The newly released Google Doctype is intended to be the Wikipedia of web design. There’s a video introduction on the landing page of Mark Pilgrim explaining what Google has been internally calling the the “Hitch Hikers Guide to the Web”. He’s been working on Google Doctype, said it is supposed to be the cross-platform alternative to MSDN. MSDN? I don’t know any web designers that rely on MSDN as the go-to spot for quality cross-platform client-side code! Maybe they’re targeting ASP.NET developers…and that could explain the very un-wiki linear treestyle navigation.
My own private wiki, largely comprised of web development documentation for my own projects, code snippits and links to online resources, is invaluable to me – so the potential benefits of an open wiki of this nature is obvious and I’ve often wondered why there isn’t one (with critical mass) out there already. Certainly this project, or at least the idea of it, could be an invaluable tool to professional web designers and client-side developers. Some take-aways:
- It’s built on the Google Project framework so you can download the whole thing via SVN.
- The licensing is pretty unrestrictive, so you could SVN everything and put it up on an intranet statically or keep an off line copy, as was mentioned in the intro video.
- Discrete code snippets. Rather than a long tutorial with examples that are specific to a given situation, many of the HOWTOs are broken down into more abstracted uses. This style of documentation will help a lot when your stuck on specific area of a bigger project. Personally, I learn more this way – I like the big step-by-step tutorials but when I cut and paste a lot I don’t retain very much.
Google suffers from chronic ugliness (IMHO) and this project is no exception. Don’t get me wrong, I’m GOOG fangirl all the way, but there always seems to be some basic user interface and user experience problems with their apps/portals/projects/whatever. And here’s where I think Google Doctype has need of improvement:
- No indication of off-site links. Not only does a link to MSDN look just like the internal links, there are links to other Google Code project without any indications that you’re leaving Google Doctype, in fact, the logo is still Google Code. Navigation is a little confusing in general.
- Lack of Style Guidelines. There is something to “just putting it out there” and I’m glad they did, but if a lot of people do start adding to this resource it could turn into quite a mess. It would have been ideal to have a written style established that would make sense for an open wiki. For example, statements like “generally, we recommend the following…” and “I’m not sure if this works on IE”. This type of thing would never fly on Wikipedia – now that the docs are open to the whole internets, such statements are ambiguous, lack authority and create a bad example that others are sure to follow.
- Not really a wiki. First there’s the linear tree/node navigation pane (which seems to collapse by itself and disappear or reappear for no apparent reason) . There is no discussion page (although there are comments, sort of like PHP.net), no page history (but you can manually add a free-form line to a log file, if you notice the option), there’s no obvious way to check to see what links to a page, the list goes on.
- Screaming “Fork Me”. A fork may be inevitable, and if a fork emerges using MediaWiki or any of a myriad of much more robust wiki platforms, I would be more likely to invest my time in that in spite of the Google mind share.
A Web Reference To Rule Them All
When I first read that Google published a web design wiki I was thrilled. I tried to think of other, similar resources. There are some great blogs, lists and forums out there but I’ve yet to find the one web reference to rule them all. If you know of one, please let me know! In the meantime I’m looking for domains…webwiki.com is just a db error, webwiki.net is a half-baked attempt at a wiki version of the Million Dollar Homepage. Hrm. If I come up with a load of extra time and a brilliant idea I will let you know. In the mean time, here are a few of my favorite web coder sites:
- W3C.org – start at the top, right?
- HTML Dog – very well organized reference and tutorials for CSS and (x)HTML
- A List Apart – high quality articles published by those web standards freaks at Happy Cog.