August 02, 2000

Doco crazy

Documentation crazy today (tomorrow too). One of the unfortunate (in a sense) things about writing documentation for a system you wrote has to be that in the course of explaining something in terms that someone else can understand, you get ideas for new/improved features for what you've already developed. It's a vicious cycle!

One of the ideas spurred from the fact that OpenInteract could actually be a product, but I hadn't thought much about this in the past. But today CP mentioned that a german company that builds content management systems is putting out some feelers. So I asked myself, "How are people going to distribute new packages? How are we going to distribute upgrades?" And everything sprouts from that: distribution (needs to be in one file), file locations (need to be standardized), configuration (need to break the monolithic config file into chunks) and all sorts of other things. Very useful.

In addition, I think there's a real learning curve that you go through when developing something that will be used by any number of people, all of whom you do not know and will not have contact with except for your README file and other documentation. The assumptions that you have regarding other software you install must be made explicit so you can anticipate questions people have.

That said, people won't read what you write. Rusty has this problem with Scoop -- bunches of people email him asking a question explicitly answered in the documentation. If you send back a terse 'RTFM', people think you're an asshole. If you take the time to answer them, you'll be doing nothing else. It's not so bad if the dingdongs think you're an asshole, but if that starts floating around and taking on a life of its own, then people who might be valuable developers may simply find another project to do.

Back to work.

(Originally posted elsewhere)

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