Feast or famine

Sometimes you could be forgiven for thinking that OSS Watch publication production line has stalled. It can seem like we haven’t published any of our own material on the website  for a while even though we have been blogging.  And then a few articles pop out in quick succession. Take the last four weeks for example.  We have published a case study on EduApps, a case study on TexGen, a substantial article on the open development method, and a report from an OSSWatch workshop looking at business and sustainability models around free and open source software. Why has there been a recent flurry of publications?

Very early on in OSS Watch’s history we decided that we would take the quality of our written outputs very seriously, perhaps more seriously than anyone expected us to.  All documents that we write adhere to a stringent authoring and publication workflow that has been designed to offer the best quality assurance that we can muster.  Some of our documents are drafted by one individual, others are written collaboratively from the start.  Some others are commissioned from external authors.  However all documents move to final draft status collaboratively, all members of the team comment on the first draft and the document is refined iteratively until consensus is achieved.  And this is where the process takes as long as it takes and, as a result, you may observe a famine if several documents are moving through this iterative process.  We believe that this process really does need to take as long as it takes as we use it to iron out not only factual issues but also to come to team consensus on matters like bias and advocacy.  Settling these big issues using argument and counter argument can take time, changing a view or position through discussion often requires a period of reflection.  However, we feel (and hope) that this process makes our documents better.  And because this process is not artificially bounded several documents may appear at the other end in quick succession.  A publication feast.

Once a document is published our workflow doesn’t stop there.  The Web is littered with “write once, review never” information.  You know the sort of thing, a topical article written three years ago that still turns up in a Google search and gives outdated information because no-one has ever updated the information within it.  Since OSS Watch strives to be an authoritative source of information on matters relating to open source, we don’t think that outdated information is acceptable, particularly if other organizations and services rely on it.  So all our documents are reviewed every six months.  We check not only facts and links but we also check for relevancy and for missing content, ie has something happened since the last review that should be mentioned.  Sometimes we retire a document that is no longer relevant and this is then preserved in an archived state.  Sometimes we completely rewrite a document. However most times we tweak and refine each document at each review and we often add new information.  This review process is time consuming and all OSS Watch staff are involved in reviewing documents each and every month.  Is it worth all the effort? We think it is.

And finally, we don’t want our documents to be the result of a collaborative process involving just the members of OSS Watch.  We welcome comment and feedback from you.  We often develop documents in the OSS Watch wiki, a public resource where all collaboration is welcome to get the document to its first draft and and where you can see the status of all wiki documents being developed for publication on the website.  Even, and perhaps especially, when a document has entered the formal QA process and has subsequently been published on the website we welcome comments, just drop us a line at info@oss-watch.ac.uk.