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FLOSS Manuals

FLOSSManuals: BookSprints

Book Sprints

Book Sprints are an intensive working period with many writers collaborating over a fixed period of time. FLOSS Manuals is designing the technology and methodology to make these sprints effective and efficient short bursts of 3-5 days. Collaborators are in real space or working remotely and communicating by the FLOSS Manuals toolset and IRC (Internet Relay Chat).

There is a full manual on Book Sprints linked from the front page of FLOSS Manuals (http://en.flossmanuals.net/booksprints).

Book Sprints are an idea evolved by Tomas Krag and the Wireless Networking in the Developing World crew. They gathered to write a manual about wireless networking and called this process a sprint. This process took place online with writers passing material back and forth for a few months, then they met in real space for a week and worked intensively and then spent several months cleaning the material up. This was a pretty quick process when compared to traditional publishing turn around times.

In Dec 2007 Tomas and Adam Hyde met during the Open Translation Tools workshop hosted by Aspiration Tech in Zagreb, Croatia. Tomas explained the Book Sprint process to Adam, but unfortunately Adam misunderstood the process and thought that the book was written in a week - he then went about organising a series of events to write books in a week. Thankfully, they worked.

The first sprint was for Pure Data (march 2008). Luka Princic and Derek Holzer went to an apartment (owned by FLOSS Manuals friend Darko Fritz) on the beautiful Croatian island of Korcula, and wrote some material about Pure Data.



The sprint was successful but very much our first attempt to just get going with this format.  The first 'full scale' sprint was the Inkscape Book Sprint which brought a team of writers from the official Inkscape documentation team together in Paris to create a manual on the well known Vector Graphics software.http://en.flossmanuals.net/Inkscape 


The Inkscape Book Sprint was sponsored by Google Summer of Code. We finished the first version of the manual by the end of the 5 days, however we did not publish it as a book as some work was still needed.

Then we started getting more ambitious and tackling greater amounts of material. Anne Gentle and Adam Hyde organised the Sugar Book Sprint in Austin, Texas, for Sugar and OLPC :


This was the first sprint where we made a book immediately after the event ended using our publishing tools. The books take about 3 minutes to create and 10 minutes to upload to the print on demand service. You can then buy them immediately! For the OLPC and Sugar sprint we made two books :


After this was the How to Bypass Circumvention Sprint held in the Catskills (upstate New York).


Then some experiments with different methods of sprinting. The FLOSSIFY 1 sprint was a very inspirational 3 days converting the Digital Foundations text book from using all closed software in its examples to using only Free Software in the examples. This was held at Eyebeam, New York City as a walk-in Sprint. We met some fabulous people over the 3 days and completed the translation on time!


Early 2008 we also experimented with some informal sprints.  The below image is taken from an informal sprint held at the Cafe Oberholz (Berlin) during a weekend.


Anyone can turn up to this kind of event and contribute to a manual of their choice.

We then started getting a little crazy and organised two sprints to write 2 manuals in 4 days. The first was the Introduction to the Command Line (held at Harvard, and organised in collaboration with the Free Software Foundation), where most of the contributions were remote.


The second was for FireFox in collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation and the DocTrain West Festival.


These two ambitious sprints (march 2008) were interesting for a couple of reasons. The first being that we had a tremendous number of new subscriptions tanks to the endorsement of the Free Software Foundation. The second is that we managed to write good manuals in 2 days(!).

For these sprints Aleksander Erkalovic developed a nice tool for having a chat window next to the editing interface. The chat window also sent the chat messages to the FLOSS Manuals IRC channel. In addition we could see who was editing what through the notification tools Aleksander had developed :


We have also started experimenting with having Book Sprints split between multiple cities. Pictured below is the second Pure Data Book Sprint (April 2008) which simultaneously occured in Berlin and New York. We connected the two spaces via a video conference.


So, the sprints are becoming better and better. We are gathering a lot of experience in this field and trying out different techniques. Stay tuned!

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