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10 Sep 2010, 00:04
Andrew de Andrade (16 posts)

The “link” between the Rails PlayTime activities at the end of each chapter and the Pragmatic Programmers website is a bit week.

Take for example AWDwR. I clicked on the PlayTime link and was taken to this Wiki:

I started using it until I realized that all the chapters were wrong and that’s when I realized that the entire wiki was still based on the content and organization from the 2nd edition. The book is now on the fourth and it was a bit disappointing to see that the PlayTime wiki was referring to an edition that was two generations old. Granted much of the content was the same, but I often found the playtime activity to be listed in the chapter from the older edition where it originally appeared.

I then set out to fix this by completely reorganizing the RailsPlayTime wiki to reflect the organization of the 4th edition with new PlayTime activity questions added. This took a fair amount of work due to how wiki pages are maintained.

Now I see that some of these questions are being addressed here in the discussion forums, which only serves to fragment the online content for the book further. In fact, as far as I know you can’t even access the PlayTime wiki except via the book link since it isn’t part of the primary links listed until a purchased book title. Those links are currently “Code”, “Errata”, “Discussion” and “Download e-Book”.

I really like the Pragmatic Programmers books. I think PragProg and O’reilly produce the best books to help people learn technical knowledge. However, I find the “link” between the books and the online site/community to be greatly lacking, especially from a publisher whose goal is to helps its users learn how to build better sites.

This isn’t even really a criticism of the AWDwR book, but the PragProg site in general. Some of the things I noticed are: * The wiki doesn’t support versions of the book. When I came across the wiki it was organized around the second edition, but I had to change that to support the 4th edition. The books should have a wiki for each version or at least the current and previous version. * One location for discussing the activities in the books. Currently things are being discussed or in the Discussion forums or in the PlayTime wiki * Primary link to activity pages.

In fact I would say that a lot more could be done as far as having online content complement the book in no particular order: * Links to help people discover all the other resources that the community uses such as, railscasts, etc. * More social features to tie people working through the book at the same time together. * Book chat, possibly via a web IRC client direct to the channel(s) where the user is most likely to get help. * PlayTime activities could link directly to the relevant ruby or rails api documentation. * GitHub integration, possibly even focusing on creating a free crash course Git and GitHub guide for PragProg readers and finding a way to have even register their version of a book’s project, such as the Depot app, with the PragProg site. If this is done, the book could provide people with very specific commit messages to use that would a reader to view any other reader’s code at that stage in the book. Possibly even parsing all the changes since the last commit. For example, if I were working on “Iteration E3: Finishing the Cart” I would use that as my commit message when I complete that section. The PragProg site could then have a link to show all reader GitHub commits of AWDwR 4ed Depot apps with a “diff” view between the “Iteration E3: Finishing the Cart” commit and the “Iteration E2: Handling Errors” commit. For some books this may be an advance feature given the audience, but it would be marvelously useful for other books.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that it would be interesting to try publishing the book in an online format where people can comment on sections of the book in place. Real World Haskell tried this:

I consider that approach to be an excellent way to resolve the issue of a Discussion forum or a Wiki.

Anyways, I guess my general point here was not to gripe, but to ask that PragProg spends some time really thinking about how creating more value for its readers by having the site better complement its books. Right now it feels like the kind of awkward attempt that a traditional publisher testing online waters might make.

Thanks for listening and keep up the great work!

Best, Andrew

17 Jun 2011, 16:40
David Green (2 posts)

I agree and want to add one more “feature” to the wish list which is “search” limited to the particular forum.

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