Expanding the open source business model

I want O'Reilly for Dummies.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

How much would you pay for some really good open source documentation?

It's an important question. As a business model, we have seen that open source can pay for programming and support services. But technical writing lags.

Good instruction is a multi-part process. It starts with basic documentation, a description of what the program is doing. When this is sound, as in a well-written requirements document, development is much smoother.

But getting this sort of document out of a programmer is a bit like trying to get a teenager with ADD to clean their desk. You're in for a fight, the result will never be what you want, and within hours there's going to be another mess.

What you usually wind up with is a compromise in which the kid learns how to find his own stuff. But in software the desk is always being occupied by someone new, like your QA people, and then your users. Then there are those other compromises, the features left undone in the rush to get the software out the door.

Thus we have developed a second layer of documentation, best exemplified by the Dummies series. Amazon lists thousands of books on Linux, and hundreds on mySQL. But as you move up the stack, where the users live, it thins out. I found only one popular book on switching to Open Office, by a small publisher, and I haven't read it so I can't vouch for it.

User books are a chicken-and-egg deal. The books follow sales, they don't lead. A publisher needs to know there will be millions of installs before putting hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, and hoping for tens of thousands in sales. She also needs to know there's some stability there, that the book will be relevant a year or two from now. Not easy in open source.

Let me say, finally, that I love O'Reilly Publishing. They are the go-to guys for open source references, for programming books, and for cute little woodcuts of animals. I just wish they spoke more to the mass market.

I want O'Reilly for Dummies.

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