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BookSprints: RemoteContrib

Remote Contributions

In our experience, the majority of the work in a Book Sprint occurs in the real space of the sprint. There have been exceptions to this: for instance, the 'Introduction to the Command Line' sprint held in collaboration with the Free Software Foundation had few real space participants and many remote participants. Whichever way the participation is split, remote contributions are very important and it's absolutely necessary to devise a plan to co-ordinate the real space and online contributions. FLOSS Manuals provides some tools that have proven very useful in assisting with this communication.

We have in the past also used phone conferences (either VoIP or "real" POTS phones) but in general, these are not as effective for ongoing collaboration as text-based communication. A persistent, open, text-based chat is good for "ambient" remote communication, which is better suited for collaboration with remote participants over a whole day, week, or longer. Voice connections put too much focus on "what are we doing right now" and there are often dreary moments when participants are trying to think of something to say.

However, quick conference calls can be very effective in helping the Book Sprint team realise they are not working in isolation and that there are active, real people somewhere else on the planet that care about what they are doing and want to help. It gives a motivating boost but is not absolutely necessary.

FLOSS Manuals provides the following tools for online communication between contributors.

Inline Chat

To exchange brief messages with others while contributing to a manual, we have provided a little inline chat. You can see it on the right of all pages in the WRITE pages of the FLOSS Manuals as while as when editing pages. It is a simple mechanism requiring no extra plugins to work in your browser. The chat actually works by sending messages to the FLOSS Manuals IRC (Intenet Relay Chat) channel (see below). The chat is for chatting about anything that comes to mind. The text format is pretty short and there is no history or ability to scroll back. So for more elaborate conversations where you want to record the discussion or allow private messaging, an IRC client should be used.


The inline chat is a single chat room. There is no provision (yet) for chatting on a manual-specific basis. All comments are out there in the open for all to see and remain there until someone else starts a discussion and makes your comments scroll off the page.


IRC is a very old school technology. Its main inhabitants are geeks, especially free software geeks. It's a very good technology for chat as it requires very little bandwidth, so if you are on a slow connection it works very well. IRC chat rooms are provided by IRC networks, servers that offer accounts. We use the Freenode IRC network, one of the oldest and most popular around. Anyone can create a chat room on the Free Node network. we have created two:

  1. #flossmanuals
  2. #booksprint

The web-based chat described in the previous section connects to the first channel (#flossmanuals). We hardly ever use the #booksprint channel.

To use the IRC chat rooms without using our web-based interface, you need to have an IRC client installed and know how to use it. Connect to #flossmanuals at irc.freenode.net.

Email Notifications

Every manual has an email notification feature. By subscribing to the notifications, you will get an email every time a change is made in that manual. These notifications also have a link to a "diff" view, which will show you the changes made in the most recent edit and highlight the differences.

Email notifications are great during book sprints for keeping an eye on who is doing what. In addition, if you have a problem or question with a change someone makes to something you have written, you can find out about the change quickly and contact the person to discuss the reason.

Editing Notifications

In the editing interface you can see who is editing what chapter.


This is useful for seeing how much activity is going, and helps co-ordinate contributions. If someone is editing a chapter, no one else should edit that chapter until its free. Otherwise edit conflicts can occur.

Finally, when you are in the WRITE section of FLOSS Manuals, you can see everyone who is currently logged on. These people should be able to see anything posted in the web-based chat.

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