Writing Open Source Conference

Paul Cutler, a member of the GNOME Documentation Team, recaps the Writing Open Source conference held earlier this summer in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada.

The Writing Open Source Conference (aka Woscon) took place in June, 2009 in Owen Sound, Ontario. The conference was conceived and hosted by Emma Jane Hogbin, a documentation contributor to a number of open source projects, including the Linux Documentation Project, Drupal and Ubuntu.

The GNOME Foundation, through a donation funded by Intel, sent four GNOME documentation team members to the conference: Shaun McCance, Phil Bull, Milo Casagrande, and Paul Cutler. There were a total of sixteen attendees, with representation from such projects as GNOME, BSD, XFCE, Ubuntu, Drupal and more.

The conference ran over three days, and each day had a different focus. The first day included keynotes from five speakers:

  • Fame, Fortune and Technical Writing by Dru Lavigne, Author
  • Information Architecture: panning for gold by Lynda Chiotti, Information Architect
  • Learning styles and documentation to match by Belinda Lopez, Instructional Designer
  • Cat Herding 101: Community management in Open Source by Addison Berry, Documentation Lead, Drupal
  • Licensing and Authoring by Megan Langley Grainger

Each talk offered key takeaways and learnings for the GNOME Documentation team. From Information Architecture, we learned the importance in planning your writing and understanding the message you want to deliver in creating documentation. This talk has influenced the way that we are planning GNOME 3.0 documentation through planning sessions in IRC and email.

The first keynote of the day, Licensing and Authoring, was informative on the benefits of using various licenses for writing documentation, such as the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) and various Creative Commons licenses. The timing of this talk was perfect, as the Documentation team was thinking of switching from the GFDL to a Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike license. This talk helped us understand the challenges in switching licenses, as well as the benefits of using the CC-SA 3.0 license. Since Woscon, the decision was made to use a CC-SA 3.0 license for all new documentation in GNOME going forward.

The Information Architecture and Learning Styles talks both discussed knowing your audience and creating personas for them. When writing documentation, it’s important to keep your audience in mind, and write documentation that speaks directly to them in language they understand.

Addison Berry’s talk on community management has influenced the GNOME Documentation team, and with Woscon over, we’ve put these practices into motion. To create a more welcoming community, the GNOME Documentation team has re-organized their wiki pages to make it easier to find information, get involved, and update the pages in a timely manner. We’ve also started scheduling formal monthly meetings to discuss the team’s priorities, and bi-weekly community meetings, which are open question-and-answer sessions where members of the Documentation team are scheduled to be in IRC. Lastly, we’ve created a GNOME Documentation Team blog to update the community on what we’re working on.

The second day was in the form of an “unconference”, similar to a Barcamp. There were a number of roundtable talks and presentations, including:

  • Introduction to Project Mallard and Pulse
  • Making documentation easier for translators
  • FLOSS Manuals project (http://flossmanuals.net/)
  • Creating certification programs for free software projects
  • Community management

Throughout all of these talks and presentations, it was helpful to learn that all of our open source projects share the same challenges, from community involvement to translation challenges.

The third day of Woscon was a hackfest. The GNOME documentation team put this time to good use. We created a roadmap for the GNOME 2.28 and GNOME 2.30 / 3.0 releases; had a tutorial form Shaun on Mallard, the new XML schema for GNOME documentation; planned the topics to be included in the new user guide for GNOME 3.0; and planned and wrote documentation for Empathy, written in Mallard, to be included in GNOME 2.28. We also used this time to triage half of the open bugs in the GNOME User Guide, and closed over a third of all open bugs. Lastly, we revamped the team’s wiki pages, organizing the Documentation team into three subteams (Writing, Translating and Community) and adding tasks and updating our roadmap.

One of the biggest benefits coming out of Woscon was the various open source documentation projects coming together to create a new community. While the GNOME team worked on the tasks above during the hackfest, other conference attendees were transforming the conference registration site into a full blown community site so all of us would be able to continue to communicate and share best practices among projects. Another group started work on a brand new open source style guide that documentation projects across free software could utilize. All of these tools will be able to be leveraged over time, and it was exciting for us within the GNOME community to be able to be present at this first conference. As with any hackfest, the energy and enthusiasm that occurs when working in person was in full effect, and we are grateful for the opportunity to attend the first Writing Open Source conference.

Discuss this story with other readers on the GNOME forums.

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Posted on August 27, 2009, in August 2009. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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