OLPC / Sugar - Book Sprint, part I: Preparations

"The problem is not that writing is so much like work; the problem is finding people for whom writing is fun." - David Farning

Recently Anne Gentle and I organised the 3rd FLOSS Manuals Book Sprint, which was the first for OLPC and Sugar. We had recently been approached by David Farning from Sugar Labs to host the Sugar documentation and there followed a frenzy of discussion on multiple mailing-lists about who would manage, write, and host the documentation for both OLPC and Sugar.

The Book Sprint gang at work.

Once the winds had settled Anne and I suggested a collaborative Book Sprint to be hosted in Austin, Texas - far away from the distractions in Boston, and close to where Anne lived. We then looked around for some funding but came up short - however we wanted to see this through so FLOSS Manuals chipped in on the basis that we might be able to recover these costs through book sales at a later date.

We invited a number of writers, the timeline was short, and so we received a lot of initial positive and enthusiastic replies which dwindled to a handful by the end of 3 weeks. There was, at the end, 5 people flown in, and this was augmented with remote collaborators and some local Austin XO User Club members.

It was unclear up until the week before exactly who was going to be there. I had one heart stopping moment when Walter Bender said he might not be able to make it but thankfully we received the funds for his attendance.

Prior to the event - intended to be 5 full days of writing - we had various e-mail conversations about the scope of the manuals to be written. The scope was blurry, as there was some good docs on the Sugar and OLPC wikis but they were a bit scattered and incomplete. Anne drew up an index as a starting point which was largely based on the structure of the OLPC Simple guide Anne wrote some time ago, blended with documentation Walter had written. The resulting index was comprehensive but it was only going to be as good as a guide, the rest to be fleshed out on site.

Also it was clear that although everyone seemed to agree that FLOSS Manuals was a good toolset, no one in either the Sugar or OLPC teams really knew much about the inner mechanics of the system. So we had to simultaneously shape the content and expectations. It was a pretty smooth ride really - a short, intense, build-up but on the whole we arrived in Austin with a reasonable plan - meet, demo FLOSS Manuals, plan the index, and socialise. The next week was going to be busy...

Adam Hyde is the founder of FLOSS Manuals. He has worked on the project steadily since May 2007 after retiring from his former career as a professional Digital Artist.

FLOSS Manuals is a platform for the collaborative development of documentation about Free Software. The manuals are 100% free (libre and gratis), with some also available to purchase in book form. To learn more about FLOSS Manuals see: www.flossmanuals.net/about.

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