At the documentation conference

I’m attending the WritersUA conference in Seattle this week, and yesterday was day one of the conference.  The conference started with Scott McCloud talking about how he created his Google Chrome comic, and I attended other talks on ISO documentation standards, as well as architecting your content so it can be reused.

McCloud’s talk was interesting in a number of ways, but one aspect of it that struck me was the volume of work went into what he did.  The initial basis of the work was 10 dvd’s worth of recorded interviews with developers.  They did not allow the content of the comic book form to be dictated by some kind of marketing storyline.  The comic still stood up as a form of documentation.

Additionally:

* The use of bubbles as text-placeholders in the comic created some difficulties for translators, but they were able to make things work. He didn’t provide a great amount of detail about this.

* He loved the mash-ups that resulted from the work being licensed under a Creative Commons license, even if the mash-ups didn’t follow the letter of the license.  Google did not attempt to sue people who made these mashups for noncompliance with the license.

* He demonstrated how comic book framing can keep the use focused on one item at a time, and make it easier to explain difficult concepts in an elegant, easy-to-understand way.

* I think he referenced XKCD at least 3 times.  He likes it.

* I can’t draw comics.  :/  Maybe I can use some of this stuff with screenshots, though.

I also attended a session on ISO standards for documentation and D.I.T.A., an open-source documentation toolkit similar to docbook.  The standard is maintained by OASIS, a not-for-profit standards organization - it looks great!  We got to see snippets of it, but it costs about $200 to get a single copy of the standard. :/  Even members of the OASIS committee who volunteer to maintain the standard have to pay to get a copy of it.  I am glad that at I don’t have to pay to contribute to Ubuntu.

The best session of the day for me was the session on architecting documentation for reuse.  The Ubuntu documentation team already has some of our content architected for reuse; for example, we use docbook "entities" for repetitive items such as system and software version numbers, Ubuntu website urls and certain procedures, but this showed how it’s possible to do more.  I’m a little green as a member of the Ubuntu documentation team, but I’m eager to learn more about this approach.