NumPy

NEP 28 — numpy.org website redesign

Author:Ralf Gommers <ralf.gommers@gmail.com>
Author:Joe LaChance <joe@boldmetrics.com>
Author:Shekhar Rajak <shekharrajak.1994@gmail.com>
Status:Accepted
Type:Informational
Created:2019-07-16
Resolution:https://mail.python.org/pipermail/numpy-discussion/2019-August/079889.html

Abstract

NumPy is the fundamental library for numerical and scientific computing with Python. It is used by millions and has a large team of maintainers and contributors. Despite that, its numpy.org website has never received the attention it needed and deserved. We hope and intend to change that soon. This document describes ideas and requirements for how to design a replacement for the current website, to better serve the needs of our diverse community.

At a high level, what we’re aiming for is:

  • a modern, clean look
  • an easy to deploy static site
  • a structure that’s easy to navigate
  • content that addresses all types of stakeholders
  • Possible multilingual translations / i18n

This website serves a couple of roles:

  • it’s the entry point to the project for new users
  • it should link to the documentation (which is hosted separately, now on http://docs.scipy.org/ and in the near future on http://numpy.org/doc).
  • it should address various aspects of the project (e.g. what NumPy is and why you’d want to use it, community, project organization, funding, relationship with NumFOCUS and possibly other organizations)
  • it should link out to other places, so every type of stakeholder (beginning and advanced user, educators, packagers, funders, etc.) can find their way

Motivation and Scope

The current numpy.org website has almost no content and its design is poor. This affects many users, who come there looking for information. It also affects many other aspects of the NumPy project, from finding new contributors to fundraising.

The scope of the proposed redesign is the top-level numpy.org site, which now contains only a couple of pages and may contain on the order of ten pages after the redesign. Changing the documentation (user guide, reference guide, and some other pages in the NumPy Manual) is out of scope for this proposal.

Detailed description

User Experience

Besides the NumPy logo, there is little that can or needs to be kept from the current website. We will rely to a large extent on ideas and proposals by the designer(s) of the new website.

As reference points we can use the Jupyter website, which is probably the best designed site in our ecosystem, and the QuantEcon and Julia sites which are well-designed too.

The Website

A static site is a must. There are many high-quality static site generators. The current website uses Sphinx, however that is not the best choice - it’s hard to theme and results in sites that are too text-heavy due to Sphinx’ primary aim being documentation.

The following should be considered when choosing a static site generator:

  1. How widely used is it? This is important when looking for help maintaining or improving the site. More popular frameworks are usually also better maintained, so less chance of bugs or obsolescence.
  2. Ease of deployment. Most generators meet this criterion, however things like built-in support for GitHub Pages helps.
  3. Preferences of who implements the new site. Everyone has their own preferences. And it’s a significant amount of work to build a new site. So we should take the opinion of those doing the work into account.

Traffic

The current site receives on the order of 500,000 unique visitors per month. With a redesigned site and relevant content, there is potential for visitor counts to reach 5-6 million – a similar level as scipy.org or matplotlib.org – or more.

Possible options for static site generators

  1. Jekyll. This is a well maintained option with 855 Github contributors, with contributions within the last month. Jekyll is written in Ruby, and has a simple CLI interface. Jekyll also has a large directory of themes, although a majority cost money. There are several themes (serif, uBuild, Just The Docs) that are appropriate and free. Most themes are likely responsive for mobile, and that should be a requirement. Jekyll uses a combination of liquid templating and YAML to render HTML, and content is written in Markdown. i18n functionality is not native to Jekyll, but can be added easily. One nice benefit of Jekyll is that it can be run automatically by GitHub Pages, so deployment via a CI system doesn’t need to be implemented.
  2. Hugo. This is another well maintained option with 554 contributors, with contributions within the last month. Hugo is written in Go, and similar to Jekyll, has a simple to use CLI interface to generate static sites. Again, similar to Jekyll, Hugo has a large directory of themes. These themes appear to be free, unlike some of Jekyll’s themes. (Sample landing page theme, docs theme). Hugo uses Jade as its templating language, and content is also written in Markdown. i18n functionality is native to Hugo.
  3. Docusaurus. Docusaurus is a responsive static site generator made by Facebook. Unlike the previous options, Docusaurus doesn’t come with themes, and thus we would not want to use this for our landing page. This is an excellent docs option written in React. Docusaurus natively has support for i18n (via Crowdin, document versioning, and document search.

Both Jekyll and Hugo are excellent options that should be supported into the future and are good choices for NumPy. Docusaurus has several bonus features such as versioning and search that Jekyll and Hugo don’t have, but is likely a poor candidate for a landing page - it could be a good option for a high-level docs site later on though.

Deployment

There is no need for running a server, and doing so is in our experience a significant drain on the time of maintainers.

  1. Netlify. Using netlify is free until 100GB of bandwidth is used. Additional bandwidth costs $20/100GB. They support a global CDN system, which will keep load times quick for users in other regions. Netlify also has Github integration, which will allow for easy deployment. When a pull request is merged, Netlify will automatically deploy the changes. DNS is simple, and HTTPS is also supported.
  2. Github Pages. Github Pages also has a 100GB bandwidth limit, and is unclear if additional bandwidth can be purchased. It is also unclear where sites are deployed, and should be assumed sites aren’t deployed globally. Github Pages has an easy to use CI & DNS, similar to to Netlify. HTTPS is supported.
  3. Cloudflare. An excellent option, additional CI is likely needed for the same ease of deployment.

All of the above options are appropriate for the NumPy site based on current traffic. Updating to a new deployment strategy, if needed, is a minor amount of work compared to developing the website itself. If a provider such as Cloudflare is chosen, additional CI may be required, such as CircleCI, to have a similar deployment to GitHub Pages or Netlify.

Analytics

It’s benefical to maintainers to know how many visitors are coming to numpy.org. Google Analytics offers visitor counts and locations. This will help to support and deploy more strategically, and help maintainers understand where traffic is coming from.

Google Analytics is free. A script, provided by Google, must be added to the home page.

Website Structure

We aim to keep the first version of the new website small in terms of amount of content. New pages can be added later on, it’s more important right now to get the site design right and get some essential information up. Note that in the second half of 2019 we expect to get 1 or 2 tech writers involved in the project via Google Season of Docs. They will likely help improve the content and organization of that content.

We propose the following structure:

  1. Front page: essentials of what NumPy is (compare e.g. jupyter.org), one or a couple key user stories (compare e.g. julialang.org)
  2. Install
  3. Documentation
  4. Array computing
  5. Community
  6. Learning
  7. About Us
  8. Contribute
  9. Donate

There may be a few other pages, e.g. a page on performance, that are linked from one of the main pages.

Stakeholder Content

This should have as little content as possible within the site. Somewhere on the site we should link out to content that’s specific to:

  • beginning users (quickstart, tutorial)
  • advanced users
  • educators
  • packagers
  • package authors that depend on NumPy
  • funders (governance, roadmap)

Translation (multilingual / i18n)

NumPy has users all over the world. Most of those users are not native English speakers, and many don’t speak English well or at all. Therefore having content in multiple languages is potentially addressing a large unmet need. It would likely also help make the NumPy project more diverse and welcoming.

On the other hand, there are good reasons why few projects have a multi-lingual site. It’s potentially a lot of extra work. Extra work for maintainers is costly - they’re already struggling to keep up with the work load. Therefore we have to very carefully consider whether a multi-lingual site is feasible and weight costs and benefits.

We start with an assertion: maintaining translations of all documentation, or even the whole user guide, as part of the NumPy project is not feasible. One simply has to look at the volume of our documentation and the frequency with which we change it to realize that that’s the case. Perhaps it will be feasible though to translate just the top-level pages of the website. Those do not change very often, and it will be a limited amount of content (order of magnitude 5-10 pages of text).

We propose the following requirements for adding a language:

  • The language must have a dedicated maintainer
  • There must be a way to validate content changes (e.g. a second maintainer/reviewer, or high quality language support in a freely available machine translation tool)
  • The language must have a reasonable size target audience (to be assessed by the NumPy maintainers)

Furthermore we propose a policy for when to remove support for a language again (preferably by hiding it rather than deleting content). This may be done when the language no longer has a maintainer, and coverage of translations falls below an acceptable threshold (say 80%).

Benefits of having translations include:

  • Better serve many existing and potential users
  • Potentially attract a culturally and geographically more diverse set of contributors

The tradeoffs are:

  • Cost of maintaining a more complex code base
  • Cost of making decisions about whether or not to add a new language
  • Higher cost to making content changes, creates work for language maintainers
  • Any content change should be rolled out with enough delay to have translations in place

Can we define a small enough set of pages and content that it makes sense to do this? Probably yes.

Is there an easy to use tool to maintain translations and add them to the website? To be discussed - it needs investigating, and may depend on the choice of static site generator. One potential option is Crowdin, which is free for open source projects.

Style and graphic design

Beyond the “a modern, clean look” goal we choose to not specify too much. A designer may have much better ideas than the authors of this proposal, hence we will work with the designer(s) during the implementation phase.

The NumPy logo could use a touch-up. The logo widely recognized and its colors and design are good, however the look-and-feel is perhaps a little dated.

Other aspects

A search box would be nice to have. The Sphinx documentation already has a search box, however a search box on the main site which provides search results for the docs, the website, and perhaps other domains that are relevant for NumPy would make sense.

Backward compatibility

Given a static site generator is chosen, we will migrate away from Sphinx for numpy.org (the website, not including the docs). The current deployment can be preserved until a future deprecation date is decided (potentially based on the comfort level of our new site).

All site generators listed above have visibility into the HTML and Javascript that is generated, and can continue to be maintained in the event a given project ceases to be maintained.

Alternatives

Alternatives we considered for the overall design of the website:

  1. Update current site. A new Sphinx theme could be chosen. This would likely take the least amount of resources initially, however, Sphinx does not have the features we are looking for moving forward such as i18n, responsive design, and a clean, modern look. Note that updating the docs Sphinx theme is likely still a good idea - it’s orthogonal to this NEP though.
  2. Create custom site. This would take the most amount of resources, and is likely to have additional benefit in comparison to a static site generator. All features would be able to be added at the cost of developer time.

Discussion

Mailing list thread discussing this NEP: TODO

References and Footnotes