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FSE Outreach Experimental Loses Two Words, Gains New Life

Sometimes success means having to say goodbye. That’s sort of what happened to the FSE Outreach Program, newly launched as plain Outreach.

The longtime facilitator of this initiative, Automattic Product Wrangler Anne McCarthy, announced the upcoming changes in September 2023:

What started as an experimental program in May 2020 with the expectation that the Site Editor would ship in the following 6 or so months turned into nearly 3.5 years of feedback loops, knowledge sharing, and community building. With WordPress 6.3 bringing Phase 2 to completion, it’s time for the FSE Outreach Program to evolve alongside the broader WordPress project and needs.

The intention was to “get feedback about pain points to the right people faster and help keep us on track for Phase 2”. We did this! You did this.
All good things must come to an end–or they need to adapt to continue to stay relevant. 

It was the culmination of consistent commitment to both expand the scope of testers and to nudge users to experiment with new features:

The primary goal is to help improve the Full Site Editing experience by gathering feedback from WordPress site builders […] the program also seeks to grow awareness and ability with full site editing features.

As the adoption of the Site Editor (nee FSE, or Full Site Editing) continues to grow, it’s time to refocus on discoverability and redefine the program’s goals.

Extending the Test Team

The first step—renaming the Making WordPress Slack channel to #outreach—has been completed. But as culture has taught us—from William Shakespeare to failed rebranding endeavors—a new name doesn’t change the nature of the object it delineates.

Birgit Pauli-Haack, leading the new program, sees Outreach as an enablement platform where site builders and extenders collaborate with core developers. With teammates Justin Tadlock and Nick Diego, she’ll coordinate the effort to recalibrate the program to further this partnership and deepen the community’s trust.

In her proposal post on the Core blog, Pauli-Haack listed several use cases for the rebranded channel, aiming to keep it approachable, friendly, and wide-ranged—a destination for WordPress newcomers and professionals alike.

“The FSE Outreach program made it clear that connecting in this channel facilitated participants’ first contributions and lowered the barrier to connecting with the open-source project,” says Pauli-Haack, clarifying that “because site builders and extenders regularly intersect, the channel’s content will be relevant to both user groups. There’s a lot of overlap of interests and concerns.”

Outreach will be a place to:

  1. Connect with Developer Hours and Hallway Hangouts presenters beyond the live event.
  2. Resurface relevant content from the Dev Chat about upcoming features and call for testing from various teams.
  3. Collect feedback on breaking changes in future releases and provide answers and workarounds.
  4. Allow design and engineering teams to tap into this extended user base for input on GitHub issues and Trac tickets.
  5. Arrange ad hoc working groups for issues raised across social media that are outside the scope of the Support team.
  6. Provide support and resources to Meetup organizers.

Rather than a link between support and marketing or even a dedicated end-user-oriented developer advocacy initiative, Pauli-Haack thinks of Outreach as an extension of the Test team: “It is part of the open-source process to build the software and close feedback loops, ideally before the next version is released or to help improve the current functionality. It is part of user testing in a broader sense.”

A welcome side effect of the original program was the comeback of the Test team, whose members now post regular updates and proactively share testing instructions aimed at non-developers.

No Bug Reports Needed

Two comments posted in response to the “What’s next” post echoed a long-standing obstacle, particularly for casual, non-technical contributors: how to encourage them to share feedback while lowering the barrier to entry associated with GitHub.

How will Outreach address these issues?
“The program is another way for site builders and developers to get comfortable contributing and collaborating on the open-source project. Any constructive and problem-oriented feedback is welcome, especially if it doesn’t fit into the guardrails of a bug report or a feature request. By discussion and collaboration, we discover the next steps to a possible solution.

It’s also an opportunity for extenders to find an open ear for airing pain points on extending WordPress. Part of the extender Outreach is the Extensibility Issues Triage initiative. Each month, contributors from agencies and extenders go through the project board of identified issues, try to move them forward to get them reviewed and ultimately merged.”

A Group Endeavor

In the recap of the Hallway Hangout dedicated to discussing these typical difficulties and possible ways to alleviate them, the team proposed actionable steps:

  • Set up a GitHub team that contributors can ping when they want to gather early feedback from users.
  • Encourage engineers to use the Outreach channel to request extenders’ feedback on new features earlier in development before they’re merged and shipped.
  • Create a wishlist for upcoming releases to get users’ input on priorities. This overlaps with the Extensibility Issues Triage initiative.

The goal is to make the Outreach Program more accessible and sustainable, improve collaboration across teams, and help guide WordPress development through early and ongoing user and contributor input.

Coming up with ideas is the easy part—making them happen is the real challenge. As Pauli-Haack mentioned, “This can only be a group endeavor if we want to broaden the reach and be a welcoming place for people interested in particular focuses of the software.“

How will you ensure that the channel remains focused, and balances sometimes conflicting needs and interests?
“These are ideas that come from knowing that non-contributors need to connect with contributors. We want to ensure an ongoing humming in the channel, letting people know what’s happening. As this is still a young initiative, we will see what will come of it. It’s version one, and we will continue to iterate.”