Difference between revisions of "Season of Docs Ideas 2019"

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* TBD Add links to further information: existing docs, git repository, howto contribute ...
* Source code of existing docs: https://github.com/geonetwork/doc
* Existing docs: https://geonetwork-opensource.org/docs.html
* Extra developer docs: https://github.com/geonetwork/core-geonetwork/wiki#documentation
==Other OSGeo Project Docs ==
==Other OSGeo Project Docs ==

Revision as of 00:03, 20 April 2019

Season of Docs home page.

From simple to grandiose writing tasks which will improve OSGeo projects, and open source in general. It includes ideas and first steps for tech writers, software users and those participating in Google’s Season-of-Docs.

We, the communities behind the OSGeo Foundation’s open source geospatial projects, are positioned to help solve big documentation challenges faced by all open source projects. We can achieve this by continuing as we are doing now, with ordinary people, gifting bursts of effort, toward small, discrete and achievable tasks, to collectively achieve an extraordinary impact.

Leveraging Google’s Season-of-Docs

Google’s Season-of-Docs is an initiative to bring open source and technical writer communities together to write documentation. We propose we use this initiative as a focal point to attract a collaborative community to pilot big ideas. In particular:

  • Open source projects face sustainability challenges. How will docs developed during Season-Of-Docs be maintained long term?
  • Can a writer’s expertise be amplified to help community users and developers write good docs more effectively and efficiently?
  • Could best practices developed in one project be applied to the greater open source eco-system?

We propose to focus on one (or more) writing initiatives, for one of our leading OSGeo projects. Goals should focus on:

  • Being directly applicable for the project.
  • Be captured as a template, which can be easily applied to other OSGeo projects. Ideally this will grow into an initiative which is of value to all open source projects.
  • Engages a Season-of-Docs sponsored writer, along with volunteers from project and writing communities.

Key roles sought

  • Mentor: As an experienced project team member, provide technical mentorship toward a writing initiative.
  • Writer: As someone keen to give back to open source through docs, volunteer to be mentored and tackle our OSGeo writing initiatives.
  • Senior writer: Drive the writing aspects of an initiative, including empowering other participants. (Eligible for a stipend from Google).
  • Learning expert: Help shape documentation templates and guides by linking back to educational theory. (This role is highly prized).
  • Administrator: As an engaged OSGeo community member, act as a Season-of-Docs administrator.


If you are considering helping, or maybe just want to learn a bit more, then please reach out to us on our email list. If keen, then add yourself to the list below. (Be concise: Name, brief background, how you’d like to contribute.)

People keen to take part

  • Cameron Shorter [Admin and Mentor]: Geospatial business analyst. Co-founder of OSGeoLive. Co-editor of OSGeoLive doc templates; reviewer of most of the 50 Project Overview and Quickstart documents. Ex-board member of OSGeo Foundation. Keen to provide connections to our community and to be practically involved in writing initiatives.
  • Jo Cook [Admin and Mentor]: Geospatial Consultant and metadata lead at Astun Technology. Chair and founder of the OSGeo UK Local Chapter, chair of FOSS4GUK 2016, vice-chair of FOSS4G 2013, and previous OSGeo board member. Keen to mentor technical writers and generally reduce the barriers for non-coders to contribute to projects, using documentation as a way in.
  • María Arias de Reyna [Mentor]: GeoNetwork maintainer. President of OSGeo Foundation. Open Source Advocator and Women in Technology activist. Software Engineer with more than a decade of experience in the spatial field. I would like to mentor someone to improve GeoNetwork documentation to make sure both users and developers have a good reference manual.
  • Nick Bearman [Mentor]: Teaching Fellow in Geospatial Analysis (University College London) and GIS Trainer & Consultant (Geospatial Training Solutions). Contributed to QGIS documentation. Write and deliver GIS training courses to a variety of participants. Keen to learn how to contribute more effectively, particularly to QGIS documentation. Also looking to run a workshop on how to contribute to open source documentation at upcoming FOSS4G UK event in Edinburgh, UK in September 2019.
  • Astrid Emde: Senior GIS consultant at WhereGroup in Bonn, Germany. OSGeo board member and secretary. Awarded the Sol Katz award for leadership and longtime contributions to open source geospatial communities. Contributor to OSGeoLive, the OSGeo marketing committee and co-coordinator of meetups, code-sprints, and the annual German-speaking open source geospatial conference. She likes documentation and teaching people OSGeo Software. Keen to provide connections to our community and to be practically involved in writing initiatives.
  • Johanna Boltman: Ex-English teacher, IT admin, and user of open source software as a geospatial officer at a local council. Keen to be mentored in writing docs.
  • Andrew Jeffrey: Spatial Consultant in Bathurst, NSW, Australia, involved in QGIS training and support. Involved in the Australian QGIS user group, have contributed to QGIS documentation, and have a keen interest in improving the community and access to information for users. Out of the Google Summer of Docs, I am interested in being mentored to improve my QGIS documentation contributions, and learn of any best practices that can facilitate a good delivery of information.
  • Adam Steer: Independent geospatial consultant, scientist, community builder. Board member of OSGeo Oceania; charter member of OSGeo and OGC representative. Sometimes occupying all the chairs of coder/writer/analyst/manager - sometimes all at once; keen to contribute my experience to both document and training material writing; and mentoring new contributors. Also keen to learn and improve my own practices in contributing to OSGeo projects.
  • Belinda Baker: Background in writing process documentation and user of open source software as a GIS Consultant at a software company. Keen to be mentored in writing docs.
  • Liam Turner: GIS Specialist for NSW Government (Australia), previously a high school physics teacher. User of open source technical documentation, keen to make a contribution.
  • Nicolas Roelandt: Geospatial engineer at the French Institute of Science and Technology for Transport, Development and Networks. OSGeo charter member and OSGeoLive Project Steering Committee (PSC) member. Works on OSGeoLive documentation and translation build process (using the Transifex platform). Keen to support others in the use of these tools.
  • Luca Delucchi: Geographer; OSGeo and Open Street Map contributor and advocate. Core developer and translator of the GRASS GIS project; main developer of pyModis library; OSGeoLive and ZOO-Project contributor; president of the Italian OSGeo local chapter. Willing to help improve Jupyter interactive notebook documents in line with a developed template and writing instructions, if one is developed and committed to.
  • Phillip Davis: Professor of Computer Science in Corpus Christi, Texas USA. Longtime open source geospatial advocate, rabble-rousing troublemaker all over the world. Project manager and maniac behind the 2012-2015 build of the US GeoAcademy. Created five Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) as project manager and major funder from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and US Departement of Labour (DOL). Interested in helping to promote and develop any geospatial open source educations resource. Potential NSF and DOL US Federal grant writer and Principal Investigator.
  • Charlie Schweik: Professor of Environmental Conservation and Public Policy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Advocate of open educational resources and continues to be interested in developing collective action in GeoForAll and OSGeo toward developing a collaborative effort around educational materials. I'd welcome the opportunity to mentor somebody (especially if there were from my university) to write for this effort.
  • ... add your name here

The back story

For background on the value of communicators, along with ideas on the sort of communities that have proven to be successful in the past, we suggest starting with this article on inspiring techies to become great writers.


Best practice templates

Good documentation benefits from access to cross-disciplinary skills. Expertise is typically spread across developers, users, domain experts, teachers, technical writers, graphic artists, and translators. Ramp-up time is high for any group attempting to learn another’s skill-set. This creates a significant barrier to entry.

Our OSGeoLive initiative has achieved sustained, cross-domain collaboration by capturing writer’s expertise within templates with clear and punchy writing instructions. These templates were then provided to developers and domain experts. By using an outline/write/review/translate/publish process we’ve achieved significant efficiencies by allowing experts to focus only on the areas they know best. However, OSGeoLive has only tackled the Project Overview and Quickstarts. Projects which have tacked harder documentation types haven’t addressed cross-project consistency.

How can we align our OSGeoLive writing initiatives with other projects and help build best practice templates for key documentation types? This will be valuable if addressed at an OSGeo level. It will be significantly more valuable if extended to an international, cross-domain level. (It will be challenging to attract momentum, but good groundwork is in place, and if implemented it would have a huge positive impact.)

Potential resources:

Other doc types for OSGeoLive

To date, our OSGeoLive community have been sustainably maintaining two of the easier documentation types: Project Overviews and Quickstarts. Established OSGeo projects also have documentation, in various stages of currency, completion, relevance, verbosity, and quality.

I believe we are ready to extend our consistency and best practices to some of the harder documentation types - such as tutorials, workshops and howtos. We should start by focusing on one of OSGeo’s flagship projects, such as QGIS or PostGIS. Join the project’s existing documentation initiatives. Provide feedback and improvements as required. Build templates and writing instructions which can be adopted by other projects. Integrate these with the OSGeoLive publishing and translation pipeline.


QGIS Documentation

QGIS, a desktop GIS application, is one of the OSGeo Foundation’s flagship projects with a broad developer and documentation community.

  • Pyqgis cookbook code snipped are now automatically tested, meaning that every new contribution will be rock solid and code snippets can be taken "as they are" and pasted in QGIS
  • Change the doc style to the more readable Read-The-Docs vanilla theme (fully supported by sphinx). A live example here https://qgis.org/test/en/.
  • Besides from contents, writing documentation isn't easy because of the complex framework (sphinx, git, github, etc). Improving the WYSIWYG github editor would be a great enhancement
  • Cleaning the issue tracker in github (> 400 issue now) in many different ways: verifying issues, closing duplicates, make order in the labels, etc



GeoNetwork is the leading open source spatial metadata catalog for spatial data, and is an OSGeo Foundation project. It has read-the-docs style documentation separated by user, administrator, maintainer, and contribution guides. There is additional documentation within the GeoNetwork source code that could be replicated or incorporated into the main documentation. Documentation is primarily written by developers, many who have English as a second language. Consequently, there is a great opportunity to improve language, readability and structure.

Documentation hasn't kept up with feature development. Some functionality has dated instructions and screenshots, and in places there is only placeholder text or no documentation at all. This impacts user experience and leads to more questions on our user and developer mailing lists.

We'd like to reduce the barrier to entry to adding documentation. We have started tagging "easy to resolve" issues in our github repository but this has not gained much traction yet.

Season of Docs ideas for GeoNetwork include the following:

  • Geonetwork team to scope and create issues for incomplete documentation (drawing from doc review and pull requests).
  • Geonetwork team to reach out to, encourage and support co-contributions to documentation from user base.
  • Writer to reorganize documentation to clearly separate user, administrator and developer sections, removing duplicated content.
  • Writer to provide templates and writing instructions to help reduce barrier-to-entry and improve quality of developer's contributing content.
  • Writers to review language and readability.
  • Writers to follow existing quickstarts, upgrade and improve.
  • Writers to work through documentation issue list.


Other OSGeo Project Docs

TBD: Are there other projects that are at a tipping point - that could achieve the QGIS momentum if they get a push?

Improve OSGeoLive writing instructions

We’ve recently updated our OSGeoLive process for generating documentation, and have moved our documentation repository from MediaWiki to trac. We appear to have introduced a few gaps in the move. In particular, the new docs don’t reference our specific writing instructions which are embedding in Project Overview and Quickstart reference documents. A nice discrete task would be to review the old and new processes, and update the new docs to ensure they still contain relevant information, and are easy to follow.


New OSGeoLive Quickstarts and Overviews:

For our 2019 OSGeoLive release we hope to attract a number of projects which have recently signed up as OSGeo Foundation Community projects. These projects will need help writing their Project Overviews and Quickstarts. Existing project documentation also needs to be updated to align with the latest releases. (Reviewing 50 Quickstarts to ensure they still work is a time-consuming exercise).


Simplify OSGeoLive’s doc writing process

Like most open source projects, OSGeoLive templates and content have primarily been created by developers (and a few users), without access to the insights provided by trained technical writers and teachers.

Johanna Botman explains the challenges our approach has introduced. She started her working career as an English teacher, then moved into IT, website design, and is now uses geospatial software, as a geospatial officer at a local council. She observed:

Some of the issues relating to getting started [with writing project documentation] are about bridging the gap between developers and writers. Developers write code in coding tools. They collaborate, they are used to versioning and are at home with unformatted raw text and automation tools. Writers? They work on Windows machines in Word - maybe in Google Docs if they are lucky. They don’t know about running build scripts, running Linux variants, Github, chat programs, HTML, RST formats, wikis and the variants of markup languages.
It’s one thing to work with the open source software, another to write about it, and a third thing to work out how to write it so that it fits in with the project. It seems as if the developers have created the writing system in a way that they are used to working, not necessarily in a way that works for writers.

There are many ways we can help solve this problem, from small to large:

  • Technical writers can try using our existing writing guides, and document anything that is difficult to understand, and help us fix it.
  • We can revisit and potentially improve the tools and processes we use. Gitbook looks promising. We have already adopted Transifex for translations. Some research into options and what others are doing would help here.
  • Processes, tools and howto-write guides could both draw from international initiatives, and if we find ourselves to be world leading, then we should feed our insights back into international best practices.

Define an authoritative style guide

It would be great if there was a compact, authoritative style guide (with different configurations), which could be selected in a similar manner to the selection of a Creative Commons license. It should be freely available, and coordinated by a non-profit community. (One version might be too idealistic, maybe we need a few).

Benefits provided:

  • Reduced time learning and maintaining multiple style guides.
  • Improved documentation quality and consistency, resulting in improved reader comprehension.
  • Easier for writing tools to support the guide(s).
  • Make it easier for projects to set and apply writing standards.


OSGeoLive to apply a style guide

To date, the OSGeoLive team haven’t selected a style guide. It would be good to get advice from technical writers on which we should choose. We potentially should retrospectively clean up our public facing documentation in line with the selected guide. I’m aware there are tools for auto-checking documentation quality. What options are available for open source projects?

Open Source Geospatial Introductory Workshop

It wouldn’t take much to create a practical 3-hour introductory workshop introducing ~ six to eight of the leading Open Source geospatial applications. It would be a valuable contribution to many spatial conferences. It could use the existing OSGeoLive distribution along with installed data, and can draw upon existing Quickstarts.

The workshop should make use of best practice template structure for presenting, and set up a template which can be expanded out to other OSGeo projects.


  • OSGeoLive Quickstarts.
  • Nicolas Roelandt, Astrid Emde are proposing such a workshop for the Free and Open Source for Geospatial conference (FOSS4G).

Define an authoritative Code of Conduct

Most conferences and open source communities adopt a Code of Conduct and/or a Diversity Statement. It would be great of the multiple variants were consolidated, and selectable via a tick-box selection process, (like the selection of a Creative Commons license).


Jupyter Notebooks as an OSGeoLive documentation type

Jupyter Notebook is a web application that allows you to create and share documents that contain live code, equations, visualizations and explanatory text. It is a useful communication medium for explaining technical concepts. We included Jupyter Notebooks on prior OSGeoLive releases, but we didn’t have a maintainer to bring the documentation up to the standards we expect for OSGeoLive documents.

It would be good to:

  1. Have Project Overviews and Quickstarts updated to our quality standards, so we can re-introduce Jupyter Notebooks.
  2. Consider using Jupyter Notebooks as another documentation type supported by OSGeoLive - which would mean developing templates for its use by other OSGeo projects, and attracting maintainers from these projects to create material.


Tweak the OSGeoLive Presentation

We maintain a lightning presentation of the ~ 50 projects on OSGeoLive. It is a challenge to keep this presentation concise enough to fit within a conference presentation time-slot and could do with tweaking.