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Sprints and Stacks


Building a Documentation Community - presented at the Open Help Conference in June 2011

Building a Documentation Community - presented at the Open Help Conference in June 2011

Published in Health & Medicine
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  • I am a content stacker at Rackspace, here’s where I think we’re going
  • there are challenges to using these tools – social media amplifies errors and heightens drama in communities while also enabling more voices and sites.AmplificationDramaToo many channelsToo much datamap represents the number of unique authors in each Usenet newsgroup who appeared in the current year, 2003.
  • Making it work anyway.Use sprints, strategic stacks with analytics, licensing that enables tinkering, and purposeful collaboration to tune your open docs strategy. I’m going to walk through three areas: Community, Sprints, and Stacks of Data.
  • We have a schism – DocBook and RST. I have so far divided by audience since DocBook deliverables are more advanced, PDF output and comments enabled.
  • Translation has not yet been activated. I have only seen a Korean wiki pop up. I don’t know if tooling is the problem or if people just write in English to get the attention of the wide audience.
  • One hard tack and four softies.Despite writing the process up in detail, so far devs write RST, no one really writes DocBook yet.
  • First call was to Belinda Lopez, her advice was – work out challenges with licensing. But they had already decided on Apache. I challenged the use of Apache for content, it’s just hard to interpret, CC is much easier to explain. Still working with lawyers for wording.
  • I challenged the use of Apache for content, it’s just hard to interpret, CC is much easier to explain. Still working with lawyers for wording.Now moving towards licensing for training materials – slide decks, check. But what about lab setup, video, workshops, and exams? Learning how to license those.
  • By combining CC and Apache I can now welcome blogger’s material
  • Publishers want OpenStack content. I feel like I’m in a fight to be an acquisitions editor some days. Everyone wants an OpenStack book, or blog entries about OpenStack to publishion their site. I was surprised at this.
  • Originally had doc sprint during design summit, moved it to earlier dateExpectation – to hold these regularly, reality, releases dictated when to hold themTiming has changed again to six month releases with milestone releases in between. Doc sprints need a rethink.
  • Eric Holscher – read the docs - said at Pycon, Devs need to write for other devs – strongly believe what guy preaches now. This is a 180 degree turn for me.
  • Barrier to entry is quite high with BZR and Launchpad. Yes I can walk through Windows contributors but they give up early. We are moving to git for code storage – how will that affect doc contributions? Doc contributors need access to people they can interview incessantly. Plus they need access to hardware, big time. Neither are easy to offer now.
  • We have people who desperately want to be involved with OpenStack – get led to docs, but have no idea how to write or make images or…When you want something done, ask a busy person. Unless the busy person just answers email all day.
  • Comments are going great, now users answer each other. I did a content audit, does a community audit also make sense? We are seeing some dilution though with too many sites such as a new forums site and Launchpad Answers also vying for attention.
  • Also thinking about a tweet chat – gets out of the IRC mold which might work well for a good portion of our users
  • Curated search engine plus search analyticsWorking on loyalty, bounce rateProof of the PDF popularity
  • We came out of the gate with way too many topics out there. We quickly learned that with too many topics and not enough interaction to start, it made the community seem empty. It’s what I call ‘empty restaurant syndrome’ — if you look in a window and no one is in there, you likely won’t go in.– Mike HardyStrategic communications program managerPitney-Bowes
  • Next – Launch and Learn
  • I plan to keep iterating, keep prioritizing, keep having fun, and keep learning. Join me!


  • 1. Sprints and Stacks
    Building a Documentation Community
    Anne Gentle
    Open Help Conference
    June 2011
  • 2. We are tinkerers
    Flickr: loozrboy
  • 3. We are techies
    Flickr: laurenkeith
  • 4. We are Helpers
    Not always technical writers, but wanting to make an impact
    Flickr: gi
  • 5. I believe in community
    Flickr: ThisParticularGreg
  • 6. I am… a Content Stacker
    OpenStack – Open Source Cloud Computing
    Rackspace – Fanatical Support in all we do
  • 7. Welcome to Now
    Our Challenge: Never before have we had tools for collaboration, instant communication, project tracking, and data gathering.
    How do we harness the power of community for documentation?
  • 8. Meeting the Challenges
    Flickr: marc_smith
  • 9. Community Documentation
  • 10. Community – Lessons Learned
    Expectations and reality for:
    Source files
    Community Motivations
  • 11. DocBook & RST
    Flickr: myklroventine
  • 12. Translations
  • 13. Segmentation
    Flickr: theilr
  • 14. Licensing
    Flickr: libraryman
  • 15. Combining CC and Apache
  • 16. Bloggers Welcome
  • 17. Slogging through the Slushpile
    Flickr: gruntzooki
  • 18. Doc Sprints
    Participant Selection
  • 19. Timing is the Thing
    Three month release cycles
    Design Summit in-person meeting
    Now six month release cycles with milestone releases
    Flickr: plenty
  • 20. Contributors and Newbies
    Flickr: kholkute
  • 21. Barriers to Entry
    Flickr: AdamKR
  • 22. Attraction to Sprints
    Flickr: ratranch
  • 23. Data Stacks
    Social web integration
    Web analytics
  • 25. Twitter Responses
  • 26. Planet Blog
  • 27. Web Analytics
  • 28. Measure the Help
    Customer support and help sites
    New vs. returning visitors
    Searches that had zero yield
    Search results to site exits ratio
    Download completion rates (if relevant)
    Flickr: HeavyWeightGeek
  • 29. Engagement Indicators
    Number of comments on content
    Number of comments responded to
    Response time on the comments
    Number of edits
    Volume on discussion boards
    Flickr: atomicjeep
  • 30. Pitfalls
    Too much content, not enough engagement.
    Another community could take all the major players attention.
    Dilution and repetition.
    High barriers to entry.
    Flickr: docpop
  • 31. Resolutions
    Write DocBook collaboratively for web developers and system administrators (devops, also)
    Coach developers to write RST for devs
  • 32. Resolutions
    Automate reference documentation
    Encourage conversation
    Build a community around docs and with docs
    Iterate repeatedly
  • 33. Launch and Learn
  • 34. Questions?
    Anne Gentle
    Flickr: jetheriot