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01Apr2015

Kunena 4.0: a brief history in development and marketing

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1445 hits Updated: 24 April 2015

A brief history in marketing Kunena 4.0

What about Kunena 3.0?

Imagine that you have decided to invite your family or friends to a restaurant: you’re not trying to impress anyone; you just want to enjoy a relaxing meal out.  You do the necessary preparations—book the restaurant, get a couple of bottles of your favourite wine from home—arrive and you’re seated at the table.  The waiter hands out the dinner menus and talks about the “specials”.  You and your guests decide to order the special meals and open your wine.  After a couple of hours, you’ve eaten the bread, the bottles of wine are empty but the meal still hasn’t arrived.  You start to get a little nervous (and impatient) because you and your guests haven’t eaten.

You call the waiter’s attention to your agitated state and and your growing concerns for you and your guests (even though other patrons at the restaurant seem to be enjoying “standard menu” meals).  The waiter smiles disingenuously and you hear something like “chef is just putting the final touches on your meals” and that you will be served “soon”.  Perhaps the alcohol has affected your judgement but with some reluctance you decide to accept the waiter’s explanation, remain seated at the table getting hungrier (and more impatient) as the night wears on.  What started out as a pleasant evening is soon turning into a nightmare.

Does this sound familiar?  Even if you haven’t experienced this, your appetite would have been ruined not to mention your embarrassment and reputation as an epicure.

As difficult as it been to obtain information about when the next release will be ready, the story of Kunena is a bit like the one I’ve just related.  It’s a story punctuated with references to putting the “final touches” on the product; it’s a story that has grown into a never-ending saga.  It’s like the restaurant waiter telling you that your meal will be ready “soon” while he fills your glasses with water:

We are fixing the final bugs [in the new Kunena 3.1] … then we are releasing the beta."810", How can I change the BBcode toolbar buttons?, 26-May-2014
We are finalising the new features. Stay tuned for the new Kunena 3.1.Jelle Kok, Google+, 9-Jul-2014

Although it’s possible to work your way through the technical narrative, it’s not easy to follow.  Returning to my restaurant analogy, when you’re dining out you really don’t care what’s happening in the kitchen as long as the meal was prepared by a qualified chef and you don’t suffer any ill-effects the following day.  Therefore, unless you have the patience and the enthusiasm to sift through detailed technical discussions, you sit and wait for someone to explain what is happening in a simple lay terms.

The first indication that the “final touches” line wasn’t was not resonating with the community came in August last year:

I feel bad that I’ve not been able to work on Kunena during a few past months … [and] during the past few weeks we’re been able to resume to normal operation … to fix the architectural issues on K 3.1 (where I’m the best person to do those). I personally still care about the future of the project and want it to succeed, I’ve been planning the best ways to achieve our ambitious goals. So even if it has been silent, it doesn’t mean that the storm isn’t coming. I agree that we were further along with our plans, but unfortunately there have been some unfortunate events that have forced us to push our plans back.

Right now we are targeting to get Kunena 3.1 (version number is still open) out as fast as it’s possible and it will bring a fresh and well planned template for those who are already using Joomla 3.3 as well as numerous smaller improvements under the hood."Matias", Kunena idea to move forward into the future, 18-Jul-2014
Kunena 3.1 is coming …Kunena Team, Twitter, 15-Aug-2014
… will get you a screenshot soon …Kunena Team, Twitter, 24-Aug-2014

As I reported in September last year, with Matias effectively sidelined because of illness and without his leadership, the project careened into a frenzy of “adventurous experimentation”.   Around this time I was one of the first people to openly point out to the team that K 3.1 had overreached its objectives and that the new version would be better marketed as K 4.0.  My suggestion was rejected then but I would be eventually vindicated some 7½ months later.  The point that I want to make is that community had already become disillusioned with the team’s poor performance, spiralling scope creep, failed targets and the constant information vacuum.  Those few who remained optimistic bunkered down and went into damage control:

We unfortunately do not have much new information to share. We have various team members still working on pieces of the software and those parts are progressing (templating, design, etc.).  However we have limited experienced architecture developers that can take the current algorithmic code and have a wide experience and knowledge in how to fix and implement some blocking problems to get Kunena 3.1 ready.  I foresee a stalled situation until we get get our time (which relates to cost) of developing Kunena.

Like I have stated in the past, we are interested in [bringing people into] the project.  We are looking for someone that has an ambition for PHP 5.4+ oriented projects regarding experience, and an ability to navigate and understand architecture based code rather than fronted oriented code manipulation."coder4life", When will K 3.1 be released?, 25-Nov-2014

I tried to find where, and in what context, the author of the above quote had previously stated that the team was interested in obtaining new members.  Perhaps my searching skills are inadequate to the task, or perhaps the author was labouring under a misapprehension, or perhaps it was a case of—to use one of Winston Churchill’s favourite sayings—a terminological inexactitude.  Whatever the case, the reality is that three team members have subsequently left and there have been no new additions to the team in the meantime.  If we are to accept that the project slippage is justifiable because of an insufficiency of “experienced architecture developers”—and not because of project overreach—then we are being asked to accept something at odds with everyone else’s assurances that the project is running smoothly.

As I have previously mentioned, the community wants tangible evidence of something more than the promise of more screenshots and assurances; people are demanding proof that their hunger will be satisfied and not merely something to whet their appetite more.  The community has been fairly patient but there are already signs of an exodus because of the continuing information vacuum and the ongoing, unfulfilled promises.

This weekend you will see more [screenshots and information about K 3.1] …"810", Status update?, 27-Jan-2015
We want to release K 3.1 soon …"810", Saving of "read messages" in database, 20-Feb-2015

I could not agree more but I think we’ve heard soon™ enough.  How can people reconcile these publicity factoids with admissions like this:

[We] are focused on Kunena 3.1 development [but,] with only 2 active developers (and we need to handle support on forum) [, it’s] very difficult …

I want to fix these kinds of issues [in the] next version of Kunena."xillibit", Only permit download of attachments for registered users, 10-Mar-2015

But enough about K 3.1; this version number will not be released.  After more than two years in alpha development, the lead developer has openly admitted that a new marketing tactic is required:

Kunena 4.0 Beta will be released within 3 weeks.  More news about new features and improvements coming soon.Kunena Team, Twitter, 22-Mar-2015

What are the implications of this announcement?  Will there be documentation about the new features, the differences between K 4.0 and K 3.0 or simple guide to what to expect?  Will there be support arrangements when things do not go smoothly?  Will the developers stand behind their product and use K 4.0 at the Kunena website?  How will the forum at the Kunena website be organised so that people are not confused by topics relating to K 3.0 and reports about problems with K 4.0?  When problems occur with people using K 4.0, will people be able to go back to K 3.0 easily?  When problems are reported to the team, how quickly will the team respond by releasing new beta releases in a timely manner?

These are only a few questions that people will have on their minds.  The team really needs to better prepare the community for the change.  If the K 4.0 product launch is not planned carefully the project may never recover if it is bungled and that would be a catastrophe.  So we will have to watch and wait and see what happens next.

To revisit my restaurant metaphor, people do not want to hear about the new décor, the totally rewritten menu, the price hike or the fact that half the staff have walked out.  The pictures of the food may look great but how long will it be before we see a real meal on the table?

What about Kunena 3.0?

As I mentioned in my previous article, there are a few outstanding issues with K 3.0.7 that need to be addressed.  K 3.0.8 has been mentioned and I hope that the “K 3.0 community” will not be forgotten in the hurly-burly of K 4.0 beta testing.  I believe that the team should use this current quiet time before “the storm” and attend to an early release of K 3.0.8; the sooner the better.

I apologise if I have made any factual errors in this article.  The purpose of the article is to interpret what exists on the public record, to inform and to provide constructive feedback that the developers can learn from.  Sometimes bare facts or personal opinion can (and will) be misinterpreted but, as uncomfortable as these things may appear, we should not ignore them.  The Kunena team has sufficient resources to keep the community informed about what’s happening and the team has an obligation to carry out that responsibility.

I hope that K 3.0 continues to be supported and maintained for the next 12 months.  This will allow for gradual settling-in of K 4.0 to occur and demonstrate that it is as reliable, durable and robust as its predecessor has been for more than two years. So, again, this is another watch, wait and see what happens next.

About the author:

is a Joomla professional and former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years—a substantial contributor to the original Kunena documentation project with over twenty thousand messages posted at the Kunena forum. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.


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