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Miguel de Icaza on GNOME Documentation

May 25, 1999, 15:33 (8 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Miguel De Icaza)

Miguel de Icaza writes:

Hello guys,

For some time we have heard Richard Stallman talk about how important free documentation is for the GNU project. GNOME is a perfect example of a system that needs documentation, and we are having a hard time documenting the system: writing tutorials, writing api definitions, users manuals and other types of documentation.

Free documentation (Open Source documentation) is important for a number of reasons:

  1. If documentation is OpenSourced -we- can maintain the documentation gradually even if the original author is no longer interested in writing these books.
  2. Users can get online versions of the documentation with the system.
  3. Documentation can be reused. Just like software in other books, or as part of a system documentation (ie, think GNU/Linux distributions).
  4. People can reuse bits of the documentation in other projects for the parts that apply. They can reuse this documentation for a possibly modified/extended version of the code, or to reflect a branded-version of the code.
  5. We can put the books online on the web site. We can create comprenhensive web sites that have tutorials online that people can link to from technical information and the other way around.

I had assumed for a long time that people who wrote books for publishing companies made piles of money and that this was the reason we could not get those books open-sourced. Given that the authors of those books would get a lot of money for it.

I recently talked to two very dear friends of mine who are working on two books about GNOME programming. With two publishing companies. One company I will call A and the other I will call B.

Both A and B are offering the authors of the books 1 dollar per book sold plus some money in advance which varies for books that are sold to the end user for something in the range of 25-40 dollars.

Companies A and B have estimated selling something between 10k and 20k books. Company A has shown some interested in exploring making the source open-source, but the last time I talked to them, they were no longer going to make the GNOME book free.

I have also read this story that my friend Raph Levien pointed me to: http://photo.net/wtr/dead-trees/story.html

Basically, I am very dissapointed with the book industry at this point. Authors of books are not treated nicely, they are not payed enough, they do not get a good deal at all.

The big winner here is the publisher: neither the book-purchaser, nor the book-writer, nor the community at large benefit. It is pretty outrageous. Now I understand why the Beatles wanted to create their own publishing company. They get to keep most of the money from their work this way.

Jim Gettys has pointed out that his book on X programming that was all the time free (open sourced) was published and that it was used to pay for his bills for a long time. And it is still being sold, even if the source code for the book is available.

So the idea here is that we should create a company that could pay authors better royalties per book, and get the results of the money to fund some software projects and documentation projects.

I would personally like the FSF take over this, because they could invest some initial money for making this happen, but anyone can participate in this.

I have created a mailing list for those interested in discussing possible setups for making this happen, to subscribe, type:

echo subscribe | mail free-docs-publishing-request@nuclecu.unam.mx

It occurs to me that we can do a number of things, my first idea is:

  1. Get a list of topics that people would like to see.
  2. Choose the ones that have the most demand.
  3. Ask people for an "advanced" payment on the book. There is little to loose, say 30 dollars contribution.
  4. Use the "advanced" payments to pay "main" authors, and give them an advance so that they can devote to writing the book.

We want to get this setup bootstrapped as soon as possible of course.

ok, that is one idea. I am sure people with more business experience can come up with better ideas.

Best wishes,
Miguel.