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TechCommGeekMom’s Excellent Adventure – A look back at STC Summit 2013

pogueaud-a1OK, I know it’s been more than a month since the 2013 STC Summit ended, but I promise this is the last blog entry I’m going to do about it. No, seriously. I mean it. I was writing up so many blog posts for the STC and about Adobe Day, that I think I got a little burnt out on writing, so I had to take a slight break for a bit, just to catch my breath, so to speak.

Even so, I’m hoping that you’ll enjoy this post which consists of images of me on the trip, just to prove I was there! Sometimes sharing the photos is much more fun, don’t you think?

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My first night in Atlanta was spent with a college friend of mind whom I hadn’t seen in person in at least twenty years! She took me to the oldest and largest drive-in restaurant in Atlanta called the Varsity. First-timers had to wear the hat! I made the best of it.
This was the greeting I had on the TV in my hotel room. I just thought this was cool. I was already feeling rather welcomed!
This was the greeting I had on the TV in my hotel room. I just thought this was cool. I was already feeling rather welcomed!
The Grand Hyatt in Atlanta was huge! This structure in the middle of the hotel's main lobby certainly captured one's attention!
The Grand Hyatt in Atlanta was huge! This structure in the middle of the hotel’s main lobby certainly captured one’s attention! My son even thought it was crazy seeing it through Skype while I was there.
On the first day of the Summit, I had the privilege of doing the Twitter feed for Adobe Day for Adobe. Thanks,  y'all! I'm there in the center with the light yellow shirt on.  --Photo courtesy of Maxwell Hoffmann
On the first day of the Summit, I had the privilege of doing the Twitter feed for Adobe Day for Adobe. Thanks, y’all! I’m there in the center with the light yellow shirt on.
–Photo courtesy of Maxwell Hoffmann
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I spent my afternoon with fellow STC Summit attendee, Kim L., and we visited the World of Coca-Cola. Here’s an old bottle from my home state of NJ!
Later, on the first night of the Summit itself, all the first timers were asked to stand up during the Summit opening. Again, can't miss me standing in the middle there.
Later, on the first night of the Summit itself, all the first timers were asked to stand up during the Summit opening. Again, can’t miss me standing in the middle there.
–Photo courtesy of  STC
I was shocked, in the middle of the opening presentation, to see my name "up in lights"!
I was shocked, in the middle of the opening presentation, to see my name “up in lights”! Thanks to STC’s Kevin Cuddihy for sending this to me.
The keynote speaker, David Pogue, was fantastic. I really enjoyed his presentation.
The keynote speaker, David Pogue, was fantastic. I really enjoyed his presentation.
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Here’s the entrance to the vendor showcase…which to me, was more like walking into a tech comm wonderland!
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If I only had the supermodel figure to match…Me doing my best presentation pose of the cool typewriter that Adobe was giving away.
–Photo courtesy of Maxwell Hoffmann of Adobe.
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Here I am during one of my many pitstops to talk with my friends Connie and Al from TechWhirl.
–Photo courtesy of Rachel Houghton.
On the last night of the Summit, I took a "field trip" on my own, and went to see a talk by documentary filmmaker, Joe Cross. He used to weigh 100+ lbs more than he does in this photo, and the film he made was about how he lost the weight through juicing for 60 days. If you are looking for inspiration for healthy eating, find the film, "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead." It's an awesome movie. And yes, I got to meet Joe in person, obviously.
On the last night of the Summit, I took a “field trip” on my own, and went to see a talk by documentary filmmaker, Joe Cross. He used to weigh 100+ lbs more than he does in this photo (he’s a hottie now!), and the film he made was about how he lost the weight through juicing for 60 days. If you are looking for inspiration for healthy eating, find the film, “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” and check out RebootWithJoe.com. It’s an awesome movie. And yes, I got to meet Joe in person, obviously.
Oddly enough, people would come to talk to me not about being TechCommGeekMom, but rather because of my notetaking set-up that was color coordinated! It's just a regular iPad3 and Apple wireless keyboard, but the iPad cover is by Brookstone, and there's a matching "skin" that I got for the keyboard from either Amazon or eBay very cheaply. For whatever reason, it captured a lot of attention! Hey, at least I kept my word that I would use mobile exclusively at the Summit, and I did!
Oddly enough, people would come to talk to me at the education sessions not about being TechCommGeekMom, but rather because of my notetaking set-up that was color-coordinated! It’s just a regular iPad3 and Apple wireless keyboard, but the iPad cover is by Brookstone, and there’s a matching “skin” that I got for the keyboard from either Amazon or eBay very cheaply. For whatever reason, it captured a lot of attention! Hey, at least I kept my word that I would use mobile exclusively at the Summit, and I did!

I will close this with another surprise I got, which I think is appropriate. Jamie Gillenwater did a lightning talk about 101 things to love about tech comm, which included a few quotes of mine. I was honored that she actually used some of the feedback I had sent her! Her last slide was a quote of mine, too, and considering I had forgotten that I gave her this tidbit, I thought it was pretty good, if I do say so myself! I was especially honored that she used this one, as I still find it to be true, especially after my experiences at the 2013 Summit. 

Jamie-presentation-quote1

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little photo essay. I really enjoyed my time at the STC Summit, and I really hope that I’ll be able to go next year to the conference when it’s in Phoenix!

Things have been very busy for me at work, to the point that it’s been difficult to keep up with things here on the blog. But fear not! There is always more to come on TechCommGeekMom! Stay tuned!

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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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After the Summit: Was It All I Expected As a First-Timer?

conanATL

Here’s the last post that I wrote about the 2013 STC Summit for the STC Notebook blog.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride with me.

Continue to watch my blog for more on Adobe Day at the 2013 STC Summit, and one last blog post about the Summit that will talk about the fun parts–some additional insights from my trip. I’ll also be writing for the STC Notebook on a monthly basis as well, so keep watching for those posts as well.

See on notebook.stc.org

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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!