We’ve had a really book-centric month at Sourcefabric, with a lot of our work going into continuing to make FLOSS Manuals the site for the official documentation of our open source tools for journalists and media organisations, currently named Campsite and Campcaster. We also became book publishers!
Just like most software developers, for a long time we were sure that the future of documentation and manuals is entirely digital and online. Migrating our documentation to FLOSS Manuals was based on the features it provides for collaborative online writing. We did not think about making books. Little did we know...
The first time we realised the power of paper was when our colleague Sahr Gborie held a workshop on the radio software Campcaster for West African journalists from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leon, Mali, Togo and Benin. In their training facility, online access was available but limited. When preparing the workshop with Sahr, we pressed the PDF button the first time. Out came this beautiful, indexed, page numbered and ready-to-go document. It saved the day - and the week following that day, when the training started.
Suddenly, books became a part of our strategy. This change was not an addition to our core business and values. Instead, it seamlessly closed an invisible gap in our mission: “Sourcefabric believes in quality, independent journalism. We provide media organisations with the open source software, tools and support to produce it, no matter what their resources or location.”
There are many good things to be said about books; being ‘offline’ is one of them. Another one, important to our mission, is that they are easy to handle and intuitive to use. Everybody knows how to use a book. If you provide printed manuals, you attract a wider audience of users. And you make it easier to your contributors to concentrate on their work - and not have to learn to navigate and use online documentation tools. “It’s on page 142” is the most intuitive deep link there is.
Today FLOSS Manuals is the home and platform of all our documentation effort and has become the weapon of choice for our publishing activities. Nearly complete is Campsite 3.5 for Editors and Journalists. Campsite 3.5 is released on January 17th and this manual is designed specifically to help end users use our news publishing system and content management, with no code in the manual itself, just plenty of clear screenshots and step-by-step guides.
To complement this, we’ll be writing the code-heavy Campsite 3.5 Installation and Administration Guide for sysadmins and the Campsite 3.5 Cookbook. This will be a web developer manual with a much needed section on templating featuring community-contributed template code examples from real news sites. Daniel James of 64studio.com is leading our documentation drive at the moment and in combination with our localization and website translation we hope to attract some manual translators soon. Visit www.sourcefabric.org and click Contribute to get involved!
Our radio automation manual for Campcaster 1.4 was at the centre of Making Waves, a workshop on making open source radio stations held as part of ON2: Test Signals in October in Berlin. Partnership with the Free Culture Incubator helped us design and print 100 manuals which went to participants and independent radio stations. The more people get to use our software based on the documentation, the more input we get. This in turn helps us test the software in preparation for the major 1.6 release in January 2011.
We also just started to migrate all our manuals to the powerful new Booki platform that will be the foundation of Floss Manuals. Following our mind-opening experience with our first printed manual, FLOSS Manuals also spurred us on to making our enterprise a little more official too. We’re now the proud founders of Sourcefabric Publishing in Berlin, meaning the sky is the limit for our book activities!