Lotus Redbooks at the "Beat The Developers" session

by Volker Weber

At the "Ask The Developers" session somebody asked for clarification on the Lotus Redbooks. IBM made it perfectly clear that the days for Lotus Redbooks are over and that the resources, read the budget, which was formerly assigned to creating Redbooks is now being allocated to publish similar content in a Wiki format.

The audience did not take this lightly and Lotus was being booed for shutting down the Redbooks effort.

Lotus believes that the Redbook process is too slow to publish relevant information in time, and that Wikis will be a better mechanism to convey the same information. I saw two people in the front row frenetically applauding this explanation.

I have to say I am not convinced this is a smart decision. While I am generally all in favor of wikis, I fail to see how IBM is going to get the same commitment from potential authors. Redbooks have always been a marketing tool for the respective authors: "see, I wrote this book, I am the expert on this". It will be interesting to see how that plays out for the wikis IBM wants to have.

Here are the first three. Note that the first one uses a different technology from the rest:

There are more wikis but the other brands have not discontinued Redbooks so far.


Well, the second and third are based on Confluence. Anyone else using this? (we do).

Ralf Hammen, 2008-01-27

Yes, lots of companies do. It's excellent software.

Volker Weber, 2008-01-27

Unless you talked to Joyce Davis, Barb Mathers, or someone else on the Information Delivery and Content team, you really have no business criticising the way forward based on the limited discourse of the Q&A in "ask the developers".

This topic also came up at the blogger Q&A, and Rhodin gave a slightly expanded answer there, along similar themes. The point was raised there that the community needs more ways to be involved, and Alistair Rennie committed to go look at ways to open the throttle around getting that involvement going.

I received an e-mail unsolicited this morning from a partner who met with Joyce Davis during the conference. I'll see if I can get him to chime in on this discussion.

Ed Brill, 2008-01-27

you really have no business criticising the way forward based on the limited discourse of the Q&A in "ask the developers"

Oops. Am I being reprimanded on my own site? ;-)

Volker Weber, 2008-01-27

You nailed it right on the head with this one line:

I fail to see how IBM is going to get the same commitment from potential authors.

Something that isn't often mentioned and should be... from the mountain tops!

Yancy Lent, 2008-01-27

Thanks, Yancy. BTW, excellent work with Planet Lotus. Can we have an RSS feed?

Volker Weber, 2008-01-27

Unless you talked to Joyce Davis, Barb Mathers, or someone else on the Information Delivery and Content team, you really have no business criticising the way forward based on the limited discourse of the Q&A in “ask the developers”.
That quote isn’t for real, surely?

Anyway, to the issue at hand (funnily enough, I like wikis too!):

I will be interested to see how the content is going to be gathered in this new model—the various wiki pages linked above offer me, as a logged-in user, the ability to add comments to pages. I’ve not found a page yet with an “edit” link. I’m not sure I understand how that translates into content authorship on a par with the redbooks?

Ben Poole, 2008-01-27

I'm not sure how I feel about the whole redbook vs wiki question. I have some of the same concerns expressed here, but I also have been one of the people complaining about the lack of timely (current) documentation.

I was surprised by the amount of applause IBM received for their explanation at Beat the Developers - it came from far more than two people up front, and it was just as loud (where I was sitting, in the middle of a crowd of cynics, oops bloggers) as the earlier boos. Some people clearly agree with them. Either that or IBM seeded the audience with lots of IBMers. heh...

Rob McDonagh, 2008-01-27

Well, the two I saw tried very much to sound like ten. ;-) But you are right, there were more.

Ben, from what I understood at the BTD session, it will be May until IBM feels they can open the Wiki to other contributors. The current thinking seems to be that IBM needs to verify information that is entered, but I have also been told that Rhodin wants to open this up as much as possible. There is a delicate balance between control and freedom here.

Volker Weber, 2008-01-28

They have already started to talk about virtual residencies for one of the wikis. I can not post this on here, but you should have no issue finding this in the 2008 forum that we know you have access too ;)

Seriously, I was a bit worried about the Redbook to Wiki transition myself, until I had a conference call with that team before Lotusphere. They want the wikis to be 100% open and community influenced, while still having some manner of IBM authority so customers can be comfortable to rely on them. The virtual residences is a way to mimic the effort of the Redbooks and get the info into the Wiki.

I think we should be open minded enough to let IBM try. I think the potential is to have the best of both worlds. IBM and Community content, created and edited on a much faster pace than before. If it fails, then we can make a major stink about it.

I am not trying to jump on the IBM bandwagon here. I love the Redbooks. But if that team can make this work, I think it will be better than just having the redbooks before.

John Head, 2008-01-28

As a Redbook author I will miss them. The editing process was probably to slow for most of the redbooks, for example I worked the Domino 7 on iSeries on August 2007 and it was published in April 2007 (8 months later).

The wiki concept is attractive and new, I hope IBM will make a good effort in getting things done fast and good.

Luis Guirigay, 2008-01-28

I admit I was worried too, but after a couple of long discussions with the group responsible, I realized the following:

- Paper books are VERY expensive and time consuming to produce
- If we can continue to get funding for residencies, then it is only the form of publication that changes: electronic, not paper

If these points remain true, then I, personally, am all in favor. I am not a disinterested party, of course -- I am involved in a big development project (upgrading Web AppDev for Domino) that will require a LOT of advanced explanation, samples and so on -- perfect for redbooks.

One big advantage of wikis as a vehicle for publication (assuming we can work out effective control over who gets to update/modify/add. Personally I favor a moderated-content model...but we'll see what happens), is that we don't have to throw out the book and start over for the next version of the software: the wiki format is much better for evolution of content over a period of time.

I am cautiously optimistic that this will work out well for everyone.

Bob Balaban, 2008-01-28

Bob, John, thanks. I am way behind on that forum at the moment ;o) Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the wiki way, and use them for documentation myself. I appreciate that IBM have to be careful here, and certainly the immediacy of the wiki model beats redbooks hands-down. Here’s hoping it works out well. The best way is to get everyone involved and interested early on—then, with luck, the wiki “community” helps police itself. After all, IBM don’t want to land themselves with too big a moderation burden, else we’re back to square one.

Ben Poole, 2008-01-28

BenPoole - now you get why I rather hastily warned against drawing conclusions from a question and an answer at the beat the developers session. Both John and Bob B obviously come at this with more detail, and I should have volunteered some of what I know as well. This is obviously a work-in-process as things change, but change they will.

Ed Brill, 2008-01-28

No business, Ed? Until we've talked to Joyce Davis or Barb Mathers? Really?

I'm sorry, Ed, but I am starting from a skeptical position and I feel fully justified in that. I'm both a RedBook author and a modestly active wikipedia contributor, so I have some basis for understanding these sorts of things. Beyond that, I'm an interested and involved party. Volker beat me to posting about this, but he certainly speaks for me and I don't accept for a minute that its not my business.

And Ed, let's be precise about this: I for one am not criticizing the "the way forward based on the limited discourse of the Q&A". What I am criticizing is in fact the lack of evidence that there is actually going to be a timely and effective way forward.

I don't know Joyce, but I'm very glad to hear that Barb is involved, as I know her very well and I believe she will be a great leader for this effort. My faith in Barb, however, doesn't change the fact that the burden of proof here is squarely on IBM.

A RedBook has a well-defined topic to cover, and a plan on how to cover it. It has a team with committed time and (some) writing ability, backed by professional editors, and access to systems, software, and tools. It has a sponsor with the ability to arrange access to inside resources. It has a schedule. These are all critical factors that will need to be replicated or substituted for in order to have a successful wiki process. So far, however, what we see for the wikis is mostly vapor. A tiny bit of content, and no information about the process that will bring more content. That leaves me only with my experience, which tells me that wikis are great for constructing linked reference content, but not necessarily a good tool for narrative or scenario-oriented exposition.

Where were Joyce and Barb when the questions were asked? Where was anyone who could explain any of the details at Lotusphere? Why did I have to rise up, after the initial unsatisfactory answer, and ask for a date? And why did the managers on stage not know one? Why, if agility is one of the stated goals of moving to this model, is the date that was finally given about 9 months after whispers of the demise of RedBooks first appeared, and 7 months after I first got wind of the fact that wikis were in the works as a replacement?

That doesn't sound very agile to me, Ed. And the fact that IBM didn't yet seem to be talking with one voice about the openness of the community process makes me wonder how wiki-like this whole thing is really going to be.

I eagerly await evidence that my skepticism is misplaced.

Richard Schwartz, 2008-01-28

@Ed - I'm going to take the unusual position for me, and agree with Volker in so much as this is a thing very much like a blog but which is of course not a blog. That makes it his business to pretty much be critical of just about anything.

That doesn't mean he's right of course, but pretty much anything is fair game on one's own non-blog.

As far as a wiki vs. redbooks, here's my take:

I've written a white paper for Lotus and an article or two. The experience has never been great. Marginally good at best. It is a struggle to satisfy the many masters who have their individual axes to grind. The "editors" that I worked with weren't terribly literate, and in nearly all cases the rules of the game changed at some point between start and finish. Writing a full sized redbook must be just a miserably trying experience. On the other hand, I don't know of anything that would prevent working on a wiki from being the same experience.

Andrew Pollack, 2008-01-28

@Rich, ouch :)

@All - did anyone attend BOF202? This BoF was one I personally lobbied to get on the agenda, because I thought this future-of-Redbook-like-documentation topic is so critical. Amy and Tina who managed this session are part of the same team I mention above with Barb and Joyce.

I think it's fair that the burden of proof is on IBM, but never have I seen a case where the partial answer is so thoroughly accepted without additional data. The BoF certainly had some. The team that is working on this certainly has more. This information needs to get out more so that the community can understand what the objectives really are. I hope that will happen soon.

Ed Brill, 2008-01-28

@Ed, I'm sorry I missed that BoF. It conflicted with both the show floor reception and the Blogger Q&A with Mike Rhodin, which is where I was during that time slot. But also, from the subject and description I didn't see that BoF as being a general session for discussing how wikis will take the place of RedBooks, how the community process will work, etc. Rather, it appeared to be just a content and idea-gathering session for a specific reference-style wiki. If it covered the missing details of how the direction of the content will be set, how community process will work, etc., then I'm really sorry I missed it and I hope someone who was there can fill us all in on what was said.

BTW: I heard about that particular wiki several months ago, and I think it is a great idea and I plan to participate. But since that particular wikis apparently is intended to be a repository of best-practice reference material rather than an expository narrative that teaches a well-defined subject area from start to finish, it's not really what I think most of us have in mind when it comes to an effective substitute for RedBooks -- but perhaps I'm wrong on that, too.

Richard Schwartz, 2008-01-28

I hope we get pdf from the wiki. And if the wikis are opend . how do we will get actual pdfs. The good thing from redbooks where i must not have access to internet nor to a pc. I could use teh book or a printout by pdf if i liked to.

Or do we get the chance of the wiki to get replicated ?

thorsten ebers, 2008-01-28

You "can" edit and create content within the Domino Wiki.

However IBM "validated" content is treated differently in that currently that is locked (comment only). All other community created content is not. You will note the "add article" links on each page and the "edit" functionality on non validated content. You will also notice the "IBM" logo next to each item of validated content and a "key" to help people understand what it means on the homepage.

I don't know the deal here but I am guessing that eventually all content will be editable - the whole project to the best of my knowledge is very much a learning experience and feedback is very valuable -especially after trying the tools out. Its also not a finished project - it will adjust with the feedback and other features will be added.

Whilst it is something new, and is a "work in progress", I feel it will turn out to be of value as it will open up content writing to many many more people than would volunteer for Redbook writing. I agree there would have been prior motivation for personal marketing by being an author, but there are other ways of dealing with this which could be put into place which may provide this spotlight - people get kudos from developerWorks article writing right?

Finally, from a personal point of view, I'm pleased that the Domino team decided to give Domino a try with this. Confluence, as noted, is behind all the other wiki's but the Domino team tried something different. A lot of people made a lot of effort to make that happen - we will see if that ends up being the right/wrong decision but the bravity I think should be met with some support and encouragement for this reason from the Domino community (I know this blog doesn't represent that but many of the readers do).

Again from a personal point of view (I am not a mouthpiece for my employer - all this comment is from me and is not anything official) people should give this a chance and not link it to their disappointment of the Redbooks decision. The best way to make it work is get involved and provide content and feedback - there has never been an easier and quicker way to do it.

Steve Castledine, 2008-01-28

Most folks will know my view on this by now.

The only thing I would add is that I am happy to give the Wiki a fair try - as a replacement for whitepapers, knowledgebases, online help, infocenter etc. I have no problem with it...

However, for those of us old enough to remember why hard-copy documentation was/is so valuable, I still don't understand how the Redbooks will be replaced. If IBM had announced some major deal with a publisher for end-user/admin publications for the Lotus product-line then I could see the thought process for the future...

As it stands I think that IBM has still left us (and Lotus user) in the dark...

Stuart McIntyre, 2008-01-28

The paperless office will not come before the paperless restroom.

Volker Weber, 2008-01-28

There are thousands of paperless restrooms in India. Does that mean we will see paperless offices there soon?

Andy Mell, 2008-01-28


Volker Weber, 2008-01-28

I've been in conversation with Joyce and her team about the learning resources in the pipeline, and since I hope to continue that conversation I'm hesitant to say too much. But I think the emphasis on the wiki's is only half the story. There are some VERY cool content delivery mechanisms that are in the works that go above and beyond "just" wikis. Thinking about all the announcements and where the platform is going will give you some red meat for thinking about where the educational resource model is going.

That said, the real emphasis should be on the value of the content and not as much the means of delivery. Anyone who deals with any level of programming knows that PDF's can be generated from just about any source you give it via dozens of available libraries and applications, and PDF's can be easily printed and bound if necessary.

I know there are a few content authors reading this thread, so let me say with all due reverence to them, I think the Redbook concept had serious problems and distributed information about the Notes/Domino platform across countless 500-800 page tomes with very little tying them together conceptually. Each Redbook was it's own little island, and there wasn't much in the way of a recommended reading order. This resulted in a lot of the same background information being repeated across several Redbooks, reading material that may have been superceded by newer Redbooks that the reader didn't find first, and the partitioning off of aspects of the platform that are supposed to work as a cohesive whole.

Any new entrant to the Notes universe will not feel good about having to read 5200 pages of Redbooks to get a "sense" of the full scope of the platform, whereas the wiki concept seems to be a good compromise between the flexibility of the help system and the finality of Redbooks.

Obviously, we'll see what gets delivered, but I can say, having peeked behind the curtain, I am very excited by what's being developed, and I have long been frustrated by the complexity involved in finding useable, up-to-date references and learning documents for the Notes and Domino universe.

It will likely be a bit messy for the initial release, but what hasn't been? :P

Hopefully that is useful to someone.

Samuel deHuszar Allen, 2008-01-28

Just to chime in here...I lead the Information Development Center organization at IBM that is responsible for developing and delivering the technical content in support of the Lotus and Websphere Portal products. For those of you who remember the Notes.net web site, I was involved in that from the beginning and much of what we are trying to do is take what we learned from Notes.net and use that knowledge to improve the way we deliver our technical content. We built a very loyal following on Notes.net and I believe that the majority of that web site's success was due to the community involvement we had (mostly in our forums.) Essentially, we built the mechanism (the site) and our customers contributed the content. We did produce content that we delivered on the site, but the forums were by far the most valued part of the site (and still are.)

So now, the idea is take that "community-sourced" philosophy into our technical content and leverage the expertise that you have. That includes content that we would normally have published as Redbooks. Bottom line is...we aren't taking content away from you guys...we are changing the way we deliver it. It is a absolutely a fine balance we are walking and sometimes seems risky, but we believe we have something incredibly powerful here.

Stick with us...keep giving us feedback...we read these blogs and we look for opportunities to talk directly with you to make sure we are on the right track.

-- Barb

(Richard, thanks for the nice endorsement. I appreciate that.)

Barb Mathers, 2008-01-28

@Barb -

Here's my problems going into the new process:

In any big bookshop there are racks of book about the simplest Microsoft products. Why? Microsoft Press pays for them. Then once they exist other big tech publishers feel the need to compete. Why does MS pay for them clearly at a loss? Because there is value in people seeing them there. Most of them stink, but since they don't ever get read who cares?

Redbooks were the only comparable resource -- and though there were major problems with many of them stemming from the way they get written, at least they existed. Now there is nothing.

My experience writing for Lotus doesn't give me a great deal of optimism that this process will produce any better content or produce it with any more frequency. The problem isn't in the technology.

If IBM wants to get serious about having good tech resources out there, it should fund the publication of books through publishing houses O'Reilly. Fund them then take an editorial hands off approach.

Wikis are good, but from a community standpoint. When I see a wiki from a vendor, I just view it as a cop-out approach to get away with producing no documentation of their own and it is a mark against them in my assessment overall.

Andrew Pollack, 2008-01-28

Hello everyone. Just by way of introduction, I'm one of the managers in the Lotus docs group, and I work for Barb (who chimed in earlier).

There's tons I could say, but I want to keep it to two key points:

1. Don't look at our existing wikis and assume it's representative of the structure/style/content you'd see for a redbook delivered as a wiki. It isn't.

Our existing wikis are early attempts at using wikis as a delivery mechanism for docs content. And yes, we want community involvement, but that actually is different than wanting the community to write the whole thing.

Let's face it, we all have our own experiences and knowledge, and it's impossible for IBM devs/writers to know everything. That knowledge comes from use and experience, which is what the community is doing day in and day out.

So we had a few thoughts for these initial wikis: (1) let's look at subject areas where the community can probably add to our own knowledge, (2) let's structure things so it's easy to add some info, even if it's just a little bit at a time, and (3) let's see if we can't get a central place for all of this information to live.

But these aren't redbooks.

2. Yes, redbooks are the "hot button" issue. That's become very clear to us. We're pursuing wikis regardless of redbooks, but once the wiki idea took off, redbooks in wikis seemed like a natural fit.

And yes, we're asking ourselves all the same questions you folks are. How do we deliver a redbook in a wiki? How do we ensure the same type/depth of content? How do we continue to engage subject matter experts to write the initial version? How do we ensure people can get their paper/PDF copy? How do we set it up so that it can be maintained after the first version is "published"? And finally, if IBM can't maintain it themselves, will the community care/bother to? (We suspect that last one is something you'd like to do, even though we may get slapped for not promising to do it ourselves.)

In any case, we're aware there's a standard to live up to here. We have a plan that we're pursuing, using a blend of the old "paper" model and a new "virtual" model. We'll still engage experts, we'll still write original content before "publishing", and we'll still look for depth and narrative - we'll just write it and publish it in a wiki.

We're hopeful that it will work, and that maybe it will stay relevant longer.

Steve Shewchuk, 2008-01-29

I hesitate to get involved, but I really feel I need to say that stating you want to be agile is not the same thing as being agile. There are many people at IBM who would like to be agile, but the size and politics of such a large organization fight them every step of the way. I understand the desire to be methodical and think things through carefully, but I don't understand allowing the lag time between the Redbooks news coming out and the alternate channels starting up. Just as a person intending to leave one job usually finds another job first, a company leaving one information channel behind usually starts up an alternative one first. Things move fast in the IT world, and IBM is not known for moving quickly, so the best way to prove that IBM can do this is to start doing it.

Just to be clear, I am not that big a fan of the Redbooks, because they don't stay current long enough, ir is too hard to know what supercedes what, and some of the other reasons driving IBM to find other channels. I just haven't seen much evidence of IBM being able to sustain any other information channel, and I have seen many, many plans that IBM has had that have not been followed up on. I hope IBM can make this transition, but I am not confident. I would love to be proven wrong, of course.

Ben Langhinrichs, 2008-01-29

The Redbooks, while limited in timeliness, did fulfill a need. My problem with this entire discussion is that they were yanked and there was nothing to replace them. I really don't understand that.

Gregg Eldred, 2008-01-29

@Rich -

Hey Richard - nice to see you weighing in here. The Domino Wiki is no longer limited to best practices. It started out that way, true. But we are seeing many other uses for this collaboration medium, including deployment scenarios (described elsewhere among these comments), and virtual residencies to generate content and discussion.

We recently announced a virtual residency as a trial to get partners involved in collaborating on content in the wiki. As you may have seen in the announcement in the Business Partner forum, we are looking for participants to commit to spending some time writing up their experiences, suggestions, and best practices around a certain topic (in this case, .nsf performance). This content will then be reviewed and posted as a Wiki article.

We've already had quite a bit of interest - even the offer of a 'virtual lab.'

I hope to see you on the Wiki - and if you have any ideas for virtual residency content, let us know.

Amy Smith, 2008-01-29

Hi everyone! I'm program manager for the Information Development Center organization led by Barb (who chimed in above). Your feedback is really valuable, so thanks for being so open and honest. I encourage you to visit our team blog on developerWorks where we post announcements and news related to technical content. Also, you're welcome to contact our team directly at lotusdoc [at] us [dot] ibm [dot] com.

Additionally, you might check out our recently-created YouTube channel for news on the latest happenings. While at Lotusphere, we gathered some valuable footage of customers and business partners, which I'll be posting over the next couple of weeks. Right now you can view Paul Calhoun, a certified Lotus Instructor, who talks about his impression of the Websphere Portlet Factory wiki. Sam Allen (who posted a comment above) was one of my victims interviewees, so stay tuned for some input from him regarding integrated help within the UI of our products! :-)

OK, now for some specific responses from me...

@Ben - Steve Castledine was right that you can edit Domino wiki articles. You can also edit articles in our other wikis. Simply log in and edit. We started out with a model where we restricted edit access to some IBM reviewed content, such as prescriptive deployment scenarios. We limited access to these articles to keep the details true to the configurations we had tested. However, in talking to customers, we've decided it would be better to move toward a more open model -- "this IS a wiki afterall!" -- where pages are open for editing, but we'll still have a locked reference copy, such as a PDF, that users know IBM has reviewed. Volker is absolutely right, "There is a delicate balance between control and freedom here." We aim to please...and you're feedback helps ensure that we get the balance right.

@thorsten - We're still working out a plan to easily create pdfs on-the-fly from the Domino wiki. Our wikis that use Confluence have that ability now. You simply choose the wiki pages you want to include in your pdf, and export. This page has the instructions for exporting to pdf and a little animated demo for illustration.

@Rich - I'm sorry you didn't get a chance to attend Amy and Tina's BoF. It was a lively and engaging discussion. Many attendees expressed some of the same sentiments as those in this blog string. We also had a few tables in the Usability Lab to walk folks through our wikis, our viewlets, and some new innovations we're working on. We're gathering an enormous amount of feedback, and we'd love to meet with you directly, if you're interested.

Joyce Davis, 2008-01-29

Everybody on this discussion thread should be aware of this presentation: Redbooks Wiki project.

Volker Weber, 2008-01-30

Volker... Now that is something I can get behind. In fact, I already without knowing that parts of IBM were already doing it! :-)

I really hope that the Lotus adopts this model. Pre-loading the wiki with existing RedBook content and letting the community bring it up to date and expand on it will really help get this thing heading in the right direction quickly.

Richard Schwartz, 2008-01-31

Bah! Didn't close that tag properly. :-(

Richard Schwartz, 2008-01-31

Why do I even have this Preview window? Right, to keep the bots away. :-)

Volker Weber, 2008-01-31

My turn to join in. I also work for Barb Mathers and my focus is on technical content architecture and strategy for Lotus and WebSphere Portal products. One of the main focuses for us has been on providing a way for IBMers, customers, and partners to actively share, update, and comment on information about using our products. As you can imagine I have been very involved in our wiki projects to date. You may also recognize me as "heinsje" on the Confluence-based wikis. I am really encouraged by all the opinions expressed here and I wanted to share a recent update that ties in very well.

Last Friday ITSO Redbooks, in partnership with Lotus, announced a residency for a new wiki deliverable. Unlike other wiki projects run by ITSO this project will focus on writing new content and it will be published in a product wiki where we can more actively update and maintain the information. We also plan to provide the information in PDF format. You can find out more about the pilot project between Lotus and ITSO Redbooks here.

Jennifer Heins, 2008-02-06

Personally I don't have any problem with IBM/Lotus moving from Redbooks to Wiki's.

However, I really prefer to read this material in hard copy format, so provided that we can print the content of such a Wiki in a nicely formatted hard copy format with:
- Cover page
- Table of Contents
- page numbers and nicely formatted printed pages
- Index

or an export to PDF with the above format then I would be happy.

I would also like the Wiki laid out so that different software versions could be incorporated or different scenarios explored, in that way I could select the content to print out that was most relevant to me at the time.

Ian Randall, 2008-02-12

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