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Recap of the Adobe Day “Coachella” – Tech Comm Rock Stars abound!

KSM ROTHBURY packing up 5Adobe Day at the 2013 STC Summit was really great. It took me a while to digest all my own notes and relive the moments promoting the rock stars of tech comm. But like all good music festivals, the “Coachella” of tech comm had to end, but with great memories of fantastic information that will stay with me for a long time. Hopefully you enjoyed this “magical mystery tour” as well!

There were several people from Adobe that were truly instrumental in making this event a success, but I have to “give it up” for the two Masters of Ceremony of the event, Saibal Bhatacharjee and Maxwell Hoffmann.

Saibal
Saibal Bhattacharjee

MaxwellHoffmann
Maxwell Hoffmann

So many people know them from the Adobe TCS webinars, blogs, and other social media outlets. I know they’ve been two of my greatest supporters, so I want to thank them for inviting me to the event, and as always, making me feel welcome both during Adobe Day, as well as during the STC Summit.

If you missed my series for this Adobe Day event, here’s a recap, so you can relive the day yourself:

 macca

Maybe I’m Amazed I met this Tech Comm legend…

 Jagged+Little+Pill

How does that jagged little pill of content strategy go down?

 Peter-Fonda-and-Dennis-Hopper-in-Easy-Rider

Get your motor runnin’…Head out on the [mobile] highway…

 Coldplay2

XML Metrics are the Coldplay of the Tech Comm World

 coachella

If Tech Comm had its own Coachella, how would it be done?

I hope you’ve enjoyed all the articles. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below!

The next time there is an Adobe Day near you, or if you have the opportunity to go to one, I strongly encourage you to go! I’ve now been to two of them, and both were different.  It’s amazing to see how perspectives change on the “hot” issues of tech comm in a mere few months! I was glad to hear from leading experts on the pressing topics of the day. And I have to say, I’ve learned so much from both visits. I can honestly say, as well, that both provided information that were applicable to my job, even as a new technical communicator.  Keeping up with current trends in technical communication is important, because technology is changing fast, and technical communicators need to keep up with not only the technology itself, but the needs that new technology presents. Adobe does a nice job of bringing the best thought leadership from around the globe to talk about these issues  for free. How can you pass that up?

Thanks again, Adobe, for an amazing opportunity to attend this free event!

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Maybe I’m Amazed I met this Tech Comm legend…

macca“Excuse me, Dr. Corfield, I’m tweeting this event for Adobe today. Would you happen to have a Twitter handle?”

With the apology that he hadn’t one, but that he did have a Facebook page, I had started a too-short yet lovely pre-event chat with Dr. Charles Corfield, the keynote speaker for the 2013 STC Summit’s Adobe Day. In my mind, being the inventor of Adobe Framemaker would easily qualify the tech comm pioneer for the Tech Comm Hall of Fame (if there was such a thing). For me, talking to Dr. Corfield was like talking to the Paul McCartney of tech comm (and that’s super high praise coming from a Macca fan like me!). Just as McCartney is unequivocally deemed as one of the early pioneers who revolutionized how we listen to rock music today, Corfield helped to revolutionize tech comm with his creation of Framemaker, and in the process, created what we know as a software standard for technical communication that still holds up today. I loved listening to Dr. Corfield’s soft-spoken, British accent as he chatted with me briefly about social media and about some of the things he was going to be talking about in his presentation. I was truly having a fangirl moment, and hopefully I kept my cool during the conversation. Awesome!

CharlesCorfield
Dr. Charles Corfield
The “Father” of Framemaker

Dr. Corfield started his talk by presenting us with a history of how Framemaker came about. He explained that before Framemaker, computing was still fairly archaic, but workstation computers were starting to become more powerful. As a graduate student at Columbia, he was looking to create software that could take things a step beyond word processing, namely make software that could also create unified pagination and page layouts. Framemaker allowed page layouts and paginatable text to work in a symmetrical flow. The software targeted long documents and other paper output done by humans.

Dr. Corfield pointed out that the first content management problems started to occur as a result, and those issues included the need for internal references, such as footnotes, indexes, cross references,  and markers. The power of Framemaker’s ability to create indices to update long documentation was–and still is–more powerful than Microsoft Word even today. He also added the ability to refer to external factors like external references and hypertext.

Framemaker created the ability to manage variants of a single document, leading to what we now think of as single source publishing. Variants would be such objects as variables, conditional text, frozen pagination and change-pages. This yielded a new dilemma. As Corfield posed it, do you send out fully changed documentation or only the pages that were changed, especially with super large documents? The problem would be that with big documents, people would say, “Well, what changed?” Corfield pointed out the Boeing 777 project in 1990s needed IMMENSE documentation, so they needed to use retrievable databases. The Boeing 777 project solution was to use SGML (the predecessor of HTML and XML). This project made it the first “web” delivery of documentation. The Boeing 777 project used Framemaker with SGML, using HTML, XML, DITA as well as “structure.” Framemaker provided a server-based generation of documentation.

Shifting his talk a bit, Dr. Corfield started to talk about Framemaker’s impact today.  He pointed out that the original retina display was actually paper! Sophisticated layouts had to be used to maximize the user-experience. The computer came along later to expand on that concept. Displays started out with 72 dpi (dots per inch) displays, which led to crude layouts. Now, retina display is available at 300 dpi, but we need to re-learn what we did on paper yet also include dynamic content from high resolution video and images.  Corfield pointed out that there has been a proliferation of platforms. We have desktop, laptops, smartphones, and tablets that use different platforms such as Unix, DOS, and MacOS (for PC and Mac products respectively) that need different outputs. Technical writing, therefore, is directly impacted by all the different displays and platforms in relation to  document authoring. It is a requirement to produce structure and rich layouts for the output. Documentation needs to be able to support dynamic content (video, animation, etc.) and it needs to manage content for consumption on multiple platforms. The good news is that Framemaker can do all that! While there are other tools out there that can also deliver different kinds of output, many still struggle to manage and deliver to these needs the same way that Framemaker can now. Dr. Corfield is not part of Adobe anymore, nor is he part of today’s Framemaker product, but he seems happy with where the product has gone since he left it in Adobe’s hands.

(I should note, that while this was a talk sponsored by Adobe, this really wasn’t intended to be a big info-mercial for Framemaker, but rather something that puts the concept of tech comm software into perspective, and it happens to be the product of the sponsor.)

So, where does this tech comm legend think technology is going next? Corfield thinks that going forward, voice is going to have the biggest impact. He felt that screen real estate is full, and that much of the visual is about adding a new widget, then removing a widget. Voice, he continued, eliminates how keyboard shortcuts are remembered. How many keyboard shortcuts does the average user know? Touch screens are a slow way to perform data entry. The impact of voice will be the ability to use visual tips, and have voice act as a virtual keyboard. Voice will be impacting product documentation, allowing it to understand how existing workflows can be modified. Corfield’s prediction is that Framemaker, along with other software out on the market, will “assimilate” voice, just like everything else.

Since leaving Framemaker, Corfield has been working with a product called SayIt, using voice as part of workflow optimization, and emphasized that voice truly is the next big thing (you heard it here, folks!). When asked about the use of voice technology in practical office use, Corfield responded that push-to-talk technology helps prevent cross-talk in an office environment. He also pointed out that with voice, there are no ergonomic issues as there are with carpel tunnel syndrome using a mouse and keyboard. If anything, voice will be more helpful!

On that note, the presentation was over. The long and winding road had ended, but has lead to new doors to be opened. 😉

I really enjoyed listening to the history and the thought process behind Framemaker that Dr. Corfield presented. Everything he mentioned made total sense, and it’s to his credit that he had the foresight to think about the next steps in word processing to create a useful tool like Framemaker to help technical writers meet the needs of documentation in the digital age.

There is a certain aura around creative, imaginative and smart people who make huge differences in our lives, whether it’s in music like McCartney, or tech comm software like Corfield. You can’t help but be awed in their presence, and yet understand that they are generally humble people.  When you have a chance to meet an individual like that, you want the opportunity to capture the moment–like have a picture of yourself and that person to prove that it happened. I was much too shy to ask Dr. Corfield for a photo with me to be honest. I felt awkward asking, so I didn’t. Heck, I felt awkward asking about his potential Twitter name! Even so, I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet him and hear him speak.  He’s got my vote as a candidate for the Tech Comm Hall of Fame someday.

(And, Dr. Corfield, if you do ever read this, please feel free to correct anything written here or add any clarification or other commentary below!)

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How does that jagged little pill of content strategy go down?

Jagged+Little+PillTo continue with the tech comm rock star theme set forth by Adobe for Adobe Day, I thought carefully about who might represent Rahel Anne Bailie, whose talk was titled, “Content Strategy in a Content Economy– Is Your Content Prepared?”  It took me a little while, but it finally came to me. Rahel is the Alanis Morrisette of tech comm.  Both ladies are Canadian, and they both have a no-nonsense approach to their craft. Alanis Morrisette became famous with her breakout album, “Jagged Little Pill” not only because the music was good, but she broke her ideas down simply and didn’t mince words. Morrisette looked at the good, the bad, and the ugly, and worked on making sense of what was going on around her.

RahelBailie
Rahel Anne Bailie
The Alanis Morrisette of Tech Comm

Rahel does the same thing for content strategy. She breaks it down to a level to ensure that anyone who even begins to think about content understands what content is, and how it should be utilized at the most basic level. She tells it like it is, and why we need to employ it.

Rahel began her Adobe Day talk by talking about economic evolution. She started by pointing out that our economies have progressed from an agricultural economy, to an industrial economy, which in turn progressed to a service economy, then evolved to a knowledge-based economy, to an information economy, then to an attention economy, which has resulted in what we have today–a content economy.

Content includes the sub-sets of content that are location-based content and verified content. Location-based content includes geo-locational and geo-fenced information like Yelp, or information that is blocked from outside countries. Verified content deals with endorsed and social relevance; it has the user questioning, “How do I know that the content is true?” Facebook or TripAdvisor “likes” are an example of this. Cultural relevance applies to this as well. Topics such as Canadian versus American, demographics, and interests act as  filters.

Rahel stressed that content has value! It’s recognized as a business asset and it deserves to be managed with as much care as other assets. The problem is that we don’t inventory content in most cases–it’s not like managing our finances or physical inventory at a plant. This means that this is a big necessity! In order for this to happen, content has to work well. Like design, it’s only noticed when there’s a problem with it.

Rahel shifted the conversation to explaining how sub-sets relate to content. She explained that new user experiences these days include smaller screens as the first entry point to content, such as m-commerce and m-banking. Tablets are also being used as entertainment devices. We also have to content with multi-screen and multi-dimensional content, which are viewed as

  • ancillary, such as television plus social media,
  • sequential, where users use a desktop and mobile device interchangeably, or
  • simultaneous, in which there is a collaboration requiring instant synchronization between devices.

One also has to think about market maturity, and must look at market differences, social network penetration, the mobile market and growth opportunities. Cross market content involves a single language for many markets. By offering native languages in other markets, cross-border commerce incurs content needs as well.

Using language to meet adaptive needs makes a difference! How do we meet this head-on? Rahel suggests a repeatable system that governs the management of content throughout the entire life cycle creates content strategy. The life cycle consists of continually analyzing content, collecting content, publishing content, and managing content. Rahel reminded us that a tactic is not a strategy, but rather a strategy is the analysis and the prescription. Content touch points occur throughout a customer’s journey, and can include multiple variables and outputs, but also need to include localization.

In a content economy, we need ALL the right factors at the right time using right media. We need to work towards an integrated content strategy.

As this is a topic that can go even deeper, Rahel recommended her book, http://TheContentStrategyBook.com , which talks more at length about content strategy.

As most of my own current work revolves around content strategy these days, I was really happy to listen to Rahel talk about the benefits and necessity of content strategy. It’s something that I try to explain and promote at my own job, because so much of it really involves analyzing and pre-planning the usefulness and necessity of content. Rahel’s talk brought that concept home to me even more, and helped me validate what I’ve been telling others. She reminded me that it doesn’t matter what the medium is–print, web, or some other digital means–but content needs to be clear, concise, and cogent, as my favorite professor used to tell me (who was also, coincidentally, Canadian).  Rahel’s talk definitely set a positive tone on content strategy and its place in technical communications. I was glad that Adobe made sure to include her in Adobe Day, because content strategy isn’t going anywhere right now–it’s more important than ever! 

Rahel, if I’ve misquoted you, or something that I wrote needs further clarification, or if you’d like to add anything to these notes, please feel free to let me (and the readers) know in the comments below!

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Get your motor runnin’…Head out on the [mobile] highway…

Peter-Fonda-and-Dennis-Hopper-in-Easy-RiderWhen I first read the title of John Daigle’s Adobe Day presentation, “Enjoying a Smooth Ride on the Mobile Documentation Highway,” guitar riffs by Steppenwolf echoed in my mind thinking of the song, “Born to Be Wild” and scenes of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding down the information highway. OK, maybe not the information highway, but with mobile, it’s an open road right now that is waiting to be explored.

While I hadn’t heard John speak before, I was familiar with his “rock star” status due to social media–mostly through Twitter (you can find him as @hypertexas)–in my e-learning and m-learning forums.  It turns out that John is a big RoboHelp and Captivate expert, so being tied into the mobile highway scene makes sense!

JohnDaigle
John Daigle

The premise of John’s talk was that there are shifts and trends in mobile, and we need to look at organizations as early adopters, figure out the mobile landscape, and look at how user assistance is used on mobile as compared to how reference documentation is used generally. He pointed out that writing and designing for a mobile audience is very different from traditional methods (I agree!), and that he would be offering some hints on how to approach technical communications for mobile.

John pointed out that fellow speaker, panelist Joe Welinske, created the “bible” for Windows Help,  and now has created the “bible” for mobile apps, referring to Joe’s book, Developing User Assistance for Mobile Apps, which talks about the “screen wars” between the smartphones and tablets of various size. These various sizes produce a challenge for technical communicators. John went on to point out that e-readers, such as Kindle and Nook, are still alive and well and doing well as compared to other tablets such as iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tabs.  The initial conversion of print text to Kindle ePubs was a big change in electronic documentation. He also stated that at this stage of the game, Windows Surface and Windows Phone are a little late in the game, but they are catching up rapidly.

Following some of the comments of keynote speaker, Charles Corfield (the post on that talk is forthcoming!), John explained that other products including voice-activated devices, such as those found in some cars these days, are becoming more prolific. Google Glass, which is getting a lot of press right now, is a new game changer in mobile devices, and time will tell what kind of impact it will have.

John told us that as of February 2013, there were one billion smartphones and 150 million tablets worldwide–proof that mobile is becoming more widespread! Corporations are even getting more involved in mobile by buying mobile devices for employees, but many companies are also allowing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Companies are starting to embrace the idea of BYOD a little more lately.

Finance and healthcare industries are quickly adopting mobile delivery of information because of the portability of the devices. Mobile devices are being used more in industry and shop floors because they allow users access anytime, anywhere. John informed us that many of the same technical communications skills and experiences needed to write standard information apply to mobile. QR codes are gaining popularity as a  part of the movement of accessing documentation through mobile. John quoted Jakob Nielsen saying, “Killing time is the killer app of mobile.” With that in mind, John advised that technical communicators should learn to use more economic words for mobile, such as  “extra” instead of “additional.”

John also quoted John Caroll, who said, “Minimize the extent to which the systems and the information get in the way of what the user’s really interested in.” Progressive disclosure is key in writing for mobile. It allows one to gain information by revealing what’s needed when it’s needed. Ways to show this in mobile interfaces could be drop-down navigation or overlays. This allows a user to not leave the page, but he or she can still get to information quickly. In this sense, mobile can go right to the source or the heart of information needed.

So the question is, are huge documents (such as what’s in those big company binders) going mobile too? The answer is that technical writers can’t just dump desktop layouts and information onto mobile. This is where technical communicators need to work with developers to do what they do best–help “champion the end users.”

Going mobile is about flattening navigation–but not going button crazy, and getting back to context sensitive help. Technical communicators need to tap into social media to keep content current and accurate, thus becoming curators of user generated content.

It helps to prototype mobile layouts with rapid wire-framing tools, like Balsamic Mock-ups as a popular example. There are many specific tools on the market that are available to assist the developer in facilitate context-sensitive help.

However, there are several design controversies involving the need to upgrade browsers, progressive enhancement, adaptive design and responsive design. Some argue that responsive design is not the best because it makes a device’s CPU works harder, thus it becomes a virtual memory hog when resizing images as needed. Yet, responsive web design can adapt layouts to the appropriate viewing environment with fluid, proportion-based grids.

John suggested using the site, http://HTML5test.com , to help test how compatible your site is with mobile interfaces. He also pointed out that help-authoring tools can do much of the work with single source layout concepts, as different settings in authoring tools can help determine how to make user outputs work properly. Another such tool he recommended was Adobe Edge, as it helps writers to preview and inspect web designs on mobile devices directly ON the devices. For additional tools and information, John pointed us to his website, http://www.showmethedemo.com .

I particularly enjoyed John’s talk, as I’ve been following many of his posts on Twitter for more than a year now. He’s very good at explaining the power of mobile in technical communication, and I think John put this perspective well into view for the Adobe Day attendees.  As many know, I’m a big believer in the power of mobile, and the mind-set for writing for mobile isn’t that difficult if you understand the basics. So, it’s good that Adobe continues to include information about technical communications in the mobile world, as that’s where a lot of change is coming in the future. Adobe made a good choice when asking John Daigle to present information about mobile documentation.

John, if you are reading this, please feel free to add any comments or corrections in the comments! 🙂

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If Tech Comm had its own Coachella, how would it be done?

coachella[WARNING: this is a long post, but jam-packed with information!]

Every industry has its own rock stars. Those are the people who have lived, spoken, and written about topics in a particular field. The information and perspective they provide are considered out of this world.

As technical communicators, we are fortunate that we have lots of tech comm rock stars among us.  There are several events that happen over the course of a year that allow several of those rock stars to come to one place to dazzle us with their brilliance, and we are the better for it.

Among the ultimate organizers for such events is Adobe. For the 2013 STC Summit’s “Adobe Day,” they put together a lineup that would make any tech comm groupie squeal with joy to be able to hear some of the leading minds and pacesetters in technical communications. The best part is that, as always, the events are not product sales pitches, but truly a compilation of thought leadership.

The speakers included headliner Charles Corfield, the inventor and “father” of Framemaker, content strategist Rahel Anne Baillie, online learning educator John Daigle and content strategist Mark Lewis. I’ll be writing more about each of their talks soon.

For this post, I’m going to start with the panel discussion that was at the end of the event first. The panel discussion wrapped up Adobe Day well,  and I’m using it first as I think it will to help set the tone for the next blog posts about the event.

ScottAbel
Scott Abel, “The Content Wrangler” asks the panel a question.

Scott Abel, “The Content Wrangler,” served as our trusty moderator for the discussion titled, “The Changing Role of Technical Communication Professionals–Looking at the Decade Ahead.” This was a similar theme to the Lavacon Adobe Day, but with a different set of panelists, the attendees were sure to get a different perspective this time around.

The panelists for this talk included:

panel
L to R: Joe Welinske, Ray Gallon, Sarah O’Keefe,
Bernard Aschwanden and Kevin Siegel

Scott started the panel out with the questions, “What do you think will be going on in technical communication in the next 10 years? What are the necessary things for tech comm going forward?”

Kevin Siegel replied first, saying that technical communicators need to learn how to write content so that content can be consumed quickly, as the average attention span of online consumers is about fifteen seconds, and the mobile is the most viable means of getting content out, so think mobile!

Bernard Aschwanden felt that networking was most important going forward. Face-to-face discussions–not social media discussions–with subject matter experts, your audience, and anyone else who is going to consume your content will help you learn what is required for your content. He stressed that ideas and tools are constantly changing, and technical communicators need to be able to adapt. Bernard continued by saying, “No one wants to read what you write.” He emphasized that readers read the output of tech writers because they have to, so tech writers should making information easier to find and easier to read.

Sarah O’Keefe emphasized that the biggest skill gap in technical communication is how content and information is relevant to business. Business needs content because of…why? The most important skills required in Sarah’s eyes bring relevance–like ROI (return on investment)–so technical communicators need to learn how to write business cases for tools and other resources to be able to deliver effective products and outputs.

Ray Gallon agreed with Sarah’s point of view, and also emphasized Bernard’s point about adaptability.  Ray stressed that technical communicators have a unique view, so using that special view plus being adaptable will help technical communications go forward. He believes that software is driving content and making decisions, so we must create it on how software creates things today.

The second question that Scott posed asked, “What is the global impact with tech comm?”

Ray responded first by declaring that all technical communicators should have an understanding of at least three languages, as knowing three languages lends to their global credibility.  Since I know that localization is a big emphasis these days in technical communications, Ray’s comment made a lot of sense to me.

Joe felt that in ten years, technical communicators will still be the same people, but traditional tech comm documentation will be less relevant, and QA (quality assurance testing) of documentation will be more prevalent. He emphasized that by testing the documentation, it allows us to truly understand what part of content is not being used, and what part really matters.  He also agreed with Charles Corfield (more on his talk in a future post) that voice and multi-screen publishing will be important going forward. He stressed that access to multiple devices are needed as you write, especially to test usability and “Google-ability.” He felt that a technical publications department needed at least three smart phones and three tablets for testing content on commonly used mobile devices as emulators don’t work as well. Real devices, including the ones you don’t like, are needed to see how well your content works.

The next question posed was, “Have you had an ‘ah-hah’ moment with things going forward?”

Scott chimed in his own response, saying that he thinks looking at internationalized English is important going forward. He felt that having a controlled vocabulary and other English language standardization will allow content to be created in form of English that machines can understand.

Kevin thinks localization is highly important, backing this claim up with the fact that the most popular article in his company’s weekly newsletter is about localization. He felt that soon enough, we’ll be converting books to other languages more quickly and easily.

Bernard’s “ah-hah” moment was when he realized that people are the key, not products or tools. He felt that typing was dying, and that technology is leap-frogging. He talked about how younger people today commonly connect and communicate without face-to-face person contact, not caring about political correctness and preferring to connect with those who are like-minded. He said, “Teens have few barriers with race, gender or sexual orientation. We must get over our own barriers to address needs of future consumers.” He emphasized that people are needed in order to work collectively, we need to be able to connect effectively with people.

Sarah’s “ah-hah” realization involves the “rise of the machine” and the machine integration of content.

Ray concurred with Sarah, pointing to Google Glass as an example, declaring that Google Glass is the “caveman” version of the next generation of machines that technical communicators with encounter.

Joe’s “ah-hah” was understanding that mobile apps are not interested in being help documentation. Instead, mobile apps involve how to have product integrated in everyday use.

At this point, the floor was opened to attendees who had questions. The first audience question asked if technical communicators need to be the drivers of change and adaptability. Ray answered for the entire panel with a resounding, “YES!”

The next question asked if there was any empirical data to back up the statements made in this panel discussion. Sarah answered that that her responses were derived from the anecdotal data from client requests. Joe said he based his responses on the QA testing done  he’s done over time, and stressed knowing one’s audience. Bernard agreed with both these responses.

The last question asked about relevance–is this a PR problem for technical communication, or is this more of a marketing communication issue? Scott piped in that marketing communication is meant to dazzles customers, but technical communication provides the real customer experience, so in essense, tech comm IS marketing!  Customer service is central.

Ray felt that content is permeable and will get more so over time. Various departments will disappear due to unified content strategy; things will get blurred and content will get unified, so tech comm will be an integral part of teams.

Bernard reminded us that, “We must get to know the ‘language’ of our audience in order to stay relevant.” Scott reiterated that idea, stating that globalization is going to be really key going forward, which will affect ROI.

Joe had the last word, stressing that how we present what we do is going to make a difference!

As you can see, it was quite the lively conversation, and the ideas presented here were more concentrated on localization, technology and networking with people going forward. It’s amazing to me to hear a different perspective to the similar questions asked at the Lavacon Adobe Day panel just seven months ago! It does prove to me that adaptability and understanding the bottom line of what content is needed, and how to disseminate content with ever-changing technology is key going forward.

Thanks to all the panel participants for your insights! (Also thanks to Maxwell Hoffman, as I used both my notes and his notes on Twitter to recall this panel discussion.)

To any of the panel participants–if I misquoted or mis-paraphrased you, please feel free to comment below to correct me!

So, this was the closing act of our tech comm “Coachella?” Impressive! Stay tuned to learn more about the main acts of this gig!