This was WriteTheDocs Europe 2020 (online)

This Monday and Tuesday it was finally time for WriteTheDocs again! This time last year my partner and I went to Prague to attend the event in person but, obviously, this wasn’t possible this time. I miss Prague. While an online conference cannot be a proper substitution for such a location, it was a great event nonetheless!

Same as JAMStack Conf earlier this year the organizers chose Hopin as event platform. It worked well back then and so it offered a familiar environment in turbulent times. Same as with every year WTD is organized as a single-track event with break-out sessions in an unconference style. And like every year I focused mostly on the main stage which offered lots and lots of awesome talks.

Most of the talks focused on the various processes people are using to provide documentation for their respective communities and companies. There were even some sessions about how to get more out of Confluence which gave me a new perspective of what it brings to the table. It’s hard to pick some highlights from all these inspirational presentations but I still want to focus on two talks:

Personal highlight: Documenting the (ancient) history of your project

I love looking at the past and decision process of projects and so this talk by Natali Vlatko (video) was right up my alley! She put a focus on something that is often overlooked when it comes to project documentation: The context and conditions that were present when decisions where made! The talk also included some practical advice on how to do that using, for instance, commit messages.

Sadly, I had some schedule conflicts and therefore couldn’t enjoy the whole talk; something that I’ll definitely correct as soon as the recording is available!

Personal highlight: Need examples? Write your own!

My second personal highlight was Joe Malin’s talk about how to handle examples (video) in your documentation. Among many other hints he also mentioned the creation of a style guide specifically for examples. I’m most likely not the only one who’s struggling every time he has to decide on how to put variables into code samples or what kind of data-set should be used throughout a tutorial. And that’s precisely what he solves with such guidelines.

This is something I’ll definitely try to implement with one of the next projects!

The unconference

In the end I also for once joined an unconference session where we mostly talked about the various tools and services that are used at our respective companies. The original idea was to talk about Antora but we quickly jumped over to exchanging experience reports about Confluence and Readme.io. That being said, I should really find some time setting up some documentation with Antora. It has been on my radar for quite some time but I somehow always just fell back to writing Markdown 🤦‍♂️

Platform feedback

Well, this would normally the place where I write something about social events or the delicious lunch and breakfast buffet of WriteTheDocs events … With an online event that’s not really something that I can do, but I still want to give a little feedback, this time focusing on the platform: Hopin.

First of all, it was great that the main stage was handled as a YouTube stream. This way I could simply copy that URL onto my phone and continue watching while I had to do something else in the apartment. That stream basically contained a moderated playlist of pre-recorded talks which worked well and allowed the speakers to answer questions live in the chat right away!

The rest of the sessions were handled using Hopin’s internal video conferencing tool. It’s ok and gets the job done, I’m just used to Zoom at this point where I miss some of the quality-of-life features its offering. Sadly, the switching around between tracks is also my main complaint with Hopin. It’s simply too complicated to (a) find out what sessions are live right now and (b) switch back and forth between the main stage and the other sessions.

Something that worked well was the chat that is accessible in the sidebar of each page. In there, the autocompletion for usernames should be improved, though. It was extremely slow and I often required two attempts until it completed properly. But even that problem just indicates that I absolutely wanted to interact with other people during the talks; a good indicator that I enjoyed the event!

Now I just hope that we will get a chance to get this live interaction back outside of online events next year! In the meantime, videos should be up on YouTube within the next weeks and I’ll update the references up there with the links once available 🙂

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