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Recent Research on Community Participation in Software Documentation

Andy Oram, Editor, O'Reilly Media, Inc.

Track: People
Date: Wednesday, July 25
Time: 11:35am - 12:20pm
Location: F151

This talk provides insights into why users are increasingly providing their own software documentation--through mailing lists and newsgroups, wikis, personal blogs, and sometimes extended-length documents--and on the effectiveness of one such forum, mailing lists. Oram's research on grassroots documentation (a phenomenon parallel to Wikipedia movement, Web 2.0 mash-ups, and similar collaborations) has appeared on the O’Reilly Network:
Splitting Books Open: Trends in Traditional and Online Technical Documentation
(September 23, 2004)

Rethinking Community Documentation
(July 6, 2006)

Do-It-Yourself Documentation? Research Into the Effectiveness of Mailing Lists
(August 19, 2006)

The OSCon 2007 talk will include new research augmenting the “Do-It-Yourself Documentation “ article, which sampled mailing lists to come up with simple statistical measures of mailing-list effectiveness. Oram will also summarize results of a survey on the O’Reilly Network that asks why people contribute free documentation. Finally, he will summarize his suggestions for how communities can improve their self-documentation process and work with publishers such as O’Reilly.

Computer users have become used to “Googling” for answers to their questions, but are concerned about the difficulty of retrieval and uneven quality of online information. Open source communities are especially affected by the availability and quality of free documentation, because the open source projects are, to a large extent, out of the hands of major computer vendors, and rely on volunteer efforts to provide documentation. This talk will appeal to audiences at all technical levels, from beginner to advanced.