Friday, June 06, 2008

Sharing the knowledge

This post is going to a bit about what I've been doing lately. Well, like any other developer I've been mostly busy with getting the projects released before the big July. But I've also been past-timing a bit on setting up a new wiki.

Yay, I don't have to be the wiki techie any more!

It's been well over a year since I started managing Objectware's Confluence installation. As expected, it was very little work. Confluence basically runs itself once it's set up. Mostly it was upgrading, administering content (deleting and cleaning), doing the odd restart or log-watching. Eventually, after a year or so, the hosting of the wiki was outsourced to a nearby hosting company, cause our instance's database was starting to run a bit slow, and my billing rates were a bit high (hey, I'm a consultant, after all) :)

So good riddance, finally no more booring IT-support work.

Or do I...

Well, not until two months later, anyway. I was asked by a colleague, who's a core driver of our internal Solaris-group (I'll let him remain nameless right now, but he desevers all credit for this stuff), to participate in our latest venture, which I'll get back to, but first..

About two years ago..

I was discussing the still immature wiki with the boss. Already we were seeing effects of decay and staleness in the quickly growing content. He asked me what we should do about it, and I said "I honestly think we should just open it up.". He gave a small laugh and said that was not very realistic. And it wasn't. Too much confidential customer stuff was mixed in with the pure knowledge about various open source projects and tools.

Well, since then our wiki has grown and matured. It is better structured and filled with a lot of good content (much to the credit of the nameless guy mentioned earlier).

Some stats..

It's a meager 3.418 pages. You could be worried that it's a bunch of useless pages, but these pages count 29.555 edits, or nearly 9 edits per page, which I'm guessing is a good number for an internal wiki. 159 different authors have contributed to the content, and there are over 2.000 attachments.

Now, finally due to a lot of internal efforts (not many of which were my own, to be frank), the political descision has been made to open up *some* of the content.


So we took an evening and set it up on our new fancy Sun/Solaris box. Did I mention how easy/great it was to set up a Solaris with a database and Confluence? Well, I did get someone else to do the dirty work of setting up and configuring the zone, but after that it was real easy :)

But why, you ask? Why take our hard-earned intellectual property worth hundreds of hours of consultant hours and just share them with everyone?

Open source, open knowledge

Well, first thing is that the knowledge in those pages isn't worth more than how much they are used. If more people use them, the (especially Java) community can benefit as a whole, and make our work easier/more fun. We have to work with our competitors on many projects, so if we can help them for example understand how to set up a Maven enterprise infrastructure, then we will benefit as well in the long run.

Good PR

Well, obvious argument isn't it :)

We needed a good wiki for these open source projects

We wished to host a Confluence for the Backward Compatibility Tester and the EDR project. More will probably follow soon. Sorry CollabNet, but your wiki sucks.

We need help!

We want input from other people who have experiences with the tools we use. We're hoping that people will contribute back with either their knowledge, or link to places where it exists on the net.

Why it might be a bad idea..

My main concern is that we'll get some negative reactions claiming we are duplicating/harnessing documentation which should reside other places. Well, we're too impatient to wait for these other places to update their FAQs and wiki pages with our stuff. If they wish they can just copy the content back to their sites whenever they feel like it.

There are some other concerns, like what license should we use, spam-prevention, and cross-wiki search (well, atleast now we can search the wiki with Google).

And finally, it might just not take off because people might be too shy to write stuff on the public wiki. Well, we'll see how it goes. No matter what, it will be my (and some others) way of sharing stuff with partners and other people in the community when we want to get some content *out there* quickly. Feel free to use it for the same.

It's not more than 81 pages out there yet, but take a look at the Smidig 2.0 stuff. It has a lot of good stuff about Maven and testing strategies, among other things. We've tried to keep all of it in English but some of it is still Norwegian, unfortunately. Smidig 2.0 roughly translates into "Agile 2.0" and is our pet-name for practices that have evolved after the first wave of agile bubbles. If you know Norwegian you can take a look at Totto's presentation from the Smidig 2007 conference for some more thoughts on that.