Technical Communication and User Communities


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A keynote at a user assistance conference in Finnland focusing on the new opportunities and threads user communities are bringing to technical communication.

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Technical Communication and User Communities

  1. 1. Yawn… Another Web 2.0 presentation For 1,5 hours
  2. 2. What do all these buzzwords have in common? Business Process Redesign
  3. 3. These are all lost business opportunities for technical communicators.
  4. 4. The bad news is that we are not really learning. Quite the opposite. We are not missing the opportunity. We are loosing our jobs. Against the user communities.
  5. 5. But there is good news… We are not aware of this. Yet.
  6. 6. Are we missing the opportunity again? User Communities in Technical Communication Presented by / Bogo Vatovec
  7. 7. We can’t talk about user communities without at least mentioning Web 2.0 Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 in a rather useless manner. “Web 2.0 refers to a perceived second generation of web-based communities and services - such as social-networking sites and wikis - which aim to facilitate collaboration and sharing between users.” “Web 2.0 refers to the transition of websites from isolated information silos to interlinked computing platforms that act like software to the user. “
  8. 8. Internet (Web 1.0) brought services to customers Power to the users. Suddenly we could » find travel information and book own travel. » research medical conditions and treatments. » analyze financial markets and trade. » get up-to-date information on almost any topic. This resulted in a shift to self-service in many industries. » Generally reduces costs » Transferred effort to the customers (who didn’t notice this) » Empowered IT-departments » In most cases, companies still maintained ownership and responsibility over content
  9. 9. Web 2.0 puts customers in control of content Provides users the possibility to create content and experiences: » Pursue social goals » Create content » Manage content » Share content across websites User experience changes » From limited, company centered, individual to rich, user centric, social experience » “The Web” actually becomes “THE WEB”
  10. 10. The change has been triggered by the maturity of Internet » Critical mass of internet users reached long time ago » Practical added value perceived by all users » Human social nature Enabled by simple yet powerful technologies » Wikis » RSS (Really Simple Syndication) » Pod- and videocasts » Blogs » Web services » Twitter
  11. 11. Wikis allows users to easily create, edit and link web pages » Wikis are mostly used to create collaborative websites. » Increasingly used by businesses to provide affordable and effective intranets. » There are several variations of Wikis like PBwiki, Triki, Bliki, Interwiki with specialized functions.
  12. 12. RSS allows for publishing and subscribing to specific information » A content syndication standard » An XML standard provides structure and semantics to the content » Content is both human and machine readable » The content can be reused in different ways » Is delivered to the users when and how they wanted.
  13. 13. Podcasts are multimedia files distributed using the RSS » Can be delivered to various devices. » Can contain voice or/and pictures. » Can be used as an alternative communication channel in all industries.
  14. 14. Blogs are simple content publishing and management applications » Blogs display content in a reversed chronological order – newest first. » Kept to keep and publish diaries, thoughts on various subjects. » A new blog is added every two seconds. » Blogging has become a mass phenomena and a topic of much research. »In September 2007, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more that 107 million blogs. Since then, nobody is counting.
  15. 15. Intermezzo. Blogs are major information polluters and should be managed by a CO2-like emission voucher exchange.
  16. 16. I‘ll spare you the Twitter….
  17. 17. Web 2.0 doesn’t bring many new business models For most companies, Web 2.0 offers extensions and new possibilities to expand the existing business models. » User content sharing and creation » Social-network communities » Recommendations and reviews » Crowdsourcing (Wisdom of the crowds)
  18. 18. Crowdsourcing taps the potential of masses » Problems can be explored at comparatively little cost. » Payment is by results. » The organization can tap a wider range of talent it may haveinternally. Examples: GoldCorp Cambrian House Dell IdeaStorm Proctor&Gamble InnoCentive Amazon Mechanical Turk
  19. 19. But this presentation is not about Web 2.0 for corporations. It‘s about technical communication.
  20. 20. So why should all these be a threat to technical communication?
  21. 21. A traditional technical communication is not really communication. It‘s mass broadcasting.
  22. 22. We can say what we want, but: Users don‘t read documentation. And never will. Many studies showed that 90% of the users never look at documentation. bovacon studies shown that when having a problem, 95% of the users look for help on the internet. The other 5% don‘t look necessarily into documentation, either.
  23. 23. The sad reality is that we have known this for 15 years. But never did anything about this.
  24. 24. This problem is inherently built into our profession. Documentation can provide instructions on how to use the product. Which might be necessary for very special and complex products. But is usually just a sign of bad design.
  25. 25. Documentation can‘t solve a particular problem the user is facing. This problem is affected by too many external, real-time parameters. Specific software and hardware. Corporate environment and regulations. Individual experience.
  26. 26. We are fighting a Don Quichote battle. Users don‘t expect to find solutions to their problems in documentation. Yet we are trying to provide the solutions in our documentation. We are even trying to argue the added value of our profession using this wrong argument.
  27. 27. Earlier in my career I had a strong opinion that documentation is an integral part of the product. I was wrong.
  28. 28. Documentation should be eliminated. It‘s our job to do this. Or somebody else will do this for us.
  29. 29. Technical communicators should design innovative ways to improve user experience. The sad news is that, by doing this, you stop being a technical communicator. You become a product designer.
  30. 30. Bogo‘s three steps roadmap to Technical Communication 2.0 1) Provide the users with the infrastructure and benefit from it. 2) Become a power user. 3) Make professional organization and companies support this.
  31. 31. Step 1: Provide users with the infrastructure and benefit from it » Establish an environment where users can help each other using forums and social communities. » Provide infos about the updates, product demos, tips&tricks using podcasts and RSS-feeds. » Motivate power-users to actively contribute to user assistance using forums and blogs. » Motivate key engineers and company internal experts to run product- specific blogs. » Use the abilities of new technologies to improve traditional user assistance © bovacon 2008
  32. 32. Using Wikis to develop instructions and share information
  33. 33. Using communities to share knowledge and solve problems
  34. 34. Using modern media and blogs to improve communication and trust DELL
  35. 35. The challenges behind the integration of Web 2.0 provide opportunities for TCs Work under a motto – we need something Web 2.0 likeish. Treat Web 2.0 possibilitiess as a separate communication channel. Overwhelm with “integration” with social platforms. The user has to find his way through a mess of options completely ignoring her task.
  36. 36. Giving power to customers can sometimes cause interesting PR challenges » Dell-Hell » Chevy Tahoe collaborative marketing 6056633.html?tag=ne.vid » Comcast » Opel » Jamba
  37. 37. Step 2: Become a power user Traditional technical communicator TC 2.0 technical communicator » Interviewer, writer, designer. » Interviewer, writer, designer. » Hidden behind the corporation » Content provider, expert. » Introvert – leave me alone so I » Enabler, designer, moderator. can write my handbook. » On a front-line – I‘m an expert. » Practically no feedback on user » Extrovert – this is my opinion and assistance. this is how you should do this. » Interactive, short feedback cycles and reaction times.
  38. 38. Step 3: Tasks for the corporations » Reduce the amount of traditional forms of technical communication (documentation, online help) » Support innovative approaches to user documentation. » Support activities to establish and maintain user communities. » Establish and recognize “community experts” on the basis of their contribution to user communities.
  39. 39. Step 3: Tasks for societies and organizations » Accept and nurture the duality of technical communication: a traditional and new technical communication. » Distinguish technical writing from “technical communication”. » Accept that best technical communicators are not technical writers. » Develop new recognition models for TC 2.0 that help corporations recognize the profession. © bovacon 2008
  40. 40. The new job description from the STC is a step in the right direction, but became to broad At the Society for Technical Communication conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Susan Burton, the STC Executive Director, received a standing ovation when she presented the new job description of a technical writer/communicator from the U. S. Government, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as pushed forward by the STC: Old definition: 27-3042 Technical Writers Write technical materials, such as equipment manuals, appendices, or operating and maintenance instructions. May assist in layout work. New definition: 27-1028 Technical Communicators Develop and design instructional and informational tools needed to assure safe, easy, proper and complete use of technical goods and services. Combine multi- media knowledge and strong communication skills with technical expertise to educate across the entire spectrum of users‘ abilities, technical experience, and visual and auditory capabilities.
  41. 41. Summary?
  42. 42. User communities will not replace traditional technical communication. But they represent a paradigm shift for the profession.
  43. 43. TC 2.0 enriches the work of technical communicators From am unknown writer to an recognized expert. From a writer to an enabler, moderator and a content manager. An individual and a community more important then the company. Brings the user much closer than any other known user research methods.
  44. 44. TC 2.0 demands new skills and attitude Outbound instead of inbound focus – a communicator instead of a writer. A stand-alone writer becomes a part of the community. Traditional technical communication quality (grammar, writing style, …) less important than speed, correctness and contextual relevance of information.
  45. 45. You probably can’t have the TC 2.0 immediately. You should still: Carefully follow user communities dealing with the subject matter, your product or competitive products. Follow innovative thinkers in related industries. Imagine scenarios about potential use of the new concepts.
  46. 46. Think outside the box and be creative If there is a knowledge management initiative in the organization, lead it. Start innovation wiki where ideas can be shared. Initiate rewarding mechanisms. Think about integrating users in your design process.
  47. 47. Now it‘s your turn. Boo me out. Throw stones at me. Lynch me. Tell me I‘m a disgrace for the profession.
  48. 48. "Eppur si muove!" ☺
  49. 49. Thank you! © bovacon Bogo Vatovec bovacon Josetti Höfe, Rungestr. 22/ 10179 Berlin T +49 30 692 05 740 / F +49 30 692 05 7402 /