From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
The BerliOS OpenFacts Project is a free knowledge database for the collaborative creation of software documentation.
Open Source Software (OSS) is increasingly used by governments and companies. The idea of software which is collaboratively developed and can be distributed for free works in practice, and big IT players are jumping on the bandwagon: Sun (OpenOffice.org), AOL (Mozilla web browser) and IBM (Linux solution) support OSS development. But many OSS applications lack complete and accurate documentation. So-called HOWTOs explain precisely how certain problems in the world of Linux, FreeBSD & Co. can be solved; these are often maintained by single individuals, however, and many of them have not been updated for years.
In January 2003, the Wikipedia project, an open content encyclopedia, announced its 100,000th article. How was this rapid success after only two years possible? Wikipedia uses the wiki principle, which allows every visitor to immediately edit any article without even having to create an account. The user community keeps an eye on the edits that are made and can restore previous revisions of an article if necessary. Should a user violate the rules repeatedly, he can be banned from the system.
Wikipedia has demonstrated that the wiki idea (from Hawaiian, "wiki wiki") works to create articles even about controversial subjects. The BerliOS project now wants to apply this successful model to open source documentation. "It is a bit daring, but we believe that this approach can be useful. After all, we are neither dealing with politics nor with religion," BerliOS project leader Lutz Henckel explains tongue-in-cheek. BerliOS has supported the development of the open Wikipedia software, which is also used by the OpenFacts project.
OpenFacts allows all open source projects to maintain their documentation collaboratively online, but OpenFacts pages can also be used for feature suggestions or problem reports. "We also want to import existing HOWTOs and FAQs," BerliOS staffer Erik Möller remarks. For this purpose, special import filters were developed which convert the documents used by the Linux Documentation Project and the German Linux HOWTO Project into the easy-to-read, easy-to-edit wiki format. "Fortunately, most HOWTOs allow free modification as per the GNU licenses," Möller says. Some German and English HOWTOs have already been imported. All material written specifically for OpenFacts is released into the public domain unless otherwise noted.
The new wiki does not see itself as competition to existing projects. Documents that have been created using OpenFacts could, for example, be certified by the Linux Documentation Project in regular intervals, which would solve a major problem of the wiki principle: the lack of authority behind the texts.
Besides OpenFacts, the government sponsored BerliOS project also offers a hosting platform for open source projects , a news service for documentation , a developer database  and an announcement service for open source software . BerliOS tries to be an OSS coordination center, and to provide the "missing link" between open source developers and companies.
- OpenFacts project: http://openfacts.berlios.de/index-en.phtml
- Berlios homepage: http://www.berlios.de/index.php.en
Fraunhofer Institut für Offene Kommunikationssysteme