Molly Sharp


The GSoC Doc Camp

GSoC Doc Camp

Today is the Outro… the purpose of which seems to be to make sure everyone understands next steps for the care and feeding of their books. As Gunner said, there’s a 90-90 rule. Making the book is 90% of the work, but there’s still 90% to do in getting it out there and maintaining it. Adam ran through an impressive range of the BookType tools we can use to refine the CSS and publish to multiple formats, including Lulu POD. Then we broke out into the team groups to clarify the plans for next steps.

One thing the teams were tasked with was establishing who the responsible party would be, to own the documentation going forward. In signing up for the job, the person wouldn’t be signing on to maintain it on his or her own, but would be the driving force behind updates and would keep an eye on the RSS feed to make sure any community updates were reviewed.

The other outro tasks were about all the next steps, including writing an email announcement; determining whether the book would have a website; specific plans to get the word out to the target audience; and any other tasks that still seemed necessary. Gunner gave some useful advice for how to make the email announcement as effective as possible by using a very specific, targeted request for help.


Day Three of the FontForge Book Sprint

Today, Day 3, is essentially the last day of this Book Sprint. In the morning, the first thing we did was finalize our title and subtitle. Team FontForge had not followed the rules about doing that up front, but the cover designer couldn’t wait any longer and we pushed it right to the end. Amazing how much discussion it still took to finalize title and subtitle. Here it is: “Start Designing With Font Forge: A Guide to Making Type”. Each word choice we reviewed while weighing the alternatives seemed to convey subtleties that the team couldn’t agree on. But we got there in the end.

Next, Jason and I were sent back to our little isolation chamber to collaborate on two new chapters. At lunch, we checked in with the other two groups, and it seemed that energy levels were running very low across all groups. Some of us took a walk outside in the sunshine to help replenish the energy. Lots of coffee was being consumed—good thing for all the caffeinated beverage options in the self-serve cafe.

After lunch, all 3 sprint groups convened in the large conference room, where Adam told us we couldn’t write any new material, but should focus on refining existing material. He ran through some basic instructions for how to approach the rest of the job, including some BookType- and Booki-specific formatting guidelines. At that point, for Team FontForge’s book, there were still plenty of image placeholders that needed to be populated. And we knew we had a colossal editing job ahead of us: 23 chapters in need of full content review, with all the copyediting and proofreading tasks we could squeeze in. And Jason and I needed to leave by 5… sorry guys! Each chapter would ideally get two separate reviewers. But… by the time Jason and I left, only half of the chapters had been reviewed. Hmmm.

From 2 till 5, things got pretty punchy in Team FontForge’s room. Ben silently slipped on a pair of fuzzy ears. Were they koala ears, bunny ears, mouse ears, or the ears of some heretofore unknown Australian creature? We may never know. I’m pretty sure none of the things we were laughing about would have seemed quite as funny if we hadn’t been under such a crazy deadline on the 4th day of basically being essentially locked into a room together. Actually though, everyone in the group has a pretty fantastic sense of humor, and even though the people in the other two groups are really nice and interesting, I am glad to be on Team FontForge. (Guys, I hope we do get those commemorative monocles.)

I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with the amount of content and the quality of the content we produced! I am really looking forward to seeing the printed book. BookType outputs PDF, EPUB, and MOBI, but I do think it will be the most satisfying to be able to hold the actual print book.

Day Two of the FontForge Book Sprint

I think the whole team is now understanding exactly how much there is to do, and how little time to do it. No one is over-the-top stressed about it, but the realization is definitely helping us stay on task. The Google building we’re working in is very nice, and has break areas with foosbal, chalkboards and colored chalk, and a self-serve cafe with oodles of options—but no one is taking much advantage of any of that, other than a few minutes here and there.

Today I’m paired with Jason, and we are working together to write two detailed and screenshot-intensive chapters on using FontForge’s drawing tools. It’s satisfying, yet tiring, and we welcome the pop-in visits Adam occasionally pays us to help advise on the direction we’re taking with the coverage.

We had a group review with all 3 sprints just after lunch, where we went through each book chapter by chapter, noting progress or lack of progress, and made sure everyone had enough to do and knew exactly what they should be doing. We will leave any reading, reviews, and rewrites for tomorrow, since there are so many chapters that don’t even exist as a first draft yet.

I think tonight people will be pretty exhausted. It will be interesting to see where things stand in the morning. The files have to go to the printer by tomorrow night, or there will be no printed books for all to take home.

Day One of the FontForge Book Sprint

Today is the first proper day of the Book Sprint. (Monday was an “unconference,” led by Allen Gunn of Aspiration. For more about this particular unconference, scroll to the bottom of today’s post.) This morning we began with Adam Hyde’s introduction to the Book Sprint process, and then we broke into our groups. There are 3 different documentation teams, so this is actually 3 concurrent sprints. I am working with the FontForge group, because they had the smallest team and could therefore maybe use the most help.

Each team’s first assignment was to come up with a target audience, title, subtitle, and TOC. Starting by defining the target audience makes a lot of sense and can actually be deceptively complicated or even controversial, depending on the project. For team FontForge, at first it seemed like there were several fundamentally opposing views, but through the magic of good facilitation, everyone ended up on the same page in a way that felt natural. We came up with a working title and subtitle, although we might change them over the course of the sprint.

Next came the exercise of coming up with the draft TOC. The first step for this involved everyone taking a pack of post-its and jotting down a topic they thought the book should cover. We could write topics on as many post-its as we liked. Then we put them all up on a wall and started coming up with categories for organizing the topics, including a category for topics we chose NOT to cover in the book. Eventually this wall of semi-organized post-its turned itself into the draft TOC. We didn’t always pull topics verbatim into the TOC from the post-its, but the structuring exercise felt like a necessary first step to organizing our thoughts and making sure we wouldn’t leave anything important out of the book.

Now a little about the FontForge team. It’s an interesting international group. Vernon Adams is from the UK and now lives in Southern CA. Ben Martin is Australian, Nate Willis lives in West Texas, Jason Pagura lives in Cupertino, and Eben Sorkin in Boston. They’re all interested (passionate?) in typography and all seem pretty technical. There is a wide range of personalities involved (across the tech-geek continuum, anyway) and it’s fascinating to watch the dynamics. Everyone on the team has been gracious about letting me—a stranger who never used FontForge—join their team. Currently I’m working on the glossary, and it sounds like I’ll play a stronger role tomorrow when more is written and I can do more reading and reviewing. I’ll also be testing some of the how-to writing, to make sure they didn’t skip any steps that may be obvious to someone very experienced in FontForge, but less obvious to a new user.

I will say that now that we’re actively writing, things are getting to be really fun. I don’t know if people will still think it’s fun at 9pm tonight or tomorrow night or Thursday for that matter, but it’s pretty exciting to actually dig into the writing. I am really looking forward to making a solid contribution.

More tomorrow…

A bit about Monday’s unconference

It was facilitated by Allen Gunn (Gunner) of Aspiration. Gunner got the group thinking of the issues most relevant to everyone’s documentation situations, and helped us prioritize and distill them into topics we could break out into workgroups to discuss. I think the topics were useful ones to cover, we had some good brainstorming sessions. (A few of the topics I remember: how to maintain documentation after the sprint and keep it “living” using the tools; how to develop documentation communities; whether documentation can play a more upstream role in the development process; whether multimedia can play an effective role in certain types of documentation.) Not all the questions that arose in the groups were actually answered from these sessions, but I think it was a good focusing exercise and helped everyone get to know each other and get ready to work together.

Although the unconference topics were centered on looking for solutions to these kinds of issues within the free software community (which definitely has a separate set of challenges from the industries I’m used to), these breakout sessions were really useful to me. They definitely got me thinking about the documentation I “own” for Safari, the ways I’ve been less than successful with making it useful to its users, keeping it “alive” and up to date, and building collaboration. I’ve learned (or at least clarified my thinking on) quite a few potential ways to improve it that I’m looking forward to discussing with my team next week.

Hmmm… a book sprint

Next week I am off to my first Book Sprint. After years of working in traditional publishing, I am entranced by the idea of being able to write and produce a book collaboratively in a single week. The books I’ve been involved with over the years have each taken months from start to finish, and it’s pretty normal for the author(s) and the rest of the book team to become completely exhausted by the end of the process. For months, much of the team would have been working long hours on the book—on top of a demanding day job, in many cases. This is a strain for anyone and can be hard on the entire family of each member of the team.

The Book Sprint concept (created by Adam Hyde) sure sounds like a refreshing new way to think about book production. The idea is a facilitated collaboration where the entire team is physically working together for a week, focused exclusively on the book. It sounds like it could be a very tiring week, but comparing it to the sometimes grueling pain of a 3-6 month book project, a single tiring week sounds like a walk in the park. Also, the idea of building a community around a book is really appealing. Bonding can happen during traditional book production, but it’s hit or miss and really depends on the personalities involved. It’s been my experience that the more actual physical communication that takes place between a book team, the more enjoyable the process, with in-person contact being ideal, but rare. Even phone contact gives a communication edge over email. When the entire book is handled over email, it’s easy to have miscommunication (or worse) crop up, especially as people become more and more fatigued. So I’m eager to experience the entirely in-person experience of community during the Book Sprint. I think there are other aspects to the community angle of a book sprint that I hope to learn more about also.

I asked Adam Hyde if I could observe a Book Sprint when I learned about the concept at Books In Browsers 2012. I knew there were a few local ones coming up. Adam prefers not to allow observers because it changes the dynamic. It’s apparently almost impossible (or maybe completely impossible) for someone to observe without chiming in at some point, and if someone is just commenting and critiquing without being a part of the writing process, it presumably throws a big monkey wrench into the works. So… I am going to be put to work!

I think (hope) that this story will be interesting to my friends in the publishing world. Can a book really be written and produced in one week? What kind of quality are we talking about in a project of that duration? I have a number of questions and reservations about how this process could be adopted for traditional publishing (it was developed for freely licensed and distributed content such as documentation for open source software), but I am going in with an open mind. Really looking forward to it! I’m especially interested in the authoring/production tools that make this process possible.