Bounties for docs?

Summary:I've been meaning to mention Google's "Summer of Code" for some time. Google is sponsoring work on open source projects by paying students a $4,500 stipend to dig in and work on projects.

I've been meaning to mention Google's "Summer of Code" for some time. Google is sponsoring work on open source projects by paying students a $4,500 stipend to dig in and work on projects. Google isn't alone here: A number of open source projects have "bounty" programs to pay for features that are needed or wanted. I think the bounties programs that some other open source projects have are also great ideas. But it seems that a crucial area is often overlooked: Documentation. Why isn't documentation a higher priority for the "bounty" programs?

It's been mentioned before, but documentation is still one of the weakest parts of many open source projects. There are exceptions: I think Apache has excellent documentation, for example. But even corporate-sponsored projects like MySQL -- which has excellent online documentation overall -- lack docs in some crucial areas. Try finding good documenation on compiling and using MySQL with SSL, for example. MySQL doesn't provide binaries with SSL compiled in, (due to licensing issues) and the docs to do so are meager at best.

Before anyone dares to suggest that proprietary software is better in this regard, don't. I have worked with plenty of proprietary apps that have abysmal documentation -- which is doubly annoying, since you're paying for the privilege of using poorly-documented software. Frankly, it's an industry-wide problem -- open source, proprietary software, and internal projects for organizations that may not even carry a license, tend to suffer from poor (or non-existent) documentation.

Admins and programmers typically don't like to write documentation and tend to produce sub-par documentation (or, even if they do enjoy it and produce excellent docs, lack the time to do so) and most companies seem to do documentation as an afterthought. It doesn't help to have great software if the documentation isn't sufficient for users to become productive with it. It's great to see Google, et al, spending money to help move the software forward -- but I hope that open source companies will start taking documentation projects under their wing as well, so that more users can actually benefit from open source projects.

Topics: Open Source

About

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is the community manager for openSUSE, a community Linux distro sponsored by Novell. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist primarily covering the Linux and FOSS beat, and wrote for a number of publications, such as Linux Magazine, Linux.com, Sys Admin, UnixReview.com, IBM developer... Full Bio

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