Announcing Solr Usability contest

In collaboration with Packt Publishing and to celebrate the release of my new book Instant Apache Solr for Indexing Data How-to,  we are organizing a contest to collect Solr Usability ideas.

I have written about the reasons behind the book before and the contest builds on that idea. Basically, I feel that a lot of people are able to start with Solr and get basic setup running, either directly or as part of other projects Solr is in. But then, they get stuck at a local-maximum of their understanding and have difficulty moving forward because they don’t fully comprehend how their configuration actually works or which of the parameters can be tuned to get results. And the difficulty is even greater when the initial Solr configuration is generated by an external system, such as Nutch, Drupal or SiteCore automatically behind the scenes.

The contest will run for 4 weeks (until mid-August 2013) and people suggesting the five ideas with most votes will get free electronic copies of  my book. Of course, if you want to get the book now, feel free. I’ll make sure you will get rewarded in some other way, such as through advanced access to the upcoming Solr tools like SolrLint.

The results of the contest will be analyzed and fed into Solr improvement by better documentation, focused articles or feature requests on issue trackers. The end goal is not to give away a couple of books. There are much easier ways to do that. The goal is to improve Solr with specific focus on learning curve and easy adoption and integration.

How does the contest compares to other Solr resources?

  • Solr User mailing list – The mailing list is a fantastic resource. Core contributors hang around and the discussion range from philosophical to deeply esoteric. At the same time, it is a high-volume mailing list specializing on Solr itself. While the beginners are very welcome, they are not the focus and it is easy to get overwhelmed. There is an expectation that somebody will at least try to read the available resources and integrate the knowledge on their own first.
  • Stack Overflow – Stack Overflow is designed for Questions and Answers on specific problems that will be useful to wider community. And while beginners often have questions that other beginners will also have, those themes are hard to extrapolate by looking at individual SO questions. Additionally, SO Solr community is pretty small and most of the answers are provided by only a handful of people.
  • Framework-specific communities (e.g. for SolrNet or for Project Blacklight) are great for questions on the specific framework and how Solr is expressed through those framework. But there is an expectation of general understanding of Solr and intermediate Solr questions are often sent to the Solr User mailing list. This, in some cases, can create a gap of support where particular types of questions cannot be answered by either community. Additionally, the themes that show up in one community might be similar to themes in another community, but there is no real common ground to discover those. I am hoping that members of different communities will meet at the contest page and ideas will emerge that in-retrospect could be obvious barriers to Solr adoption.
  • Issue trackers – while anybody and everybody is encouraged to create issues for Solr or other related projects, these are often only used by advanced users and/or developers. There is an etiquette and informal rules around such systems, which often require a learning curve on its own. The beginners often don’t have real bugs, as much as a lack of understanding of how to put working features together for the best results.
  • Books, Wikis and online tutorials –  All of these are fantastic resources for people to study on their own, but there are no real study-groups around them, so no communal learning/reinforcement happens.

So, if you have been using Solr for a while and the memories of times you got stuck are fresh in your mind, participate in the contest and make it easier for others to adopt Solr too. Oh, and follow me at Twitter to get the short status updates during the contest.

Updated:

  1. First progress update after one week (August 1st)