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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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A TechCommGeekMom Milestone: A baby blog is now a toddler

WOW!

10KCelebration_041913

I think my little blog just grew up a bit. I not only reached the 10,000 all-time hits mark, but even passed it. For a niche blog that’s 13.5 months old, I think that’s pretty amazing! I’m a proud TechCommGeekMom!

Thank you to every person who’s a regular reader, who just popped in once in a while, or who came only once for a visit. 10,000 all-time hits is a lot! Now, I know of blogs that have definitely had more traffic than me, mostly because they are much more hyper-focused on a particular segment of technical communications, like everything you want to know about a particular type of software, everything you want to know about a particular strategy, or else they’ve been around for a long time, so they’ve built up a following after a while. I do not begrudge these people, as they are my inspiration, and in some ways, they have contributed to this blog too through curated content now and then. TechCommGeekMom wants to be like those blogs as it grows up!

I trust that you enjoy what you read, and that you keep coming back for more. I’d like to think that the variety presented here, mixed with my own eccentric flair, brings about a lot of different perspectives of what technical communications is and what it can be. As I’ve said in the past, this blog started out very small, as a grad school project to build a community via social media, and I chose to work on building my tech comm/e-learning/m-learning community. I’m guessing that perhaps–just perhaps–I may have achieved my goal of creating a TechCommGeekMom community, and yet I hope the family will continue to grow. If you have any suggestions or ideas of things you’d like to see here, or if you’d like to contribute a guest post, please let me know!

Many thanks from the bottom of my heart for helping me reach this milestone! This blog is a labor of love, and it has opened so many doors for me, which I hope continue to open! I truly appreciate the support!

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Word Up! ain’t just a Cameo song: A TechCommGeekMom book review

Cameo-Word_Up!Being that I came of age in the late 1980s, my immediate thought when I hear the words, “Word Up!” is the Cameo song playing with all its funkalicious glory.  But now, “Word Up!” has a new meaning for me as well.

I’ve just completed reading an advanced copy of the book, Word Up!: How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build From Them) by Marcia Riefer Johnston. Marcia and I met back at the Adobe Day event at Lavacon last October, and since then we’ve bonded over several interests, including our love of writing. I had first heard that Marcia was in the process of writing this book during the Adobe Day event, so when she asked me to read and possibly review the book, I was thrilled that she considered me as someone who could provide a constructive critique. When she sent me the copy, she stipulated, “[Please write] any kind of review you feel inspired to write: short, long, thumbs down, thumbs up. Or write nothing. No expectations, no strings.”

WordUp-cover-AFTEROkay, Marcia, I’m going to take you on your word about that!

So, I prepared to truly dig in to see if I could pick this book apart, and to find reasons why someone should read this book and have it in his or her library of writing resources.

Unlike most readers, I do have the advantage of knowing the author, so I found myself reading the book in her voice. Even if I hadn’t heard Marcia’s voice in my head, the casual, jovial tone and language she used throughout the book sounded very natural to me. Someone who has never met Marcia will enjoy this book very much as well, and would read it the same way I did. I enjoy her casual approach to this formal subject, and her sense of humor was infused into each chapter!

Marcia wrote in her chapter titled, “Mastering the Art of Knowing Your Audience”,

“…I find it satisfying to write for a reader whom I can imagine fully and accurately. Writing for someone I know–someone real or imagined, someone just like me in many ways or in few–is like making a gift for a friend. While I’m working on it, whatever it is, I confidently imagine the recipient opening it and saying, “Yes!”

I am happy to say that I had this “Yes!” response she described as I read this book. I write as if I’m talking to friends that share the same passions as I do, so to read that Marcia composes her words in the same way as I do was a revelation, and I was glad to see she made this recommendation.

Throughout the book, Marcia addresses common sticking points in writing as well as some that are not quite as obvious. One of the difficulties in reading any style guide is that the information can be rather dry since it is very factual. Dry and factual can be boring. Fortunately, Marcia doesn’t do this. With each chapter, she paints each new layer upon the last one, slowly building upon each topic so that the reader can see the big picture that writing is full of color and light. She uses everyday and personal examples which illuminate the point she’s making for a particular chapter much more apparent. In the process of reading this book, I ended up learning several tips that have helped me fine-tune my own writing.

Word Up! starts with a section that addresses common grammatical errors that just about everyone uses in one way or another.  Once those details are conquered, the second section of the book takes the basics up to an intermediate level, where further common grammatical errors, sentence structure, and paragraph building are addressed. The last section of the book ties everything together, teaching the reader how to be his or her own editor, and learning the fundamentals of technical writing, even for a creative writer. The last chapter itself shows Marcia dissecting one of her own essays apart using all the tools provided in the book. (Sorry for the spoilers!)

I’ll give you an example. How often, either in speech or writing, do you use the word, “just?” I have to admit, I do it ALL the time. It seems like a catch-all to emphasize the immediacy of an event’s occurrence. Marcia shows the reader how to avoid using the word as often as possible. Some other themes covered in the book include the proper use of metaphors, how to use contrast in a sentence, how to avoid the verb “to be” and most of its conjugations whenever possible, writing for one’s audience, and the importance of continually revising one’s content.  While these topics are just a sampling of what Marcia covers, there is so much more!

As you may or may not know, I teach a technical writing class on behalf of World Learning to students from various Microsoft offices in Asia. While I was reading Word Up!, I kept thinking that this would be a great book to recommend to my students. My students are often technical managers who are seeking some help to sharpen their business and technical writing.  World Learning has provided me with a great curriculum that I have found to be very thorough, and actually ran parallel to the information that Marcia provided in Word Up!. In fact, Word Up! provides more information in a compact volume than I do over the weeks that I teach the course.

I’m definitely going to add this book to the resources list that I provide at the end of the course. I know it will supplement the classwork effectively in a highly approachable manner that will be easy for my students to understand.  Having the reinforcement of the material in a relaxed, humorous, and informative way will help the students retain the information much better than remembering my lectures alone.

So, as you build your writing resources library to include copies of the Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White‘s Elements of Style, and Fowler’s Modern English Usage, be sure to add this new book to the collection. I guarantee you will find it an incredibly accessible writing resource, and I suspect it is destined to be one of the classic style guides in years to come.

The book will be released on April 27, 2013, which is also National Tell A Story Day, and available through Amazon and other fine book retailers. Click on the title below to find out more information about how to order this fine tome.

Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them)
ISBN: 978-0-9858203-0-5
Publisher: Northwest Brainstorms Publishing

**Disclaimer note: I did not receive any compensation for writing this review, and did my best to provide an unbiased review even though I know the author. **

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Happy 1st Birthday, TechCommGeekMom.com!

One year ago today, I took steps that would change my life. I started this blog.  Its purpose was two-fold. First, I was encouraged by my friend, fellow grad student, and technical communicator, Shay Shaked, to write a tech comm blog. He insisted that I was a good writer and that I had some interesting insights to technology, tech comm, and m-learning, and that I should just start writing some of this stuff down. I thought he was a little crazy, but I had done blogging before, so it seemed like a natural thing to do.  At the same time, I was taking a fantastic social media class for my last semester in NJIT’s MSPTC program with Dr. Andrew Klobucar, and one of our assignments was to start a blog that centered on creating community for a particular topic. Since I was already about to start writing a blog upon Shay’s encouragement about tech comm issues, Dr. K had no problem with me continuing on my own with this, as long as what my end product produced, along with building up my social network through Twitter and Facebook (and any other outlets) also showed that I was immersing myself into my community and participating in that community.  So, a little tech comm blog, with the goal of just having a niche audience in tech comm, e-learning, and m-learning was born. I never expected many people to notice my blog, or at most, it would be very, very small.

Boy, was I wrong! TechCommGeekMom.com has changed my life! It has opened many doors that I would have never expected, and has become a bigger blog than I ever expected. Sure, it’s still a fairly small blog with a small niche following, but even so, it exploded from my perspective.

As of this writing, since the first words were published on this blog a year ago, TechCommGeekMom has received 8800 hits, with my best day having hit 112 hits. It has been read in 107 countries. 107! I have about 634 registered followers of the blog as well. All this was accomplished through 306 posts (this is number 307) and 996 tags of both original and curated content. I pulled in content that I thought was interesting, and even had the aforementioned Shay do a guest post, but otherwise I just wrote about what I was going on in my mind. Little did I know that others had similar thoughts, or enjoyed my writing. I made sure to promote my little blog through my TechCommGeekMom Twitter account, which I had started shortly before the blog, and on my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts as well. Getting exposure is all about marketing yourself, especially if you’re out of work, and looking to graduate soon and find a tech comm job, as I was at the time.

My efforts definitely started working. The number of Twitter followers I had went from a mere 20 followers to 100 within a few weeks. Now, I have about 600 followers. Again, as compared to the major players in tech comm, that’s not a lot, but to have gone from 20 to 600 in about a year–that’s a pretty big jump! I started seeing people retweeting the links I was posting to my blog posts, and that was exciting! I think one of the biggest thrills for me was when I saw my tweet promoting my blog post about the m-learning Whitepaper that I wrote re-tweeted by one of the leading m-leading experts out there, and he was even one of my references in the paper–WHOA! I was even thrilled that another one of my references in the Whitepaper was actually my editor, too. I mean, who gets that kind of help? I also have enjoyed talking one-on-one with many of these experts through social media, and glad that so many have become not only mentors, but friends as well.

My big “break” was, as regular readers know, due to Adobe. I had written the post about wanting to know more about tech comm software, and of all the software companies that I mentioned, Parth Mukherjee of Adobe’s TCS marketing group actually responded. I really never expected ANYONE to respond to it. It was just a frustrated, ranting post, and yet here was someone from a major software company contacting me.  So thanks to Parth, to whom I’ll forever be grateful, he helped me gain greater exposure, offering me a chance to do a Thought Leadership webinar when I was still a graduate student (I delivered it a month after graduation–see the link on the right sidebar), and between him and his team, have provided me with many great writing opportunities. This relationship has grown, which is evident from the advertisement that you see in the top right corner from them. (Do click it!) Through Adobe, I had the chance to go to their pre-conference event at Lavacon this past October, and meet other movers and shakers in the tech comm industry who truly are the ones who are moving this profession forward. It’s very cool to say that I was yarn shopping with about half the presenters at the Adobe’s pre-Lavacon event, and I continue to keep in contact–or at least keep up–with most of the people I met there even now.

This also helped open doors through the STC. I started making connections locally and through those I had met both through Twitter, my blog, and meeting at the Adobe event. Long story, short, this created some notice within STC that my local chapter asked me to do some articles for their newsletter.  Also, after attending a webinar by the STC, the moderator recognized my moniker, and asked if I would be interested in writing for them! You’ve been seeing the result of that collaboration most recently with my “First-Timer’s Summit” posts, which will be continuing for a little while.

I also received fantastic mentions by TechWhirl.com and Tech-Tav.com, who have also been great supporters, as well as the professors and fellow MSPTC’ers, for continuing to be a source of support. Couldn’t do it without y’all too.

I just completed my first professional presentation yesterday at the STC Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference in Philadelphia yesterday. I was nervous, but happy that my talk was well-received, and I got a chance to meet some of the people whom I had gotten to know on Twitter and other social media venues in person.  I think the biggest thrill–or perhaps it was shock–that I got yesterday was that two people came up to me and asked, “Aren’t you TechCommGeekMom?” They weren’t people whom I had met before online, either. One of the attendees to my session even told me she attended because a co-worker saw that I was presenting, and told her that she should go see “TechCommGeekMom”.  For me, that totally blew my mind. I’m still (happily) freaking out over it.

So, from what started out essentially as a student project for grad school has grown into something much, much bigger.  I’m working full-time now, so it’s not as easy to keep up the pace of writing as regularly as I used to during the past year, but this is my special project, and I’m not about to stop. I have grown in so many ways since starting this blog, and when I look back on my life a year ago, so much has changed, and changed for the better. I finally did get a job, and part of it was that they liked not only what I had to say in my interview and liked my e-portfolio, but they liked what I had to say in my blog. There was an interview that I got (although I didn’t get the job) in which the hiring manager actually included me for the interviews because he said he was intrigued by what I had to say about mobile learning in my blog.

It appears that when one feels insignificant in the world, just another number in a huge statistic, she can still have a voice, and I found mine in the past year. I’m just incredibly grateful, more than words can actually describe, that people who have read this blog appreciate my voice.

I’m excited to see where the next year is going. TechCommGeekMom is not going away. I feel like I’m just getting started! I love meeting all the wonderful people that I have in the tech comm and e-learning/m-learning fields. I’m not going to stop writing about either topic, and I will continue to try to write and curate articles that I think are important or have any kind of impact on others, or just feel that it needs some sort of commentary. Ironically, second article that I wrote for this blog, written immediately after the first one, was a small rant about how iWork documents for iPad wouldn’t be saved in the iCloud. Ha, how things have changed. The presentation that I did yesterday was done on my iPad
(me, still promoting mobile!), and it has a backup in the iCloud. Oh yeah.

Two Boys and a Girl (8-12) Blowing Out Candles on a Birthday Cake

If you would like to help me celebrate, be sure to refer my blog to others, and feel free to look at past posts over the past year, and let me know if you’d like to see me write or comment on anything in particular! I am always open to suggestions, and it helps me bring together the TechCommGeekMom community that I hope I’ve created. Helping this blog grow would be the best present ever.

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“A Fear Stalks Our Profession…”

The STC posted this on Facebook today (I was so busy today, that I don’t know if they posted it elsewhere), and I was struck by how focused it is in the message. Credit goes to Rick Lippincott who gave this presentation, and to the STC for posting it!

This Lightning Talk from the 2012 STC Summit in Chicago expresses exactly why I get so excited about technical communications. It’s an fantastic time to be a technical communicator! Enjoy!