Write the Docs: Jannis Leidel – Search and find. How we made MDN discoverable

I’m at Write the Docs today in Budapest and will be post­ing notes from ses­sions through­out the day. These are all posted right after a talk fin­ishes so they’re rough around the edges.

Jannis is a developer working at Mozilla. He’s currently working on the Mozilla Developer Network, a site that covers the web platform, desktop app, Android, and Firefox OS efforts at Mozilla. There are 5.5 writers and 6 developers, as well as 14,000 community contributors, working on MDN and the site gets around 2 million unique visitors per month. With 900 live code demos and 33,000 wiki documents which have 375,000 edits in total there is a lot of content to deal with.

They now use kuma, a django-based wiki that’s available on GitHub. In the past, though, MDN ran on DevEdge, an AOL creation for static page sites. After a couple iterations they ended up writing their own software for documentation. That project became kuma. In 2013 they designed the site to bring a responsive layout with content zones that places search front and center.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 2.40.27 PM

The emphasis on search, though, requires a powerful engine behind it. MDN has moved from a custom Google-based search to rolling their own implementation. It’s a full-text, multilingual search engine that provides faceting, filters, and pagination. The filters cover topics, skills, and document types. They can be dynamically changed based on what the Mozilla team sees in usage. Growth in certain areas allows them to emphasize different areas. It keeps the documentation responsive to the community’s demands and interest.

Each search page is also available as JSON. The users of MDN are developers themselves and this gives them the ability to use the data in formats other than MDN’s main site.

Another piece of MDN are the documentation status pages. This allows them to show the thousands of community editors and contributors what to work on first. It shows which pages need tags, editorial reviews, or technical reviews.

Firefox also ships with command-line access to MDN as part of their developer tools. From within the browser you can use the search API to pull up developer documentation. Users don’t have to leave to another site to find answers. In the future they want to extend this to plugins for popular code editors.