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Building a Better Platform

For years I've heard complaints about the state of DNN's developer documentation. It's time we solve it once and for all. I'm going to be spearheading the initiative but first allow me to share how I got to this point.

As you may know, DNN 9.2 includes a significant new addition: Prompt - a fast, friendly, extensible command-line interface for the Platform. It was voted the best open source contribution at DNN-Connect 2017.

What you may not know is that I'm the one who created it (with critical contributions from Peter Donker, David Poindexter, and Clint Patterson). I mention this not to be self-congratulatory, but as an introduction for those who may not know me (this is my first DNN blog post) and to provide some context.

Prompt is my first community contribution. However, it won't be my last because just a few days ago, I was forwarded this compliment:

"Not sure who did it, but the help and doc for PROMPT is a great job, the first useful help in DNN ever!"

That's a pretty remarkable comment and made me grin from ear-to-ear. Documentation is usually a thankless job. The only feedback you get is usually negative.

You see, I'm a firm believer that good documentation is a critical component to the success of any application. It's why I spent so much time on Prompt's help system, choosing to write the documentation in parallel with my development rather than after the fact.

So here I was patting myself on the back... but one phrase in that comment kept gnawing at me like Poe's Telltale Heart...

"...the first useful help in DNN ever!"

Unfortunately, this isn't the first complaint a community member has voiced about DNN's docs. I've been developing for DNN since v.1.08 and my personal experience has been one of frustration with the documentation or lack thereof.

I know I'm not alone in this experience. Developers can spend hours trolling through forum posts, superficial wiki entries and tangentially related blog posts before resorting to digging into the source code to find answers to their questions.

Let me be clear. Doing documentation well is a large undertaking that takes a lot of work. The larger the project, the more difficult the task. Many efforts have been made over the years to improve the situation in DNN. Progress has been made and the recent Documentation Center is a good step in the right direction. But there is so much more to be done.

Documentation is Crucial to DNN's Success

Let's face facts. If we want the platform to thrive, we need greater adoption by developers. The only way that's going to happen is if someone finally takes the bull by the horns and creates documentation that makes it much easier for new and experienced DNN developers to create innovative solutions.

So, I'm happy to announce I'll be spearheading a new community effort to take DNN's documentation to the next level. I realize I'm kind of sticking my neck out here. It was not more than a couple paragraphs ago I was talking about what a hard and thankless task documentation can be. However, I truly believe that excellent documentation is critical to DNN's success. I hope you agree. In fact, I want you to do more than agree. I'm going to need your help.

This week I'll be initiating the effort by meeting with a (deliberately) small group of individuals with a long history in the community. Our goal is to determine the best approach to tackling this issue. I've got a lot of ideas about the "ideal" documentation and I'm sure you do as well. In the coming weeks I'll post about our progress and solicit feedback from you. I can guarantee one thing. Successful documentation is a community effort.

Contributions are the life-blood of a healthy open source project. We plan to create a framework that enables you to contribute for the benefit of yourself and the community -- much as I contributed Prompt. If I'm the only one working on the project, it will fail but together we can build community-driven documentation that benefits everyone, attracts new people, and grows the ecosystem. I hope you'll join me in the journey. Watch this space...

Comments

Clinton Patterson
So awesome! Kelly thanks for taking the lead on this... you rock sir!
Clinton Patterson Wednesday, March 28, 2018 12:59 AM (link)
David Poindexter
Sign me up Kelly! This is long overdue in our community and I am so glad you are at the helm. I can’t think of a better person, with a better track record, to lead the effort! Rock it out #DNNstyle!!!
David Poindexter Wednesday, March 28, 2018 1:08 AM (link)
Patrick Ryan
Count me in. This is a game changer for the platform and I'll assist in every way possible. I too, can't think of a better person to take the lead on this. You're awesome Kelly Ford! This post just fuels my excitement even more. I love the direction DNN is going!
Patrick Ryan Wednesday, March 28, 2018 2:12 AM (link)
Jeremy Farrance
Fantastic!! I hope to be able to help or be involved in some way. Thank you for kicking this off and I am looking forward to what this great community can do to put some much needed usefulness in to DNN documentation - as well as related how-tos, reminders, recipes, and other forms of help. Solutions, saving time, avoiding pitfalls and frustrations... there is a lot we can accomplish here!!
Jeremy Farrance Wednesday, March 28, 2018 2:12 AM (link)
Lee Wise
This is great! I'm eager to help where I can, just let me know.
Lee Wise Wednesday, March 28, 2018 2:57 AM (link)
Patrice Gallion
Kelly's Xmod Pro Module actually has the best documentation I have ever found in a DNN module. Other big module vendors should definitely towards Kelly's style of documentation, because if you don't know how to use things, they won't be used a lot. Xmod Pro documentation covers basically everthing you need to know, always attached some nice examples, which are very helpful if you're not an experienced developer or new to the game.
Patrice Gallion Wednesday, March 28, 2018 11:37 AM (link)
Kelly Ford
David, Patrick, Jeremy and Lee, thank you for volunteering. Once we have settled on a general plan of attack, I'll definitely be enlisting your help :) .
Kelly Ford Wednesday, March 28, 2018 2:13 PM (link)
Kelly Ford
Thanks for the kind words Patrice! I wrote the docs for XMod Pro in parallel with its development, much as I've done with Prompt. I find it's the best approach, when it can be done. That's not the case with DNN of course, so we'll have to leverage the collective knowledge of the community to help.
Kelly Ford Wednesday, March 28, 2018 2:15 PM (link)
Michael Perrenoud
I’ve worked with Kelly for years, in numerous capacities, and one thing is for sure; he has an innate desire and capacity to put in the work to do things the right way. With Kelly taking the helm on projects like the Documentation for DNN, I will be considering the usage of DNN in future projects. That is not something I’ve considered in a very long time!
Michael Perrenoud Wednesday, March 28, 2018 3:36 PM (link)
Tony Henrich
What tool will you be using for creating online technical documentation?
Tony Henrich Monday, April 2, 2018 12:06 AM (link)

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