September 5th, 2008
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.
Update: I just published this post and Jane looks over my shoulder and says “Floss manuals? They teach you how to floss?”