Birthday-party-slash-Doc-Sprint, Amsterdam, October 12, 2013

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

Also, never doubt that a small group can get a lot done at a doc sprint, and the group at the Amsterdam doc sprint, however small, accomplished a lot of work on Web Platform Docs, moved the web forward, and changed the world. A small group, however, does have trouble polishing off a huge, chocolatey birthday cake, and we really could have done with more attendance on that front.

Indeed, the cake was not only not a lie, it was delicious. Careful with the knife, Doug.

The cake, the catering, and the venue, The Hub co-working space, were all orchestrated by our host, Paul Verbeek. Paul also coordinated with the Fronteers organization, which helped publicize the doc sprint, as it followed the Fronteers 2013 developer conference. Everything came off with great panache! Thanks, Paul!

The big story coming out this doc sprint is that we finished some 53 CSS properties, to bring the total number of CSS properties completed to within twenty of our goal for the project. Some of the work on those 53 properties was already done, in other doc sprints and by other contributors, so we mostly reviewed and put the finishing touches on these properties, and we were able to move very quickly through the list.

There are opportunities for us to add value to the web, apart from great documentation. In documenting the new auto value of the outline-style property we discovered that the specification did not describe exactly how the auto value should work as a standard, the spec leaves it up to the user agent, and when we tested it in several browsers on several systems, we were unable to discern a common pattern. This struck us as falling short, so we dispatched a missive to the CSS working group, recommending that the behavior of the auto value be more clearly defined. We’re waiting to hear back from them. But the point is, we took the opportunity to not only document the auto value, but to help shape its specification and participate directly in building the web.

Some prefer to sprint in their socks.

Many of the participants here in Amsterdam have also attended one or both of the other European doc sprints. Rodney RehmVivienne van Velzen, and Francesco Iovine, veterans of the Berlin and Zurich doc sprints, made a mountain of edits to the CSS properties and HTML attributes documentation.

Is it time for cake yet?

We also signed up several new members, one of whom, Tom Schuller won the raffle prize, a Chromebook provided by Google.

Show up at a doc sprint, win free stuff!

The local luminaries also graced us with not only an appearance, they chipped in on the CSS properties and worked on developing automated compatibility information for WPD. Peter-Paul Koch of Quirksmode fame, Ronald Mansveld, and Niels Leenheer of HTML5Test are working with Doug Schepers of the W3C to aggregate compatibility information from across the web and display it on Web Platform Docs.

The Syndics revisited. This time, it’s the fabric of the web.

Okay, one last cheesy mashup featuring the work of Dutch masters of the Golden Age, just to tie up the analogy above, and hopefully put an end to all the silliness of the last three blog posts:

The real Syndics did show up, but left abruptly when we told them the Linen API wasn’t standards-track. [The Syndics of the Drapers' Guild, by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, courtesy of the Rijksmuseum.]

So, even if we couldn’t finish the cake, we certainly took a big bite out of the work on Web Platform Docs. As this post goes to press, the CSS properties are being finished and the last loose ends of that project are getting tied up. We look forward to developing a new JavaScript reference and over-hauling our HTML elements and attributes in up-coming doc sprints. We hope you’ll join us!

A Great First Year!

Forty-thousand some odd page edits on 8,740 total pages by 23,939 registered users summarizes a year of effort toward creating the web’s definitive source for technical documentation. Web Platform Docs, is still just a baby, yet to emerge from pre-alpha into beta release, and there’s a lot of work to do before we can lend it the car keys, but it’s off to a great start!

Birthday

The community, armed to the teeth, heads out to document the web.*

Content, and lots of it

At this time last year we launched the site with a huge pile of content donated by Microsoft, Mozilla, Opera, the W3C, and Google. It had to be huge, and, consequently, it needed a lot of work. Updating and organizing the content was and is the most important activity on the site.

Thanks to the invaluable efforts of Dave Gash, Mike Sierra, Lance Leonard, and many others, we reorganized the API Reference, updating 9 imported API documents and adding 13 new documents, in over 730 pages. This provides the web with an excellent reference for many of the main HTML5 APIs, including a few that are documented nowhere else, like the WebAudio API.

We’ve also developed a comprehensive CSS properties reference. This reference is almost (over 275 properties) finished – well, almost finished enough to let Adobe Brackets and Chrome DevTools cross-reference the content so that it is available to users right in those tools. Too many of you to name here have contributed to this effort, but this project would be nowhere without the unflagging leadership of Julee Burdekin, and she would like to thank you all – you know who you are – for helping out on this. Keep up the good work, we’re almost done!

While the API reference and the CSS properties were the big content areas we could hold up and point to for this retrospective, there was a lot of work on the content generally, especially early on, just after it was imported. We quickly realized that we needed structures in which to organize all of the pages and landing pages for each area. Chris Mills did a lot of work on these, and Seb Desbenoit created the icons that neatly describe each of the content areas.

It is the world-wide web, and we’ve had a lot of help from some great translators like Nestor Rojas, with renditions of WPD pages in Spanish, Crotel who has provided many Chinese translations, and Hooney who translated several pages to Korean.

Infrastructure, to enable us

The daunting the task of wrangling the content was made less so when the community rallied to build better tools and processes to support WPD.

Jonathan Garbee, wiz-kid extraordinaire developed project.webplatform.org, our beloved issue tracking system. This was a huge improvement over the old Bugzilla implementation we started with, and it made building the site way, way easier.

One day in April, Search was suddenly working. We had launched with the Search functionality largely undeveloped. Denis Ah-Kang came to the rescue, fixed our Search, and thereby saved the community fistfuls of hair.

Enhancements to the templates and forms that deliver and present the content were needed across the wiki. A special shout out to Frozenice, Alex Komoroske, and the Template Corps for expertly developing the guts of Semantic Media Wiki forms and templates.

This site is all about code. We badly needed a way for users to play with code in real-time, and Lea Verou built the codelet tool, code.webplatform.org just in time for us to use with the CSS properties documentation.

Down in the engine room, we’ve benefitted from the expertise of Ryan Lane, who fixed the pernicious Session Timeout Bug, among many other invaluable contributions, and Renoir Boulanger, who, since he joined us as a full-time Operations Engineer, has been making enormous improvements in site performance.

Also, Renoir and Patrick D’Souza have been busy developing the analytics infrastructure to keep track of all this, and recently deployed Piwik, an open-source analytics engine.

Community, for the win!

Web Platform Docs is community-driven as well as a community destination. We also engage with the community through e-mail, the IRC channel, and blog posts (shameless plug). But when we need to do some heavy-lifting, we hold a Web Platform Doc Sprint.

These little get-togethers have proven to be the highlights of the year, helping build content, the site, and the community in a fun, productive forum. We’ve held eight Doc Sprints this year, both in the U.S. and in Europe. Peter Lubbers of Google, has administered Doc Sprints in San Francisco and Mountain View; Julee Burdekin of Adobe ran two Doc Sprints in San Francisco, Andre Jay Meissner of Adobe put on the Berlin and Zurich Doc Sprints, Eliot Graff of Microsoft ran the Seattle Doc Sprint, and Paul Verbeek did the Amsterdam Doc Sprint. These Doc Sprints are hard work, yes, but so worth it!

So, what’s next?

We have a birthday party to tell you about: next blog post (coming soon!). But if you’re still with me here you might want to know what we plan for next year.

Beta release – We expect to have completed the requirements for our first official release. Many of the items on this list are complete already (and celebrated above).

JavaScript – Microsoft has donated another big batch of content, a JavaScript reference, and Max Polk and Eliot Graff are getting ready to import it into WPD. We can’t wait to get started with updates and examples for this content.

DOM/Elements/Attributes – We need to develop an architecture that allows users to work with HTML elements, their attributes, and their DOM interfaces in a cogent, complete model. This will require new templates and forms as well as a thorough overhaul of the content.

There is a lot to do, and with any luck, we’ll NEVER be done. But if this last year demonstrates anything, it is that we can do it. Together, we have accomplished something important and valuable for the community. Thanks to all of you who have contributed to Web Platform Docs, and happy birthday!

* Image, The Night Watch or The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn courtesy of the Rijksmuseum.