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Lessons in Community from Open Source projects
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Lessons in Community from Open Source projects


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What does it mean to collaborate in creating user assistance? What are some ways that community members (customers, partners, or others in your company) can contribute to user assistance? How can …

What does it mean to collaborate in creating user assistance? What are some ways that community members (customers, partners, or others in your company) can contribute to user assistance? How can professional technical communicators safeguard accuracy, and certify authority in an open, collaborative environment? In this session, I provide my perspective on these issues, based on my experiences in both theopen source and traditional software worlds.

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  • Photo by HoboElvis, of “Philosophers’ Rock” by Glenna Goodacre, depicting professors J. Frank Dobie, Roy Bedicheck, and Walter Prescott Webb next to Barton Springs Pool in Austin TX.It would be pretty silly if I came here to talk about openness and community, and then had a one-way communication. Please jump in with questions and discussion. I’ll let you know if we’re getting off track.I’ll also be using what I call the “pseudo-Socratic method”, in which I ask you for what you think about a topic, and then tell you what I think about it. I don’t mean this as a way of playing “gotcha”, but rather as a way to draw out your ideas, without forestalling them with my own. I hope this will keep things more interesting on all sides, while still satisfying those who came here expecting to hear me spouting expertise.
  • What are you looking to get out of this session?Who’s already working with communities and CGC? What problems are you facing?If you’re not, what are hoping to do or learn?
  • Give me examples or definitions, whichever you prefer. We can extrapolate to definitions, based on examples.Examples: Comments on blogsComments on web-based docsSupport forumsWiki-based knowledgebases, wiki-based documentation – This is the one I’ll tend to refer to most, since it’s where I live.
  • Anne Gentle makes a distinction in her book, Conversation and Community, between community-generated content and user-generated content.User-generated content: all about me, single voice (facebook, flickr, twitter?)Community-generated content: collaborative, helps us reach our common goal
  • This applies to content as well as to software.CGC helps create community by giving a group a shared goal. Getting useful content is a side-benefit.
  • This diagram shows why I am a writer and not a graphic artist.The point of the diagram is that community, community-generated content, and solutions to problems all emerge or spin out from the process of community-building, which consists of people listening, connecting, and sharing with each other.
  • The following points apply most specifically to contributing to open source projects. They may also apply to other content communities.
  • There may be no style guide. There may be hostility to style guides.There may be conflicting usages.Local consistency is more important than global consistency.
  • If you build it, they might not come.Building a community is hard. Reaching critical mass is hard.
  • Do not be surprised or disappointed by this. If get a handful of people actively contributing, that can be a huge success.To get specific content written on specific deadlines, you usually have to pay someone. Your job is not at risk.
  • Number one is Personal Growth: wanting to learn something.Community is a bigger factor for documentors of free software, possibly because it’s explicitly discussed in free software contexts.A bigger factor for documentors of proprietary software is “thrills”: seeing your comments appear on a worldwide forum, as well as watching others succeed with your help and praise you for it.
  • Outdated or incorrect informationPoor organizationPoor formatting and layoutBad grammar and spelling
  • The spammerThe black-hat hackerThe troll and the grieferThe well-intentioned but wrong
  • CGC is mostly about people solving problems; content is a side-benefit.Contributing to doc communities requires a healthy ego, neither too big nor too small.You don’t have to be open to the world to build a community around content. You can start by tapping expertise within your company.Most people don’t contribute, and that’s OK. People contribute for varied reasons: personal growth, gratitude, and thrills are high for those contributing to proprietary products.Make sure that communication channels exist for both content discussion and relationship building.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Lessons in Community from Open-source Projects Janet Swisher, Mozilla Technical Writer/Community StewardSTC Toronto Management Day, Feb 29, 2012
    • 2. Discussion is encouraged
    • 3. What I’m planning to talk about• What is community? • Contributing to an• What is community- open source generated content? community• How does community • Managing community- work? generated content for business
    • 4. Tell me about yourself
    • 6. What is community?“It is not merely the group thatgenerates community, but theinteractions within it.”―Jono Bacon, The Art of Community
    • 7. What is community-generated content?• Wiki-based docs • Comments on web-• Wiki-based based docs knowledge article • Comments on blogs• Open source docs • Support forums (parallel to code)
    • 8. What CGC is NOT
    • 9. What CGC is NOTPhoto by blmurch―Crowds aren’t smart. Communities of peersare.‖
    • 10. Which comes first?“The Apache Software Foundation …believes that its first order of business iscreating healthy software contentdevelopment communities focused onsolving common problems; good softwarecontent is simply an emergent result.”―Brian Behlendorf, former president ofthe Apache Software Foundation
    • 11. ListenShare Connect S t o i s l o u n
    • 13. Start modestly • Introduce yourself • Listen • Get to know the community • Contribute in small ways • Build support for bigger changesPhoto by sean dreilinger
    • 14. Meritocracy • Balance getting stuff done vs. talking about it • Your expertise may be respected, or not • Others will edit your contentPhoto by sarahbest
    • 15. Communication Channels• Embedded in the system• Mailing lists• Newsgroups — whut?• IRC — whut?
    • 16. A few words about style guides
    • 17. MANAGING CGC
    • 18. Who is your community? General Public Customers Partners Engineering Tech Sales Pubs Support Consulting
    • 19. Realistic expectationsPhoto by JoshBerglund19
    • 20. Who will contribute?  90%: “lurk” but never contribute  9%: do a little  1%: do a lotJakob Nielsen, ParticipationInequality: Encouraging MoreUsers to Contribute Image by verbeeldingskr8
    • 21. Why do people contribute?“Why do people contribute free documentation? Results of a survey,” Andy Oram
    • 22. Challenges• Access –Who can see, contribute, approve?• Accuracy –How do you make sure it’s correct?• Authority –How can readers trust it?
    • 23. Review ProcessPatch Model Wiki Model• Submit > Review > • Submit > Publish > Publish Review• Content is not public until • Content is public it is reviewed. immediately. • May want to visually differentiate unreviewed content.
    • 24. Pitfalls
    • 25. Villains
    • 26. Avoiding pitfalls and villains• Vigilant content review• Good, easy-to-find guidelines and templates• Patience• Constant community engagement
    • 27. Paths to success• Welcome Wagon• Tasks for newbies• Multiple communication channels• Recognition and reputation• Mentor and empower• Gratitude
    • 28. Take-awaysPhoto by renaissancechambara
    • 29. Resources• The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation, Jono Bacon• Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation, Anne Gentle• ―Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute,‖ Jakob Nielsen• ―Why do people write free documentation? Results of a survey,‖ Andy Oram documentation-results-of-a-survey.html
    • 30. Thanks! Twitter: @jmswisherEmail: