Maintaining Documentation is Important – Examples of Online Platforms

Documentation for technical projects — especially ones you envision having non-technical end users — is essential. This statement comes from various experiences, both as a user and a developer who has both produced documentation for such users and has taken over poorly-documented projects from other developers. Having good documentation cuts down on the endless issues that come with figuring out how to use a technical product, whether from the frontend or the backend.

The reason documentation is on my mind is that one of the current projects I’m doing development for, DH Box, is one targeted towards end users of the variety described above. Not only that, but one of the systems integral to the project is a notoriously opaque one: Amazon Web Services. Moreover, it’s a mission of mine in my personal work to explore how tech can be made more accessible to those who don’t deem themselves technically savvy (I consider the technical/non-technical social binary and contributing factors to be problematic — but I’ll save that exploration for a different post!).

This week, I explored some tools that could help maintain the online documentation for our DH Box project, with a few preferences in mind: documentation that is easily updatable, documentation that is browsable and searchable, documentation that is configurable (e.g. in how it looks).

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Subtle Elements of Online Branding That Can Help the Impression You Make in the Web World

I found myself in the midst of an interesting exchange a couple weeks ago — it was over whether Twitter handles should have underscores in them or not. The person questioning the underscores had been told to not use them period, but was unclear on why. It occurred to me that there are many subtle forms of online branding that folks who work on/with the Internet quite a bit eventually pick up, things that are obscure to more general users.

Here are a few examples of such online branding to think about when building an online presence.

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Website Development for Beginners – Trade-offs Between Jekyll and WordPress

I’ve used WordPress for years as the base for just about every site I’ve created. It had occurred to me occasionally that WordPress may not be the best choice in every website development case, whether big or small, simple or complex. But, honestly, the idea of creating a website that didn’t have a database behind it hadn’t even occurred to me. A website that is almost purely HTML? I had subconsciously equated this with broken links and scrolling banners. I had equated database-backing with words like easy, maintainable, modern, and extensible.

It’s a clear case of every problem looking like a nail when the only tool you have is a hammer. But what if your problem is a thumbtack? Or a staple? A hammer might work, but it’s most definitely overkill and can even limit your creativity in solving the problem of fastening paper to things.

In terms of website development, WordPress has been my hammer and it’s gotten the job done. But, I had the opportunity the past weeks to use a new tool — Jekyll.

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Collaborative Team Projects: Where to Begin

This week saw the seeds being planted for a new digital humanities project, of which I am to play a development role. I will leave it to our team’s promotion coordinator to decide how best to reveal the details publicly for this project — but, I will say that I think it is a good balance of ambitious and innovative. It is a project I chose to be a part of as I wanted a challenge working with an operating system I’ve only regularly worked with years ago in undergrad (Linux) and to work with a funny little piece of hardware that has had developers and tinkers excited as children on Christmas since it’s release (Raspberry Pi).

What I can offer instead of project details is a few understandings I’ve had from practical application development work that have come into play the first week coordinating major work between an interdisciplinary team of people who mostly work remotely.

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Chromebooks for Development: Why and How

Chromebooks are wonderful for certain things — they’re fast, they’re light, their interface is seamlessly integrated with Google products that many already rely on. What sets Chromebooks apart from Windows PCs, Apple Macs, or those systems running Linux is a novel type of operating system (Chrome OS) born of increasing computer experience dominated by app-oriented mobile devices and cloud-based web applications.

Chromebooks lack the ability to download applications that run independent of the Internet (for example, Excel or ITunes). This may seem like an inconvenience — but, a system like the Chromebook does have a place in a user population where many are accustomed to the restriction of using apps on their mobile devices, are already using many Google products (who wants to pay for Microsoft Office when they can use Google Docs??), and can survive without downloading client applications. Can you describe yourself like I can describe many people I know? I mostly use email, Google Docs, social media sites (Twitter, Tumblr), web-based music players (Pandora, Spotify), and web-based video players (Netflix, Hulu).

But if you are someone who wants or needs to download programs — something inevitable for developers — the Chromebook in its natural state just doesn’t suffice. But, there is hope!

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