1. 1. Hi. I’m eaton. Saturday, October 16, 2010 Jeff Eaton. Core Drupal developer. Co-author of Using Drupal. Consultant and architect at Lullabot.
  2. 2. Saturday, October 16, 2010 Primarily large clients Helping them plan, get out of pickles, etc. Lots of training, public and private. Although I got involved with code, I spend most of my time planning and coordinating. I’m that guy.
  3. 3. WARNIN G NO COD E Saturday, October 16, 2010 A warning: Today is a NO CODE ZONE. We’re thinking meta. This is my cheesemonger. No money to think meta. This is the White House. No time to think meta. Both of them are affected - mom’s D5 site broke, and drupal is now different At events like this we have the luxury of it. We’re planning for the future.
  4. 4. Saturday, October 16, 2010 Let’s go to imagination land and think about some big questions.
  5. 5. 1: Platypodes 2: Carnivore, Bill 3: Mammal, Eggs 4: Electric Nose 5: Milk Sweat 6: Poison Feet Saturday, October 16, 2010 Plural is NOT platypi Chipmunk cheeks, too. Two ovaries, but they only use one
  6. 6. Phase 2? Nuclear Hooves Saturday, October 16, 2010
  7. 7. 1: Three Queues 2: Profile Module 3: Two Actions 4: OOrrays 5: Block Regions 6: Yeah, Images Saturday, October 16, 2010 Remind anyone of something? Drupal - our complexity is platypus-style
  8. 8. Version 8? Poisonous Feet Saturday, October 16, 2010
  9. 9. The Platypus Problem: Inexplicable Emergent Complexity Saturday, October 16, 2010
  10. 10. Saturday, October 16, 2010 Is complexity truly a problem? Isn’t it something that we can throw more people at? More documentation? Isn’t it just the eternal tug-of-war?
  11. 11. Construction Saturday, October 16, 2010 “There’s a module for that” -- or 100 modules How many tools do you have on your largest site? How many modules? Did you use the RIGHT ONES? How do you know? Are they released? are they changing? Security update? Cross-module compatability?
  12. 12. Code Saturday, October 16, 2010 Solving bigger and bigger problems. We have more contributors, we have more moving parts. Dries doesn't get it all, webchick can't keep track, chx doesn't recognize it all I don't even know what modules were released this week Same problem in contrib: Views for Drupal 6 is larger than Drupal 5 Multiple solutions emerging every day
  13. 13. Community Saturday, October 16, 2010 It's not a club anymore. There are whole swaths of people who didn't get the 'chx' joke Who should do X? Who should I ASK about Y? Who’s responsible for Y? Pay vs Hobbyists? What is Karma FOR? Who explains Karma to the newcomers?
  14. 14. Yes. It’s a Problem. Saturday, October 16, 2010 How do we cope with it? How do we understand it? The good news is that it’s not just our problem.
  15. 15. “I put a GridView onto my CallBack control and now I get a ViewState is corrupt error”. The real answer to this question is not the one supplied: “this is fixed in the next version.” Saturday, October 16, 2010 ASP.Net projects rely on an ecosystem of Web Controls Upgrade compatabilities, support hassles, etc.
  16. 16. “It’s a pile of spaghetti with insane indirection and module dependencies and you’re lucky if you manage to import anything at all. Every other function tries to import modules for you automatically and circular imports are the norm.” Saturday, October 16, 2010 Django is a cluster of inter-dependent components Build tools manage the complexity, but it’s there!
  17. 17. “From a system administration standpoint, Plone is just shy of being the absolute devil.” Saturday, October 16, 2010 See, that’s just funny. Wordpress plugin bloat is a growing problem ExpressionEngine users are complaining that “really” building a site requires piles of addons
  18. 18. Saturday, October 16, 2010 Wordpress plugin bloat is a growing problem Joomla! users have to manage their themes’ compatability with their plugins ExpressionEngine users are complaining that “really” building a site requires piles of addons... Linux is and always will be Linux.
  19. 19. NOT US Saturday, October 16, 2010 We are not special snowflakes. Drupal IS particularly susceptible to this Even the core software itself is built that way Culture of cross-module interaction But it's a general problem.
  20. 20. But… But… Architecture! It’s great to plan what you control. Saturday, October 16, 2010 Architecture was supposed to protect us from this. Architecture is about plans and execution. Blueprints and timelines and tradeoffs OH THE GANNNNNNNNT CHARTS
  21. 21. for what YOU Saturday, October 16, 2010 control Can this be emphasized enough? Cathedral and Bazaar has its dark side Big danger is in ignoring it House with sump pumps
  22. 22. Saturday, October 16, 2010 Back to the platypus... Think of Drupal like evolution. We talk a lot about it, but rarely take it seriously. Even use "Natural selection" to talk about module success Dries said patches are mutations! We call Drupal an Ecosystem, but we ignore it when we plan.
  23. 23. Drupal: An Ecosystem? Saturday, October 16, 2010 We call Drupal an Ecosystem, but we ignore it when we plan. All the organisms, and habitats, etc that make up an area. The whole that emerges from all the little parts. They're independent, but related. Interdependent.
  24. 24. Drupal: An Ecosystem? Saturday, October 16, 2010 Core! Everyone Depends on it! Third-party modules -- jillions of them! Participants come and go, submit patches Teeny modules emerge to fill gaps, and vanish when the techniques fall out of favor
  25. 25. Drupal: An Ecosystem? Saturday, October 16, 2010 Modules live on sites Some sites add resources back in sponsoring development with money or developer-hours
  26. 26. Drupal: An Ecosystem? Saturday, October 16, 2010 No roadmap, no master plan. The otter can’t force the turtle to help. Wild and crazy. It works! But seriously... what does it look like if we take it seriously?
  27. 27. Every module is a species! Core is a critter, too. Saturday, October 16, 2010 They evolve over time, compete, swallow each other up, etc. Sometimes they die because there isn't a place for them or they're superceded Flexinode to CCK to FieldAPI -- and modules that used to do those focused things. Views today isn't the Views of 2 years ago, and other modules have evolved to depend on it.
  28. 28. Mutations! Patches are where change happens Saturday, October 16, 2010 They come constantly. Sometimes they get folded back into the main 'tree' of code sometimes they die off but they're how drupal core and all the modules evolve.
  29. 29. Habitats: The web sites where modules live and learn Saturday, October 16, 2010 Modules live on sites. Modules that live in lots of habitats tend to thrive better Selection pressures = size or traffic demands or specific features These filter out modules that are not well adapted
  30. 30. Profiles? Biomes! Well- known types of habitats. Er, sites. Saturday, October 16, 2010 Biomes are They are the commonalities across many habitats, patterns that we can recognize. They let us learn and share the knowledge. They let us spot what DOESN’T make sense, too
  31. 31. Developers? NOM NOM NOM Saturday, October 16, 2010 More accurately, their time is food. High-protein food for cats is different than high-fiber bamboo for a panda different developers have different areas of expertise and knowledge.
  32. 32. Drupal: An Ecosystem. Saturday, October 16, 2010
  33. 33. Does it help us understand? Saturday, October 16, 2010
  34. 34. Don’t Hack Core! Saturday, October 16, 2010 Eventually, you inevitably diverge so much that you can't cross-breed. You're a mule! The Onion faced that problem. Platypuses face that problem, too. All their living relatives are extinct. "Hack core, and you're dead to me."
  35. 35. Why is it so ugly? Saturday, October 16, 2010 Key word -- design. The best work tends to emerge from the specific habitat rather than the evolutionary process. Why isn't the platypus PRETTIER? Although great design has been *dropped* on Drupal several times, it rarely emerges from the evolutionary process.
  36. 36. There’s a module for that! Saturday, October 16, 2010 Diversity is a good thing! Lots of little critters that fill lots of niches is good. It means that there are lots of solutions being created, and lots of evolution happening.
  37. 37. …But don’t duplicate modules! Saturday, October 16, 2010 Different needs, different solutions. But resource starvation is dangerous. If you're duplicating someone else's work, that's two of you who could be working on (feeding?) the same module.
  38. 38. Complexity is a disease! (…but we need wysiwyg so bad…) Saturday, October 16, 2010 ...But we need more stuff in core. Small things need less food, and are more nimble. It means more interdependencies, but it doesn't put all the chips in one spot. It puts the complexity into the SYSTEM, not into the SPECIES. It’s a tradeoff that makes us more agile in some ways but more vulnerable in others
  39. 39. Talk is silver code is gold Saturday, October 16, 2010 The 'natural selection' quality only kicks in when something is out there. Ideas are important and need to be discussed and evaluated, but the process that the vast majority of the community
  40. 40. The take-away Saturday, October 16, 2010
  41. 41. Study your habitat Saturday, October 16, 2010 Look at your site using that habitat analogy Think of it in terms of the high level functions that it needs: user feedback, product sales, etc Consider what kinds of ‘creatures’ are well suited for it Putting dev hours into contrib is like feeding the fauna
  42. 42. Know your honeybees Saturday, October 16, 2010 Anyone know about the honeybee crash? Study the subtle interdependencies in your habitat/site. Watch the vulnerable parts - does your site live and die by hook_cron? Is there one contributor that helps in every issue?
  43. 43. Spot the mammals Saturday, October 16, 2010 Change comes, and the tools you built with will change. Ber Kessels -- God bless him -- stuck with Flexinode. Watch new modules, screencasts, blog posts, site writeups Watch for trends that affect you.
  44. 44. Plan for extinction Saturday, October 16, 2010 Modules go away. Contributors get busy, start dating. Maintaining dead modules is like captive breeding EXERCISE: pick five modules, pretend they vanished
  45. 45. Ar r r r r r. Respect the platypodes Saturday, October 16, 2010 Inexplicable, emergent complexity can baffle us all. The biggest danger is pretending it isn’t there Architecture needs context. Don’t punt on complexity - it’s like saying, “Use sump pumps.”