By Tony Granata
Go to your favorite search engine and type in "Open Source." How many hits? Hundreds? Thousands? There are search engines strictly for searching open source information, projects and discussions, CodeCatalog.com and Sourcebank, to name a few.
In concept, this is great, thousands of people working on hundreds of projects to improve Open Source resources and software. But in reality, so much information and resources are out there that Open Source communities have created "the Information Fire Hose," a term coined by Linux programmer Alan Cox, which makes it difficult to find specific information required to solve a particular problem.
The Open Source Writers Group
Enter the Open Source Writers Group (OSWG), a non-commercial, non-profit organization with a goal of improving the overall quality and quantity of free Open-Source and open-content documentation. From the OSWG's mission statement: "At its foundation, the OSWG is simply about improving all open-source and open-content documentation, because the OSWG is not 'about Linux' or 'about GNOME' or 'about FreeBSD,' OSWG can therefore work to help all open-source projects, rather than just a specific subset of them."
A few key ways OSWG hopes to improve Open Source and open-content documentation:
Improve project/volunteer communication: OSWG provides a registration system for volunteers and open-source projects, thus providing a central point of contact for projects and volunteers, helping to match each with the other;
Improve project/project communication: Provide a forum in which people working on various Open Source documentation projects can share ideas, experience, and knowledge. Fostering increased cooperation between disparate documentation projects is one of the main methods through which the OSWG hopes to improve Open Source/open-content documentation.
Promoting Open Source and open-content documentation projects: The OSWG, as a "neutral" organization in the Open Source community, is unaligned with any particular project, operating system, or corporation. This neutrality, according to the OSWG, allows it to help promote any of the documentation projects that are part of the community.
Among the resources on the OSWG Web site are several mailing lists, a links list and a bookshelf. These resources tie together to complement the group's main undertaking, the Open Source Documentation Index.
Open Source Documentation Index
The Open Source Documentation Index (OSDI) is an effort to put together a comprehensive "card catalogue" of Open Source-related documentation.
"For the most part we're trying to index technical documentation for Linux, Open Source, and other Free software," according to the Web site. Documentation can include relevant articles, books, guides, FAQs, how-tos, manuals, and papers. The OSDI indexes documents that are available online, and are either licensed under an Open Source or Open Content license, or that are about Open Source software or related issues. You can search the OSDI by keyword, subject, or category.
By creating a central point of contact for volunteers and projects and providing a forum where project workers can exchange ideas, the OSWG is attempting to eliminate the "needle in the haystack" dilemma that Open Source projects can find themselves confronted with.
Goals for the OSWG include developing a cooperative relationship with the Open Source Research Team that is part of MetaLab and similar groups. The OSWG would also like to host an open content documentation conference, and early planning for this event has already begun. The group also wants to act as a central organization through which a documentation-grant program can be initiated.
Anyone who would like to get involved or has ideas or feedback about how the OSWG could better fulfill its primary goal of improving the quality and quantity of Open Source/open-content documentation should email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Web site.