Posts tagged ‘Social networking’

Using social networking for documentation

I have recently been reading a fair bit about how social networks are being used for technical communication. It’s a hot topic, and although some companies’ tech writing teams are already joining in conversations with users on Facebook, LinkedIn and their own user forums, how they include this kind of content in their documentation is what they are currently trying to get their heads around.

You may have already heard the term “Web 2.0” thrown around. It is the term that has been associated with websites that allow users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media kind of dialogue. Or as Wikipedia so clearly puts it, “Web 2.0 is associated with web applications that facilitate participatory information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the World Wide Web.” Right…

From personal experience, this type of communication and user-influenced documentation has been seen in the online gaming world for some time.

Customer service-wise when players need help, they go to the game’s official website forums to ask the question. Then, more often than not, it is the other players that answer the question before any of the official game developers get a chance to. This happens regardless of how good the how-to documentation is. I think the thought process is along the lines of “why spend time researching when I can just ask?”

Additionally, as time goes by, these forums begin to replace the how-to documentation. The sea of discussion threads will appear very messy at first, but there will be a search function to tidy it up. Using keywords, you can filter discussions to often find exactly what you are after. And not only that, you can read an entire conversation that has already taken place about the issue or feature. If the conversations are too dated, that is when you may have to refer to the almost redundant how-to documentation. Or alternatively, you could start a new discussion…

Here are some examples I have come across recently of this growing Web 2.0 trend:

Writing procedures in Facebook
Link: http://www.2morodocs.com/2011/04/content-strategy-posting-procedures-in-facebook/

2morodocs talks about this very interesting concept. Some of the main advantages I gleaned from this were:
• Format – the Facebook layout bodes well for procedure writing
• Updates/changes – if your product is evolving, you can ensure everyone knows how and why as soon as it does.
• Customer service – as well as being able to provide real-time support (procedures are easy to write), by providing hints and tips you can also provide people with information they need, before they even know they need it.
• Relevance – by including regular features, you keep your product fresh and in peoples’ minds.

Hosting documentation in a wiki
There are two types of wiki, open and closed. Open wikis allow anyone to submit content, most famously demonstrated by Wikipedia, while closed ones only allow employees or specified users to add content. An open wiki can present problems, which mainly stem from managing and hosting the “crowd-sourced” content. Wikipedia does this by keeping the entire website level (there is no hierarchy or website architecture), but hosting business documentation this way is another matter. This is why the majority of businesses using a wiki for documentation (or thinking about doing so) are using a closed version.

I did find an example of an open wiki however, which uses a wiki called Confluence (there are numerous wikis that have been developed – i.e. Wikipedia uses MediaWiki). The company, Atlassian, developed the wiki themselves and this example is the wiki for their software application CROWD: http://confluence.atlassian.com/display/CROWD/Crowd+Documentation

Including tips via Twitter
Websites can contain a text box that displays a continuously-updated list of tweets. It will recognise recent tweets containing a predefined word and display them. Anyone can write a tip and have it show on the page, which, when added to the homepage of a documentation website, gives it that freshly updated feel.
I found a good example of this while browsing Atlassian’s wikis. Their JIRA wiki has one: http://confluence.atlassian.com/display/JIRA/Tips+via+Twitter

Living documents – getting users involved
Sarah Maddox, a technical writer for Atlassian, gave a presentation recently at the WritersUA 2011 conference. Considering the work they are doing in this social networking field at Atlassian, I thought a link to the run down of what she said might be appropriate: http://ffeathers.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/writersua-2011-%E2%80%93-using-social-media-to-get-readers-involved/

“At Atlassian, we’ve been using social media in various ways, to make our documentation a living, interactive hub where people can find the answers to their questions, talk to us, talk to each other, and use the documentation as a tool to help each other.”

James

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May 23, 2011 at 9:11 am 2 comments

Defining technical writing

“So what do you do?”
“I’m a writer”
“That’s cool, what do you write about?”
“Oh not like that, I’m a technical writer”
“Oh right, okay. So umm… what’s that?”

This is how the conversation usually starts. The next part varies depending on the most recent projects I’ve done. Sometimes I’m a website developer, other times I’m a trainer, but most of the time I’m just plain confusing. Technical writing just isn’t one of those jobs everyone has heard of. Not surprisingly either, considering I am one and don’t know how to really describe it.

So I did some research and it appears I’m not alone. In business terms, technical writers are traditionally bad at expressing their value. We’re even worse when it comes to defining the product we deliver. Businesses tend to hire us to create documentation because they see it as necessary evil, rather than an opportunity to add value. And ‘adding value’ is exactly what a good technical writer does.

But I can’t simply describe my job as ‘adding value’. That’s even more ambiguous than where I started.

What I mean is that when a user reads some documentation for the first time their experience has a flow on effect. A satisfied user will come back (loyalty). They will talk about it in a good way (promotion). And in work situations will be able to do their job faster (efficiency).

So, to put it simply and not sound too boring, next time I’m in the above conversation I think I’ll just say “I keep a business’s users happy by making things easy to read, easy to find and easy to understand”. If they’re not satisfied with that and ask how, I may have to give them the long-winded version…

Technical writing is about modifying language and structuring information specific to users’ needs. We technical writers are communicators, and we have the ability to work directly with users and subject matter experts not only to extract information, but to learn directly from their perspective. This approach allows us ask the right questions, pinpoint assumptions and above all, tailor the information in a way that will be easiest for users (especially new ones) to understand.

We often take our language skills for granted (I really should stop generalising, but I’m sure I’m not alone here), which is a key element of being a technical writer. We don’t take long to figure out how to put something in words, editing time is minimal, content is clean and consistent, and more often than not we’re so used to typing that we do it at an alarming speed. I know this is starting to sound like a pitch, but I’m still on my ‘adding value’ tangent.

Do we have any other technical writers reading this? How do you describe what you do to friends? Do you actually call yourself a technical writer? Or are you a documentation developer, instructional designer, or something similar? And more importantly, have I completely overlooked the easiest way to answer the “what do you do” question?

James

May 11, 2011 at 8:36 am 7 comments

Shorten those words! Or just spell them wrong…

Mobile phones started it, online chat continued it, Facebook made it mainstream and Twitter took it to a whole new level. Bashing the English language has become the norm. If you use proper grammar and spell everything out in full nowadays, you’re the weird one!

There’s the common conception that there is a language called “txt speak”. And there is, but not as you know it. Generation Z (are we up to that yet?) use words like ‘lol’ as part of their everyday language… out loud. You’re not up with the play any more if you simply know what OMG stands for. “Txt speak”, if we have to put a label on it, is a continually developing language, and it’s Twitter that is adding the most recent touches to it.

I’m not talking about Twitter’s own language either, that’s another story altogether. In fact, I was recently on http://www.twittonary.com and learnt a few things for myself! Aside from the fact that you can add ‘Tw’ to the start of any word to add Twitter to its definition (I think the most amusing one I found was ‘Twurch’, which means providing sermons and scripture over Twitter), there were numerous new acronyms and a plethora of new words. And the prerequisite for word creation seems to be as simple as celebrities using it. Then if it starts getting RTd (re-tweeted) on a regular basis, it’s a word.

Twitter has also normalised the shortening of words like never before. It did start with txting, but not everyone picked up on it. And saying as much as possible while using as few characters as possible couldn’t be more important than when you’re Twittering – y wld u typ 4 ages whn u cn gt ur msg in 1 line?

If you want to remain fluent in “txt speak”, ensure you know the following so you aren’t lost from the word go:

• ICYMI – in case you missed it

• JSYK – just so you know

• IIRC – if I recall correctly

• IMHO – in my humble opinion

• DYK – did you know

• FTR – for the record

And the same applies to signing off. If someone ends a txt, Facebook or Twitter message with HAND, don’t look puzzled, they’re actually being nice. It means “have a nice day”.

What do you think of txt speak? Have you heard any interesting new words or acronyms lately? What do you think of people using the acronyms as part of everyday spoken conversation?

James

May 3, 2011 at 9:16 pm 6 comments

LinkedIn Gems

I’m on LinkedIn, complete with profile, recommendation, picture and memberships in various LinkedIn groups, neatly selected to feed my different areas of interests. Needless to say, the latter keep my mailbox busy. With daily or weekly digests, there are always some discussions, comments, news and links that need to be shared. While this may be clogging up my mailbox from time to time (I heartily admit that I spent at least an hour each day going through these emails), I have found the odd information gems in the forms of interesting people to connect with, blogs and websites to check out, and new knowledge to keep my brain cells alive.

These gems aren’t always just of value to myself but also and often more so for my wider network of family, friends and colleagues. There may be someone looking for a service or product, and you may just happen to have the right contact for them, or someone shares where to publish your first e-book and you know that one of your closest friends had been considering this for the past months. Sometimes, of course, I do also stumble across a contribution that should have better been left un-posted, or a discussion that turned rather heated. So the selection below constitutes an eclectic array of all of the above – enjoy the sparkle!

Socially responsible sparkle: Give Family a Break

Go on a break and support a good cause – if that doesn’t make you feel good, I don’t know what will! From 1 to 30 August, you can bid for $1 reserve accommodation and dining options throughout New Zealand’s InterContinental  Hotels Group (IHG) to raise money for the Salvation Army on www.sella.co.nz/ihgsalvationarmy. The money raised will help up to 40 disadvantaged New Zealand families have a one-week holiday this coming summer.

Request sparkle

As stated in the introduction above, many LinkedIn users are looking for information or resources. Rosemarie Begbie, owner at Enterprising Women, a networking group for women that are running their own businesses in New Zealand, is looking for inspiring women speakers. This has sparked a long list of valuable responses for Rosemarie, and an invitation to come along to a Zonta group meeting. It looks like Wellington women in business can look forward to a number of interesting networking events!

Twitter sparkle: Oldest Twitter user passed away

Ivy Bean, an English lady who was widely considered to be the oldest Twitter user, died at the age of 104. She had over 56,000 followers on Twitter, and she was also an avid user of Facebook.

Regional sparkle: New Courses at the Business Centre, Wellington

Gabby Simpson, Operations Manager at the Business Centre in Wellington, announces the centre’s upcoming courses and events for August (what’s left of it) and September. TACTICS has been partnering with the Business Centre and we just offered a couple of free one-hour workshops in Wellington. If you missed out this time, sign up for our newsletter on our website and we’ll keep you posted.

Now it’s your time to shine – send me a comment to share your LinkedIn gems (or grime) with me.
Dorit

August 20, 2010 at 12:18 am 1 comment

Content Strategists

Why does business writing have such a bad reputation? Not just the policy or procedural stuff either, even the new-age marketing blurbs are stale. The words you see on every second business website like “cost-effective end-to-end solutions” or “value-added services” tell you next to nothing, and what businesses need to remember is that for the trigger-happy internet consumer, the click of a mouse button is all it takes to leave.

To stand out as a business nowadays, especially on the internet, you must be different. And the best way to do that is to be yourself, or at least be as human as possible. Social networking has changed the way people “take in” what they read on the internet by almost allowing them to picture the people entering the content. Websites that are impersonal no longer engage the audience.

This is part of the reason we have seen the emergence of the “Content Strategist”. It’s not the easiest job role to define, but to put it simply it is the planning of content creation, delivery and its governance, which is no longer part of a web-designers role (if it ever was). The notion of content management has been around for a long time; creating, editing, approving, publishing and removing content. Content strategy however, as the name implies, takes a strategic view of this content and examines how the goals of the organisation are served by the content it produces.

The knowledge of how to manipulate search engines is crucial for a content strategist. On the very surface it’s as simple as knowing the words a potential customer would type into a search engine, and placing them on your website (or in a tagline), but it goes much further than that. You can make the most of Google advertisements on these searches, or have your website improve its search “rank” just by having links in the right places.

My initial reaction to finding out about Content Strategists was of relief. Someone had finally blended the technical writers with the marketing team, divisions that never seemed to previously coordinate with each other. Nowadays businesses are challenged to serve up content in increasingly innovative ways, and it is those whose focus has shifted from visually appealing graphics and words to how the content is actually delivered who are really prospering.

Part of the content delivery solution is the way that content is structured. For more information on this see the following links:

Information Mapping

–      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_mapping

–      http://www.infomap.com/

Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA)

–      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin_Information_Typing_Architecture

–      http://dita.xml.org/

May 16, 2010 at 10:21 pm 3 comments


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