Posted in Uncategorized

Adobe Day @ Lavacon 2013 – Joe Gollner: The Changing Role of the Technical Communicator

The Flat Garden in the Japanese Garden, Portland Photo from the Portland Japanese Garden website.
The Flat Garden in the Japanese Garden, Portland
Photo from http://japanesegarden.com/learn-more/gardens/flat/

As I’m going backwards in my Adobe Day reviews, the second presentation of the day was by Joe Gollner. Joe is another prolific speaker in the world of technical communications, but I really hadn’t even heard him do a presentation before. I had seen him in last year’s Adobe Day at Lavacon on the panel discussion, but he was one of many voices in that discussion, so it was hard to determine what his presentations would be like.  I was pleased to find that his talk was as top caliber as the other presenters (which was no surprise, really).

It is fairly well known that Joe earned a degree in philosophy, and he’s known to be quite thoughtful in his presentations. I had the chance to chit chat with him after his talk, and found that his quiet demeanor was rather enjoyable–although in my “fangirl” moment, I don’t remember a thing we talked about. (Ha ha on me!)  So when I looked at the various gardens in Portland that I could use to describe Joe, I chose the Japanese Garden. On the Japanese Garden’s website, it describes the garden as a place in which “…the desired effect is to realize a sense of peace, harmony, and tranquility and to experience the feeling of being a part of nature. In a deep sense, the Japanese garden is a living reflection of the long history and traditional culture of Japan.” Similarly, Joe talked about technical communication in a zen-like way that the evolution of technical communication was a natural one that continues worldwide.

Joe’s presentation was about the changing role of the technical communicator within the integrated product lifecycle. He started the talk by asking the question of how do we deploy content to help with other aspects of business, and reach out to customers? His answer was that we need to adapt our conclusions. Joe mentioned Peter Drucker‘s book, The Practice of Management from 1954, in which Drucker spoke of  the drive towards specialized components with variety as the order of the day at that time. Drucker understood in 1954 that the global economy would require standardized parts with flexible and dynamic assembly. The global economy calls for continuous process improvement that is maximized, automated, and makes dynamically tailored products. Joe emphasized that there’s no escape from the need to standardize and automate content.

In today’s market, portability and processability is key.  Using XML to distribute content is central to the way business is conducted. It’s influential in technical interoperability, electronic data exchanges, social media integration, responsible web design, internet commerce, and supply chain automation. Thomas Friedman‘s book, The World is Flat, specifically focused on the levelling effects of XML. XML enabled supply chain automation, so it drove the ability to massively distribute manufacturing  and distribution of products.

XML changed the way world works. XML is not a secret!  To prove his point, Joe posted the following slide:

Gollner_example1Around those spokes, any business will go through the activities of governance, acquisition, delivery, and operation. We need to understand this applies to consumer products, complex systems, or data systems/big data. No trade-offs are allowed! Efficiency is measured as quality, cost, and speed. What this means for knowledge workers is that specialization is in order, and it does pose challenges in how we communicate. There are new and more challenging communication problems to be solved. Not only do we need to make technology understandable to users, but we need to make technology understandable at all in the first place.

Many companies need to understand for themselves what their own products do  so they understand what they truly are. But many companies use the “silo” model of creating content, and the problem with the silo model is that it’s old, tired and broken, and can’t keep up with modern issues. Joe showed us this chart:

Gollner_example2Joe pointed out that the details in this chart show that sometimes content “silos” and customer experience don’t align correctly. What can we, as content professionals, do to help fix this?

Joe Gollner taking notes during Val Swisher's talk.
Joe Gollner taking notes during Val Swisher’s talk.

Joe cited a case study that was done using Massively Integrated Systems (MSI), a market leading software company. It compared Agile versus Lean practices of MSI. Agile success led to general failure, because if Agile was embraced, then the company embarked on aggressive innovation, thus it ran straight into the complexity of their own product and of their customers’ environments . The company developed specialist departments, but these types of teams find it harder to communicate with each other. The groups didn’t understand each other’s language, goals, constraints, and approaches, and it showed. The roots of the Lean process were in Training within Industry (TWI), a World War II initiative to mobilize US industry. It was all about communication during Cold War engineering that were powered by these practices, but it dissipated in the 1980s. The Lean process worked better.

Joe’s conclusion was that current practices aren’t sustainable. Content is placed in the center of the integrated product lifecycle (see spoke diagram above).  Content is potential information, and is needed for effective information, processes, and products. There are many specializations to choose from as technical communication specialists. Joe asked the question, “Is adaption an option?”  His response was a definitive NO. He believes that competitive pressures make reintegrating the product lifecycle mandatory.  He gave the example of his daughter becoming a “cyberian” rather than a librarian, and she has a new job title of “meta-dor” due to this quickly changing world. Technical communicators will make themselves a visible part of the solution.

While I found Joe’s presentation informative, I actually have to disagree slightly with what he’s saying about becoming a specialist.  Because I’ve been in the job market fairly recently (and might be again soon due to my contract ending), I feel that while you can have a main specialty in tech comm, it’s better to be a multi-specialist. Joe had spoken about how the “silo” groups couldn’t speak each others’ language, and that’s because of specialization. By being a multi-specialist, this allows a technical communicator to be multi-lingual, in a manner of speaking.  Because I understand the nature of social media, content management, user interface design, and technical writing, I can fit into any of those positions as needed. Even in my current job as a “web publisher”, having those multiple “languages” and abilities served me well beyond knowing only content management. Understanding the other “languages” of those specialties–provided more technical communicators are also multi-specialists–will help to bring about that standardization of language needed between the groups. Perhaps it’s a more diplomatic or ambassadorial viewpoint on my part.

Still, I do agree with him that there is a need for standardization of language that needs to come about, and XML can be an important part of making that happen for better customer experience.

(Joe, if you are reading this, please feel free to correct or comment on my notes here in the comments below.)

Posted in Uncategorized

Adobe Day @Lavacon 2013 – Val Swisher Says It Starts With The Source

Ladds_1
Ladd’s Addition Rose Garden
Photo from http://www.rosegardenstore.org

Val Swisher was the next to last individual to speak at the Adobe Day at Lavacon 2013 event. For those who are regular readers of this blog, you know that my love for all things Val Swisher has no bounds. I’ve always been able to take her easy-to-digest information, and absorb it quickly into my brain, as well as relay her knowledge to others.  When I looked at Portland Gardens to compare her to, I chose Ladd’s Addition Rose Garden.  While it’s not as well-known (unlike Val, who is very well-known), this particular park, according to The Rose Garden Store,  was one of four rose gardens especially built from the Ladd estate, in which the design included these gardens coming together to form the points of a compass. I often think of Val as my compass, as she has never steered me wrong with her information or with the wisdom and fun that she’s shared with me one-on-one.

Val’s Adobe Day presentation centered on talking about source English terminology in a multi-channelled, global world, and how terminology affects structured authoring, translation and global mobile content. She started the talk by reminding us that historically, we’ve always created content, whether it’s been on cave walls, through stenography, through typewriters or eventually on word processors. In every instance, consistent terminology has been essential for structured authoring and content. Managing terminology is also essential for translation and for reuse.  She stated that prior attitudes used to be that the more complicated the writing was, the more “fancy” the product was. Today, that’s definitely not true.  She used the example that I’ve heard her use before, but it’s so simple itself that it’s a classic. Her example involves writing for a pet website. If multiple words meaning dog are used, there can be problem with reuse, because you can’t reuse content if you use different words.

Val_example_dog
Here’s the example Val showed.

Val pointed out that it would be an even worse situation if technological or medical terminology was used instead.

Val continued by saying that when it comes to  XML, reuse , and terminology, you cannot realize the gains of structured authoring if you’re not efficient with your words. Terminology is critically important to gain more opportunities.

ValSwisher
Val Swisher explaining how to approach content from a translation perspective.

Translation comes down to three elements– we’re trying to get better, cheaper, and faster translation output. We MUST use technology to push terminology and style/usage rules to content developers. In order to make it cheaper, we need fewer words, reused words, and reused sentences. It’s impossible for writers to know or even know to look up all term and usage rules. We MUST automate with technology. For example, “Hitting the button” is not translatable, but “Select OK” is fine!  She said, “Say the same thing the same way every time you say it.”

For better translation, translation quality needs to improve and meanings need to match in order for better machine translation to be a possibility. Bad translation comes from the source itself.  If the source information is problematic, then the translation will be problematic.  The best way to save money and time is to say the same thing, every time, using the same words, and use shorter sentences. For machine translation, don’t go over 24 words in a sentence.

Faster translation is seen as content that takes less time to translate, needs fewer in-country reviews, and gets to market more quickly. The key to delivering global mobile content is responsive design, global mobile apps, text selection is key, and terminology is the most important element. Val showed this example of how translation in responsive design isn’t working, where the Bosch websites are not exactly in synchronization:

The mobile website on the left looks nothing like the English language version on the right.
The mobile website on the left looks nothing like the English language version on the right.

The simpler the design is for the website–especially in mobile, the less you have to tweak it. This is especially true where consistent terminology is important, because consistency is needed for structured authoring. Creating truly faster, cheaper, and better translation enables a true global responsive design. This is not a simple task, as there is no such thing as simple, even when writing about complex concepts. Even if you think you’re not translating, your customers are, so the content needs to be very clear. The scary part of this is that some companies use Google Translate as their translation strategy, which is risky at best. To use something like Google Translate as the translation software, the content had better be tight, clear, and consistent.

One of the things I enjoy with Val Swisher’s presentations is that it all comes down to common sense, and she breaks it down into easy manageable parts for those of us–like me–who might not have thought about the context of language for structured authoring, and the consequences for not strategizing content to include translation considerations.

I highly recommend checking out Val’s blog for other great insights.

(As always, Val–if you’d like to add or correct anything here, please do in the comments below!)

Posted in Uncategorized

Adobe Day @ Lavacon 2013 – Rich Media in Framemaker with Matt Sullivan

photo from www.portlandoregon.gov/parks
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
photo from http://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks

Matt Sullivan presented the last individual presentation for Adobe Day at Lavacon 2013, and it was a little different than what I had seen before. To me, it was like Portland’s Crystal Spring Rhododendron Gardens, because while Portland is known for its rose gardens, here’s something that’s different, but not out of place either.

MattSullivan
Matt Sullivan doing his presentation.

Matt recently co-authored the book, Unstructured Framemaker 11 with Sarah O’Keefe, and took the time to show us some of the more special features of Framemaker 11, specifically in reference to the use of rich media and XML. What made this a different presentation from what I had seen before was two-fold. First, Adobe prides itself in presenting these Adobe Day Thought Leadership events as the antithesis of a long commercial for the Adobe Technical Communications Suite applications, so having this presentation about Framemaker specifically seemed to go against that. But the deeper the presentation went, it was obvious that it wasn’t as much about how to include rich media in Framemaker (although that was certainly presented), it was about opening up minds to the idea of using rich media in digital documentation, and Framemaker happened to be the tool used to demonstrate this. Matt Sullivan is one of the foremost experts out there on the use of Framemaker (he did co-author a book, after all, and I’ve seen the book–it’s a hefty tome), so this made a lot of sense. The second part that seemed different was that it was a demonstration at all. As mentioned before, I was a little confused that an aspect of Framemaker was being demonstrated.  For those who were familiar with the product, it was easier to follow along. For those who weren’t as familiar with the product, they could keep up, but it didn’t necessarily have the same impact, but opened eyes to possibilities.

All that aside, Matt gave a lively demonstration of how one can produce rich media output from DITA/XML. Because this was a live demo, it was hard to track all the nuances of the presentation, so there weren’t a lot of notes taken as it would be difficult to describe the processes step-by-step as he was doing them. The audience went along for the journey through these processes, and we could see how Matt used Framemaker to include of rich media. Matt showed us how one can place videos, flash components, and other multimedia into Framemaker docs. He also showed us how to integrate these into the DITA map, and how a PDF document can be produced for both print and interactive versions. One of the best examples Matt showed us was  how 3D models can be used in Framemaker documents in addition to control tables. Matt explained that the beauty of the ability to add rich media to documentation is that it’s all about the single-sourcing features to be able to integrate the rich media.  The other part of what makes it optimal is that rich media can be saved to online formats. He stressed that rich media can be used in unstructured Framemaker as well as structured Framemaker.

Matt has also done several Adobe webinars covering much of the information presented in this presentation and more. As a refresher, he offered a 45-minute demo with the details found at http://wp.me/p1KX8V-4P, which is also available on his blog at http://mattrsullivan.com.

While it was a little difficult to cover and summarize this presentation (no fault of Matt’s–he did an excellent job), as I said before, this was something new for me to experience at an Adobe Day.  I learned not only about how to include multimedia objects in Framemaker specifically, but Matt was also showing how valuable rich media can be when used correctly and methodically in almost any kind of documentation and content out there, which is really the more important part of the bigger picture. As technical communicators, we need to remember that we don’t have to be limited by text and stand-alone images.

(Matt, if you need to correct anything I’ve said here or would like to add anything, please feel free to add in the Comments section!)

Next in the Adobe Day -Lavacon 2013 coverage: Val Swisher’s presentation.

(Yes, I’m going backwards with how everything was presented. Why? Because I can. 🙂 )

Posted in Uncategorized

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!

Posted in Uncategorized

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!)