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Kunena 4.0: situation report May 2015

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Kunena 4.0 beta is an­nounced

How is K 4.0 different from K 3.0?  Where are the user guides?  Where is the docu­men­ta­tion?

Marketing K 4.0

A client asked me today “What, in your opinion, is the best forum product?”  Without hesitation I replied, “Kunena is the ‘only’ forum product for Joomla!”  Of course there are other forum products—there are other forum products for Joomla—but Kunena is the only product that I can recommend with total con­fi­dence.  The announcement in April this year about K 4.0 beta was good news.  It has taken the Kunena team more than 2 years to now be in a position to offer a version of the next generation of Kunena for the community to test.  How has the com­munity responded and how will the com­munity judge this next, new version that has taken so long to produce?  Only time will tell, of course.

The article about K 4.0 beta was well-written and I congratulate its author, Florian Dal Fitto, for taking charge of the marketing side of things.  K 4.0 still only exists as a beta version—and there is no shame in acknow­ledging that all beta software contains defects (even lots of defects).  Given the deepening mystery surrounding the project and the information vacuum that we’ve had for months, I was very pleased that Florian’s article contained more information (including some screenshots) about the team’s plans over the coming weeks.  Leaving aside the fact that the K 4.0 beta versions that have been released to date did (and still do) contain a lot of errors—we should not punish the team for those faults—overall the whole K 4.0 story has been a disappointing one and, I am sorry to say, it still disappoints me.

Kunena 4.0 beta is announced

As I wrote above, the announcement about K 4.0 beta—the first detailed public announcement from the Kunena development team for the Kunena community—was great to see.  It is understandable that, in a small team, software developers do not have the time to design, code, test, debug, release new software updates and write promotional material for their product.  It is understandable when small project team lacks the project manage­ment and marketing skills.  Successful business enterprises usually appoint a project manager and a marketing rep­re­sen­ta­tive to manage the pro­ject and openly stand up and deliver the promotional message.  If businesses lack these resources then they take their chances on the open market.  Perhaps the Kunena team does not believe that a credible com­pe­ti­tion exists—(as I com­mented earlier) “Kunena is the only forum product for Joomla!”—but this does not excuse the failure of the project’s approach to marketing.

I was excited to read the announcement about K 4.0 beta—a native Joomla extension[1] for J! 2.5 and J! 3.4—and, in particular, to what would be the community’s response.  I feel sorry for the project team that the response was not overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  The initial reaction has been from a small number of people (perhaps half-a-dozen)  with results of their own testing and the defects they encountered.  A larger number of people used the opportunity to contribute their own ideas for new features that they believe are important.  I suspect that one of the reasons that there was not a flood of en­thu­siastic support (or comments like “Con­gratulations, team, this new version is great!”) is because the community's involvement with and interest in Kunena has been steadily declining:  4 years ago the Kunena forum had over 140 messages posted each day; these days the number is less than 25.  In this sense, I feel sorry for the project team that the reception to the announcement has been disappointingly small.

One of the big surprises was the creation of another “new ideas” category at the Kunena site.  No-one has any objection to seeking fresh ideas.  There is a danger, however, in adopting those ideas as additional core functionality when a software project is supposed to be nearing completion.  With less than a month to go, the developers are still adding new features from the ideas they have received on the Kunena forum.  Although it may be good from a marketing angle to encourage these new ideas, it is not good from a project management perspective to be encouraging these ideas at this time.  In my opinion, these late changes could seriously jeopardise the delivery time­frame, the overall stability and the repu­tation of the team behind the K 4.0 project.

How different is K 4.0 to previous versions?

The first big difference that people will notice about K 4.0 is that, as far as we can tell, there is no website using it.  If there are websites that are using K 4.0 the Kunena team is being quite discreet about revealing what they know.  One of the most impressive features about previous versions of Kunena has been its web site:  the forum has always used the latest version as a live demonstration and proof that the developers have confidence in their product.  There have even been the times when beta versions of previous generations of Kunena have been used on the website.  I do not know why the project team has not installed K 4.0 at http://www.kunena.org.  It is a mystery to me that the project team has not openly discussed its plans for a public demon­stration of K 4.0—I can think of no better place to demonstrate this other than at the Kunena website—with the community.  It is dis­appointing that the project team cannot publicly demon­strate K 4.0 to the community.

Secondly, K 4.0 is very different to K 3.0; more than one-third of the codebase has been completely rewritten.  I lost track of the number of new features about six months ago and, at that time, there were more than 50 of them.  These new changes—new configuration settings, different menu options, new features, a completely new forum template, Javascript and CSS—will come as a complete shock to a lot of people.  Further, the team that was responsible for designing and testing K 4.0 has undergone several changes in the past two years and it is not quite the same as the team behind K 3.0.

What will come as a big disappointment is that there are no articles, tutorials or infor­mation explaining how to use these new features properly or what people might be able to do if they want to do something differently.  The only documentation that exists at the moment are the product release notes.  The product release notes are not a comprehensive guide to Kunena.

People may be aware that the project team recently locked down the Kunena Wiki site.  It is disappointing that the project team felt it necessary to prevent ordinary members of the community making worthwhile contributions to (as well as correcting grammatical and factual mistakes in) Kunena's documentation.  I understand that the project team intends to abandon the Wiki (built with mediaWiki) at some future time but I do not know how the new documentation repository will be compiled—there's a cloud of mystery around the project at the moment and suspicions that some team members are engaging in “secret squirrel business[2]”—but this is also another “wait and see”.  I hope that we will not have to wait too long to find out what is happening in this important area of product documentation.

Marketing K 4.0

My purpose in writing about Kunena (and the project overall) is to highlight the community’s concerns and offer my thoughts on how the project team might better address those concerns.  Although I have written “dis­appointing” a fair bit lately I am still optimistic that the team will take my criticism as con­structive, helfpul and sup­por­tive advice which is what I have intended it to mean.

It has been disappointing to see, particularly recently, the community’s needs have not always been the developers’ focal point.  For most of us, Kunena is simply a means to an end.  Our interest is not on the product itself but, instead, on how the team intends to develop and support it into the future and bring us along with it.  The project team needs to remember that most people who use Kunena are not experts and most people don’t really care how the internals of the product work.

The project team has underutilised the opportunities to engage with community and explain their plans.  There are many avenues available to the team to do this.

In a couple of days—if the project timetable is kept—the first K 4.0 release candidate is expected to be announced.  In project management terms,

A release candidate (RC) is a beta version with potential to be a final product, which is ready to release unless significant bugs emerge. In this stage of product stabilisation, all product features have been designed, coded and tested through one or more beta cycles with no known showstopper-class bug. A release is called code complete when the development team agrees that no entirely new source code will be added to this release. There could still be source code changes to fix defects, changes to documentation and data files, and peripheral code for test cases or utilities.Software release life cycle, Wikipedia

If K 4.0 RC1 genuinely has the potential to be the final product, there should be nothing preventing the project team under­taking the following ac­tivities:

  1. implement K 4.0 RC1 at the Kunena web site;
  2. quarantine all further enhancements;
  3. create new forum categories for asking (and answering) questions about K 4.0; and
  4. make publicly available documentation, user guides, tutorials.

If these things do not occur then, in all honesty, we would have to conclude that K 4.0 RC1 will be “just another beta”.

Once again, congratulations to Florian Dal Fitto for the stand-out job that he did in taking on the pro­mo­tional duties on behalf of the Kunena team—I know how difficult it is to write something that reads well—and I sincerely wish him and the team every success.


[1]  The term “native Joomla extension” may be confusing to some readers. The term first appeared around the time of J! 1.5 which came in two “flavours”: native and legacy mode. Legacy mode offered some backward-compatibility capability for people who relied on older J! 1.0 components, modules, plugins, etc. on their sites; this was achieved by enabling the System – Legacy plugin. Starting with J! 1.6 (which later evolved into J! 2.5) “native Joomla” meant that extensions had to be built using Joomla’s MVC methodology.

From J! 3.0, some of Joomla’s classes and calling mechanisms changed but, in order to provide backward-compatibility for people using J! 3.0 extensions on J! 2.5 websites, Joomla allowed extension developers to maintain their software with renamed legacy-style interfaces. Strictly-speaking, most of Joomla’s core extensions are not “native”.

Starting with J! 4.0, these legacy interfaces are expected to be removed from Joomla.

As far as Kunena is concerned, K 3.0 is not strictly a “native” Joomla component. Although Kunena uses MVC, K 3.0 still retains many of Joomla’s deprecated J! 2.5 calling structures to allow its operability on J! 3.x websites. K 4.0 uses a new methodology known as HMVC (which is not fully supported by Joomla at this stage). In several ways, therefore, Kunena is not “native” in a strictly literal sense, although it behaves that way for all practical purposes. Readers may therefore be slightly puzzled when they read (in the product release notes, for example) the term “native Joomla extension” but, for all practical purposes, you should not be concerned about the terminology nor that that K 4.0 will function any differently to any other Joomla extension; Kunena is simply an extension for Joomla; K 4.0 still retains some legacy [J! 2.5] functionality.

[2]  Secret Squirrel was a children's cartoon character in the 1960s.  The term “secret squirrel” applies to those who are engaged in undercover or covert operations.

About the author:

is a website hobbyist specialising in Joomla, a former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years, and an active contributor on The Joomla Forum™. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.

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