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Tech rivals team up for free web dev docs

Wiki site aims to be 'comprehensive and authoritative' – but don't we all?

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Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft may seem like strange bedfellows, but the four have joined forces with six other organizations to create Web Platform Docs, a community-driven site that aims to be a one-stop shop for free web-developer documentation.

"When you want to build something for the web, it's surprisingly difficult to find out how you can implement your vision across all browsers and operating systems," writes Google product manager Alex Komoroske in a blog post announcing the site. "You often need to search across various websites and blogs to learn how certain technologies can be used."

Web Platform Docs hopes to change that by compiling the best available documentation from browser vendors, technology companies, and the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) in one place.

The documents now available on the site cover a wide range of subjects related to web development, ranging from tutorials to detailed reference material on HTML5 and CSS elements, JavaScript APIs, and the Document Object Model (DOM) to such novice topics as "The history of the web" and "How does the internet work?"

Currently the site describes itself as being in "alpha," but its pilot content has a strong pedigree. Redmond seeded the effort by donating some 3,200 content topics from its own Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) archives, and several of the other founding organizations – dubbed "Web Platform Stewards" – have added their own material and will continue to do so going forward.

In addition to the aforementioned companies, the current list of Stewards includes Adobe, HP, Mozilla, Nokia, Opera, and the W3C, though the project's website says it is open to adding more.

Developers don't need to sign up as Stewards to contribute content to Web Platform Docs, however. The site is based on Wikipedia's MediaWiki platform, which allows anyone to add or edit the available content, provided they register for an account using a verifiable email address.

The site is not yet open for full community participation, but the Stewards plan to make that happen "as early as possible."

"We don't want this to come across as the giants of the web telling everyone else what to do," Opera web evangelist Chris Mills said in a statement.

The content on the site is published under various Creative Commons licenses, all of which allow the content to be copied, modified, and redistributed – the exact license for each particular document depends on its source.

That said, Web Platform Docs isn't intended to be a Wikipedia-style free for all, either. According to Opera, "While the site is a wiki, it has funding and staff on hand to monitor and maintain its content, which means that the information it contains will remain accurate and up to date."

That sounds like a bold statement to your Reg hack. In a world where one version of HTML is being maintained as "a living standard" and the other version won't be formally finished until 2014, it seems as though "accurate and up to date" information will remain a moving target for some time to come.

Still, if this diverse group of industry heavyweights is willing to collaborate, not just to draft web standards but to document and explain them as well, it can only be a good thing for web developers, whose chief tool has too often been trial and error.

"People in the web community – including browser makers, authoring tool makers, and leading edge developers and designers – have tremendous experience and practical knowledge about the web," W3C director Tim Berners-Lee said in statement. "Web Platform Docs is an ambitious project where all of us who are passionate about the web can share knowledge and help one another." ®

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