Slashdot: David, can you talk a little about Write the Docs. What is Write the Docs?
David Smatlak for Write the Docs:Write the Docs was started by a guy named Eric Holscher who created a project with two of his colleagues, Charles Leifer and Bobby Grace called Read the Docs and Read the Docs is a repository for open source documentation. Write the Docs came about as a result of that through the interest of so many other people in the community, not only developers, technical writers, designers, editors, just people that were interested in creating good software, better software, and documentation that goes with it. And creating both at the same time really.
Slashdot: And to be clear, we are talking about open source software specifically?
David: Correct. Open source. And really for any project, Read the Docs was created in Python they use things like Markdown and Sphinx but the documentation is the app open source and really any kind of project that someone wants to work on.
Slashdot: Can we talk about what sort of projects and what sort of docs we are talking about? What are some examples of the kind of documentation that gets made through Write the Docs?
David: Let’s see. Well, this year at the conference we had some people from a newspaper come in and they wanted some help with a project that they were developing, and we had a meeting – or writing day -- on the first day of the conference, and they just asked people to help. So it is very community based. We had another application there for a password application that wanted some feedback on the UI and some of their documentation. So we had that, where people got involved and helped out. But really it is anything that someone wants to work on. We have other vendors there. Mozilla was there talking about the Mozilla developer network and showing people how to write documentation, and edit for their site. But it really focuses on open source.
Slashdot: What is the significance of documentation per se? I mean how much does that add?
David: I think it adds a lot. It is always good to have your code documented, if not for another developer, even for yourself, I have heard several developers over here who say, you know, hey, six months after I have created something, I need to go back and really look at it, to figure out what I was doing a long time ago. I know myself I have done that with scripting and things like that. I also think it is important for sustainability of an application and the community that has been built up around this. It really shows people care, and really want to create better products.
Slashdot: What sort of people end up getting involved with Write the Docs? Is it mostly the developers themselves, is it people who aren’t developers—what is the typical participant?
David: It is both. I am not a developer myself. I am a writer, but it really brings developers, writers, this year we had some great talks at the conference from user experience and UI developers and people that do QA testing on software. So it really brings a lot of different aspects of software into the mix. We have had data librarians aboutthat’s a really technical field. And how they use documentation in different software in open source. So it really brings together a vast array of people.
Slashdot: Can you talk a little bit about the logistics of it? If somebody says, hey, I want to, I’d like to do this, and help improve the world’s documentation, where do you start? How do you actually take part as a participant if you want to be part of this Write the Docs?
David: A great way to get started is in the meetup groups. We now have eight meetup groups in the US in various cities—Seattle, Portland has a very active community, San Francisco, Austin, several others, and we even have Europe. So we have sites now in Ireland and London. And there is a conference every year in Portland, next year it is May 22nd through the 24th in 2016. And then there will be a European conference in 2016 as well, that’s undetermined where that’s going to be, right now it is in the planning stages.
Slashdot: Do you have to actually get together in person with anyone to take part, or are there good opportunities if you can do it completely by remote?
David: I think you can definitely do it by remote. I know Python is a big part of the community, and we see things on Twitter, just the other day there was someone asking about they needed to create some new documentation for some new aspects of Python and they were just looking for writers to help out. So it could really be anybody. It wouldn’t have to necessarily be in a particular city.