In my last post, I expressed my admiration for wikis as a collaborative solution for project and process management. Fellow blogger Jason Coleman expressed his views on wiki-based tech docs in a comment following my post. As promised in my reply, I want to report on the experience of participating in the Firefox book sprint at DocTrain West 2009.
Having seen a demo of the FLOSS Manuals site last fall, I had been looking forward to the book sprint. I had never participated in a real-time, collaborative writing event. So on March 16 and 17, I joined several writers in a conference room in Rancho Mirage in Palm Springs, California, with other writers participating remotely from other US states and other countries. Our goal was to produce and publish a help manual for the Firefox browser in two days.
While participating in the book sprint and using the FLOSS Manuals TWiki publishing platform, I was able to see how software customization could turn a wiki into a full-fledged publishing platform. The FLOSS Manuals platform exemplifies the possibilities.
The FLOSS platform encourages topic-based writing. It has a simple user interface for writing and editing. It enables participating writers to remain aware of the status of big-picture content development at all times. As a participant, you can chat with remote writers. You can observe the state of in-process topics (such as needs updating, to be proofed, or complete). You can save your work and resume later, or another writer can step in and complete the topic.
We used Firefox help topics as source material, with the goal of improving the structure and the content. We wrote. We edited. We held periodic group discussions. We had direct access to Firefox expert Chis Hoffman of the Mozilla Foundation. Chris was on site with us in Rancho Mirage.
At the end of the sprint, we all gathered to watch as FLOSS founder Adam Hyde walked us through the publishing process. Seeing the result of our collaborative work published in real time was exciting. The platform does an amazing job of paginating, and it includes headers, footers, and page numbering. It also enables you to “remix” a book’s content and publish your own customized version. You can buy published FLOSS books from the FLOSS Manuals storefront at lulu.com. The proceeds help to further the work of the foundation.
Here’s a picture of some the writers who participated on site at Rancho Mirage.
You can participate in a FLOSS Manuals book sprint without attending in person. Simply sign up as a remote participant. By helping to create documentation for free, open-source software, you can help encourage more people to use such software. If you are interested in participating in future sprints, you need to register on the FLOSS Manuals site.
Fellow blogger, tech comm expert, and FLOSS Manuals evangelist Anne Gentle expresses exactly why I found the sprint so amazing:
A book in two days thanks to a great group of writers, an excellent Subject Matter Expert, and remote contributors from Calgary to Moscow to Bangalore.
You can visit Anne’s blog to read her full summary of the event. Then join FLOSS Manuals and have some fun.