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Cheat sheets and information architecture

Working on several projects over the past week, I ended-up looking at code documentation and/or reference guides for: Apache mod_rewrite, CSS, Facebook (API, FBML and FQL), HTML, Javascript, MySQL, PHP, regular expressions, and Wordpress. For me, the particularly unusual look-up of the bunch was actually for HTML (for an email newsletter template, I had to use some HTML 3-era syntax which I otherwise hadn't used in 7–8 years).

It's often frustrating trying to quickly find specific info on the technical details of computer programming languages and interfaces. So, coming across this great collection of cheat sheets relevant to web design and development, I am tempted to pile up a collection of cheat sheets.

The issue I have, however, is that I mostly need in-depth and/or comprehensive information about some function or element. And, if these cheat sheets are any indication, other people are in a similar boat: they don't need "cheats" as much as they need thorough documentation that is organized into a usable format.

I guess this is consistent with the kind of "cheat sheets" I'd see when I was in college: sort-of, since you don't have time to read the whole book, here's as much as the book as we could fit on two sides of a sheet using small type and an insane disregard for readability!

That "usable format" bit is really the tricky part, because these programming tools are used for so many different tasks. Depending on one's task, the information about the language needs to "look" very different. Even with Wordpress, which is the most specific and narrow "language" of the bunch, for example, the way we use it to create custom designed websites causes us to see and use information about the language differently then someone who is just tweaking a more templatized Wordpress blog.

I think this is an interesting, and almost paradoxical, challenge with computing in general: computers are so complex that information about how to use them needs to be organized in a way that's better than the way one can organize the information with a computer. It's like: we needed computers to organize our books. And now: we need books to organize our computers!

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