I’ve been on the go so much that I haven’t had the mental space to sit down and articulate a lot of the cool stuff that is going on. A few weeks ago I took part in a new open source conference, Writing Open Source (WOScon). The conference was born from conversations Emma Jane Hogbin and I had last fall, and she took the ideas and made it a reality in Owen Sound, Ontario. It was very small but packed with awesomeness, from people to ideas to food. There were quite a few exciting ideas for the Drupal community which will get written up and worked on down the road a bit. Lots of folks have written up summaries* of the event itself, but that single event has started something quite a bit bigger. The last day of the conference we transformed the conference website into a new community site and started a new Twitter/identi.ca hashtag for #wosdocs. We’ve started a new open source community to focus on documentation. That may not sound exciting to lots of people, but it is, even if you aren’t a “writer” and here’s why.
Open source growth
As a whole, open source has been gaining tremendous ground over the years. It is becoming more mainstream every month. Open source software is respected as a viable tool in today’s world, but for most every project, the documentation lags behind the quality of the code. As people explore this “new” software, they need to feel like they can let go of the side of the pool and there will be a life raft in the middle if they need it. This generally takes two forms: paid support or community documentation. Open source is growing rapidly, but we are still a very small part of the bigger pie. To accelerate open source growth we need the coders to keep cranking with their bad selves, and we need to provide guidance and support for new users. Open source is an amazing model for making awesome software, there is no reason that we can’t produce best of breed documentation with the same community passion.
Industry standards and quality
One of the big take-home points for me at the conference (amongst so many) was that we generally have a very high standard for the quality of our code, but we do not apply those same standards to our documentation. This is a disservice to both the docs and the code it supports. There are a lot of people out there who are documentation professionals; technical writers, editors, information architects, etc. and believe or not, a lot of them are using open source. We need to listen and learn from the pros, just like we do with code. One of the great things about documentation best practices and standards is that there is a whole industry that already looks at these things. We can learn from what is there, apply open source magic and share. The beauty of docs is that the same basic principles are going to apply to all projects, regardless of language (code or culture), structure, or size. Of course, each project will have its own resources and emphasis, but so much base ground can be laid down that is useful to everyone. We have started exploring this on the WOSdocs site by creating outlines for a sample open source style guide, documentation best practices guide and starting a persona library. This is just fricking awesome for everyone from single developer trying to write docs on their own to large teams wrangling complex projects.
So basically this is good news for everyone and I truly believe that this new movement to make kick ass docs for all of open source is going to move us up to the next level in adoption around the world. As Paul said in one of his blog posts about the conference, I’m excited to know that I will be able to look back and say that I was “there when this began.” If you want to be part of ass-kicking history, we are an open community, so head on over to WOSdocs, sign up and dig in. I also plan to be at WOScon next year and it’ll be fun to see how much we’ve grown by then. Maybe we’ll even share some of our insider jokes too. Where did that mammoth come from?