FLOSSmanuals.net: A New Wiki Help Authoring/Publishing Tool Hybrid
Flossmanuals.net is a new wiki help authoring/publishing tool hybrid that, as far as I know, is completely unique. The site is more than a wiki. It allows groups of authors to create specific chapters independently. You can then remix the chapters into any arrangement and selection you want through a drag-and-drop interface. Finally, you can export the selection as a PDF file. Alternatively, you can embed the manual on a separate site using an API.<>
FLOSS stands for Free/Libre Open Source Software, and this site announces itself as a host for open source software documentation ("free manuals about free software").
Why not use traditional help authoring tools? Often times open source software projects can't afford the expensive authoring tools more commonly used to document commercial software. Additionally, developers -- who often write the documentation -- don't want to learn complicated authoring tools. The wiki interface is simple yet flexible. Publishing multiple versions of guides is easy. Read more about FLOSSmanuals.net here.
In exploring the site, I think the concept is impressive. It's the next generation in wiki authoring. However, right now the site is very young. Additionally, by limiting the scope to open source, the authors limit their potential for adoption. The same software could have market appeal for commercial group authoring situations.
Anne Gentle is one of the go-to people for information on Flossmanuals. You can read the results of their "booksprint" (a long documentation writing party) on Anne's blog.
Keith Soltys wrote about Floss and linked to numerous other writers, including Charles Jeter and Janet Swisher. We also talked about FLOSSmanuals.net briefly on the last podcast.
Update: I just published this post and Shannon looks over my shoulder and says "Floss manuals? They teach you how to floss?"
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation if you're looking for more info about that. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me. Finally, note that the opinions I express on my blog are my own points of view, not that of my employer.