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Need to Reboot Your 
Content Creation Strategy? 
Start with "No" 
Keith Boyd 
Microsoft Corporation
About me 
• 14 years at Microsoft, all in technical content. 
• 12 years in management. 
• 2000-2013 Windows writer and ma...
Staffing vs. platform growth 
XP 
Vista 
Windows 7 
Windows 8/8.1 
With each release of Windows, the 
dev platform grew in...
Why did staffing shift so 
dramatically? 
• Before 2005 there were very few sites 
detailing how to build Windows apps, 
s...
Content innovation vs. 
fundamentals 
High 
$$ 
Too expensive 
to be practical 
for most teams 
Untenable – no 
team would...
Win8: four principles 
In order to maximize resources and 
deliver greater value, we adopted four 
principles: 
1.Less is ...
PRINCIPLE: LESS IS 
MORE 
Too much content obfuscates and dilutes the 
important stuff
The painful truth… 
3 primary reasons people come to MSDN: 
1. To get the bits, or to provision an account. 
2. To “Get St...
Minimally viable content 
• Historically, we tried to anticipate everything a dev might 
need, and produced it. 
• That le...
What is minimally viable 
content for the dev audience? 
• It covers all the basics: 
– What the product is, and why you’d...
vNow vs. vNext 
Adopting a “minimally 
viable” approach lets 
your team support users 
on current 
products/services bette...
Reimagining capacity 
planning 
With Windows 8, we centralized content 
planning. We did this because… 
– Not all features...
Deliberate collaboration 
Well defined roles helped us work together more effectively to create better content 
experience...
Enabling customer 
contribution 
Content teams at MS have been reluctant to embrace a 
more “open” content platform. But t...
PRINCIPLE: CODE 
FIRST 
(EMPATHY SECOND) 
When a developer is stuck, they don’t want to 
read, they want code.
(Re)Building customer 
empathy 
The leadership team recognized that the longer someone 
worked at Microsoft, the less cust...
Embracing code first… 
Answer: write code. 25% of a writer’s total 
capacity was reserved so they would: 
• Gain firsthand...
Benefits of Code first 
• A happier and more productive team. Writing 
code is fun! 
• More complete and accurate document...
PRINCIPLE: MODERN 
VOICE AND TONE 
Acknowledge when things are hard, and 
engage your customers in a more 
humane, straigh...
“Plain English please!!!!” 
Plain English instead of jargon from logic or math or whatever 
that is write it in plain Engl...
The Tao of Microsoft 
Modern voice 
“You’re trying to take something that 
can be described in many, many 
sentences and p...
Voice principles 
• Customer Intent. What are they really trying to do? 
• Focus on the intent. Make the most common task ...
Voice example 
From this: 
Traditionally, many web developers have 
used browser detection in an attempt to 
provide a con...
Destroy. All. 
Robot. 
Language. 
before|after 
modify change 
perform do 
attempt try 
terminate end 
navigate go 
image ...
Before/After 
Sidebar: Who 
knew that Steve 
Ballmer actually 
aspired to 
technical 
communications? 
@Keith_Boyd #LavaCo...
PRINCIPLE: BE DATA 
DRIVEN 
There’s only so much quality content we can 
produce. Produce the right resources; not 
everyt...
API Documentation at 
Microsoft 
API (Application Programming Interface) reference 
documentation represents 80+% of the c...
The long tail… 
50 
45 
40 
35 
30 
25 
20 
15 
10 
5 
0 
Percentage of views 
1 
4 
7 
10 
13 
16 
19 
22 
25 
28 
31 
34...
The new approach 
With Windows 8 RTM, we documented all APIs to 
a minimally acceptable level of completeness. 
• We then ...
Keeping an eye on the 
competition 
Knowing where you stand relative to competitors is a 
powerful tool. 
• We reviewed ke...
CONCLUSION
Key learnings 
• Don’t be a team of scribes. Be a team of SMEs. 
• Keep innovation and fundamentals in balance. 
• Remembe...
QUESTIONS?
Connect with me! 
• LinkedIn 
• Email 
• MSDN Magazine 
• Twitter (@Keith_Boyd) 
• LavaCon 2012 slides (New voice, new ton...
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Need to reboot your content creation strategy? Start with "No"

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Learn how the Windows 8 team determined their content strategy, and the principles they adopted to maximize their content resources.

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Need to reboot your content creation strategy? Start with "No"

  1. 1. Need to Reboot Your Content Creation Strategy? Start with "No" Keith Boyd Microsoft Corporation
  2. 2. About me • 14 years at Microsoft, all in technical content. • 12 years in management. • 2000-2013 Windows writer and manager • 2013-present Principal Director, Content Services and International (CSI) in the Cloud & Enterprise division (Azure, Visual Studio, .NET) – Team owns roughly 10 million content assets as well as the MSDN print and online magazine. • Past-president, Western WA University Alumni Association. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  3. 3. Staffing vs. platform growth XP Vista Windows 7 Windows 8/8.1 With each release of Windows, the dev platform grew in size-- most dramatically during Windows Vista and Windows 8 development… 400 300 200 100 0 500 Programming-Writer population at Microsoft XP Vista Windows 7 Windows 8 Windows 10 … while staffing actually *decreased*, somewhat dramatically (values are approximate). Thousands of topics Millions of topics @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  4. 4. Why did staffing shift so dramatically? • Before 2005 there were very few sites detailing how to build Windows apps, services, or drivers. • As market forces changed, the balance of personnel investment also changed. • Technical communicators failed to consistently demonstrate their value relative to other disciplines. • Microsoft didn’t need scribes, it needed SMEs. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  5. 5. Content innovation vs. fundamentals High $$ Too expensive to be practical for most teams Untenable – no team would accept results at this level Innovation Low High Fundamentals Most content teams at Microsoft fell somewhere on the red line, generally doing neither fundamentals or innovation well. No wonder staffing suffered. What to do? @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  6. 6. Win8: four principles In order to maximize resources and deliver greater value, we adopted four principles: 1.Less is more 2.Code first 3.Embrace a modern voice and tone 4.Be data driven @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  7. 7. PRINCIPLE: LESS IS MORE Too much content obfuscates and dilutes the important stuff
  8. 8. The painful truth… 3 primary reasons people come to MSDN: 1. To get the bits, or to provision an account. 2. To “Get Started” quickly with a product or service. 3. To get help when they’re stuck. • Almost no one *wants* to read the content that my team produces. • And absolutely no one wants to read a 2000 word conceptual overview when they’re in the middle of coding (much less a 100 page whitepaper!) @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  9. 9. Minimally viable content • Historically, we tried to anticipate everything a dev might need, and produced it. • That lead to bloat, since content was created speculatively; not based on articulated customer need. • Ironically, right when we started to learn about how customers were actually using our products, we shifted attention to the next version, and began the speculative cycle all over again. For Windows 8, we built minimally viable content for use on day 1, then paid closer attention to how customers actually used our content so we could flesh it out later. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  10. 10. What is minimally viable content for the dev audience? • It covers all the basics: – What the product is, and why you’d want it. – How to acquire it. – How to get started, quickly. – API reference, at baseline standards of quality. – Code samples for key APIs (not necessarily every API). – Breadth information about the features that comprise the product or service. • What it’s not: – A compendium of every imaginable scenario associated with the product. – An exhaustive, inclusive reference section with deep details. – Comprehensive guidance detailing every feature in the product or service. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  11. 11. vNow vs. vNext Adopting a “minimally viable” approach lets your team support users on current products/services better, while still building a viable doc set for day 1 vNow Keeping these forces in balance is critical to our content strategy – after all, it’s the current version of the platform or service that actually pays the bills. vNext @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  12. 12. Reimagining capacity planning With Windows 8, we centralized content planning. We did this because… – Not all features or scenarios are created equal. – Not all writers (or leads!) are as good at evaluating the relative value of investing in one area against another. – Nearly all writers said “yes” when negotiating with their feature teams (the “scribe” mentality). By doing this, we started every milestone assuming that new content didn’t meet the bar for inclusion (“No!”). Then we let the writer or scenario owner talk the leadership team into it. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  13. 13. Deliberate collaboration Well defined roles helped us work together more effectively to create better content experiences across the customer’s journey. Data/BI Content Engineering Content Experience Developer Evangelism & Support Content Team Product Marketing Site Management Key scenarios; campaigns; premium content; SEM Scenario flows; content discoverability (SEO); metrics; project management; presentation; organization Content goals, plans and scenarios; execution; IA Product Team Customer advocacy; user stories; competitive insights @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  14. 14. Enabling customer contribution Content teams at MS have been reluctant to embrace a more “open” content platform. But times are changing: • Resourcing constraints are forcing our hand. • In the “real world”, software and content are built side-by-side, in collaborative fashion (think GITHub). • Devs know more about their code than writers. In response, multiple initiatives incent customer participation in content: • Curah! curation platform. • Soon: Collaborative documentation and better 1st and 3rd party community integration. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  15. 15. PRINCIPLE: CODE FIRST (EMPATHY SECOND) When a developer is stuck, they don’t want to read, they want code.
  16. 16. (Re)Building customer empathy The leadership team recognized that the longer someone worked at Microsoft, the less customer empathy they exhibited. There are a number of reasons for that: • Not enough hours in the day to continue to “dabble” with the technology. • Passion gets extinguished – “it’s just a job”. • Loss of perspective due to assimilation into the Microsoft culture. We gave writers so much to do that the skills and attributes that made them such great hires in the first place slowly withered away! How could we rekindle their passion? @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  17. 17. Embracing code first… Answer: write code. 25% of a writer’s total capacity was reserved so they would: • Gain firsthand knowledge of the platform, from the developer’s perspective. • Write more code snippets, which improved the underlying reference content. • Spend more time in small development teams building end-to-end samples and solutions (real world development) • Test our content – when they were coding and got stuck, the rule was they had to use our docs. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  18. 18. Benefits of Code first • A happier and more productive team. Writing code is fun! • More complete and accurate documentation. Bugs were filed when we found omissions or errors. • Deeper customer empathy. We developed unique insights of value to peer teams. • Additional end-to-end and feature level samples. This raised our profile among the other engineering teams and executives. • Better content. We knew firsthand what content devs needed to be successful, because we had walked a mile in their shoes. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  19. 19. PRINCIPLE: MODERN VOICE AND TONE Acknowledge when things are hard, and engage your customers in a more humane, straightforward, and empathetic way.
  20. 20. “Plain English please!!!!” Plain English instead of jargon from logic or math or whatever that is write it in plain English and tell me why the copy function does not work in this situation your language of explaining is very difficult to understand in I plain am a business english!!!! analyst on an IT team, and I’m Plain English would be great speak plain English offended as by we’re how not all geeks. Try plain English and only give me unfriendly the information your help is. I request. I need plain English with simple examples!!! Plain English please. Plain English so us non comp literates can understand. It was so over my head….geesh guys. Make it Plain English. Tell me in plain @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  21. 21. The Tao of Microsoft Modern voice “You’re trying to take something that can be described in many, many sentences and pages of prose, but you can convert it into a couple lines of poetry and you still get the essence.” Satya Nadella Microsoft CEO @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  22. 22. Voice principles • Customer Intent. What are they really trying to do? • Focus on the intent. Make the most common task ridiculously easy to find. • Easy to scan. Use formatting, art, headers, etc. to help readers find what they are looking for. •Write concisely. Try to cut the length by half. •Word choice. Use everyday words. Use technical words when they’re the right words. • Read aloud. Give it a natural, efficient voice. • Empathy. Acknowledge the reader’s situation. • SEO: Assume they’re coming from search. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  23. 23. Voice example From this: Traditionally, many web developers have used browser detection in an attempt to provide a consistent experience between browsers. The typical implementation performs a single comparison operation, usually involving the user-agent string, and then makes several design assumptions about the features supported by that browser. In practice, however, feature detection has proven to be a more effective technique that requires less maintenance. This article shows how to use feature detection to verify support for standards-based features and demonstrates different ways to detect features effectively. (83 words) To this: Many web developers use browser detection to determine what’s supported in a given browser. However, feature detection has proven to be more effective and requires less maintenance. Let’s look at this in more detail, including how to detect features effectively. (40 words) @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  24. 24. Destroy. All. Robot. Language. before|after modify change perform do attempt try terminate end navigate go image picture toggle switch obtain get configure set up execute run resolve fix enable allow halt stop value number Use simple words Copyright © 2014 Microsoft Corporation. Do not reproduce without permission. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  25. 25. Before/After Sidebar: Who knew that Steve Ballmer actually aspired to technical communications? @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  26. 26. PRINCIPLE: BE DATA DRIVEN There’s only so much quality content we can produce. Produce the right resources; not everything you can think of.
  27. 27. API Documentation at Microsoft API (Application Programming Interface) reference documentation represents 80+% of the content produced and maintained by my team. Why? • Corporate and regulatory regimes designed to enable interoperability. • 30 years of Windows, and a commitment to backwards compatibility. • Ubiquitous market position that compels us to make our products and services as flexible as possible. While 80+% of our content is reference, every API isn’t created equal… @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  28. 28. The long tail… 50 45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 Percentage of views 1 4 7 10 13 16 19 22 25 28 31 34 37 40 43 46 49 52 55 58 61 64 67 70 73 76 79 82 85 88 91 94 97 100 For Microsoft developer content projects, the top 1% of topics account for 50% of all page views, while the top 10% account for 90+%. The “long tail” starts after that. 90% of our content is hardly ever viewed! @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  29. 29. The new approach With Windows 8 RTM, we documented all APIs to a minimally acceptable level of completeness. • We then took the calculated risk to wait, to determine which APIs were actually being used. • To avoid small sample size, we reviewed data in monthly intervals. • By month two we had sufficient data to determine which APIs were being used most. Keeping a close eye on the data allowed us to say “no” to unnecessary work. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  30. 30. Keeping an eye on the competition Knowing where you stand relative to competitors is a powerful tool. • We reviewed key competitor sites and experiences in quarterly increments. • Small teams scored each site across 30 dimensions. • Ratings were inherently subjective, but normalized at in-person discussions. • We then reviewed our own site. Key findings were cataloged, and shared with partners. When executives or others asked “How does Apple do that?” we had the answer. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  31. 31. CONCLUSION
  32. 32. Key learnings • Don’t be a team of scribes. Be a team of SMEs. • Keep innovation and fundamentals in balance. • Remember that almost no one *wants* to consume technical content. • Embrace minimally viable principles, then gather data and improve. • Intentionally balance your investment between vNow and vNext. • Hold a high bar for new work. • Collaborate with related disciplines intentionally. • Embrace outside help and curate where possible. • Empathy drives SAT and helps your team anticipate customer needs. • A great code sample is worth more than 1,000 words. • Be concise, and write in plain English. • Use data to invest in the right content, not everything you can think of. • Knowing your competition gives you power – use it. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  33. 33. QUESTIONS?
  34. 34. Connect with me! • LinkedIn • Email • MSDN Magazine • Twitter (@Keith_Boyd) • LavaCon 2012 slides (New voice, new tone, new IA: Writing for the modern developer) • May 2014 issue of Intercom • Curah! @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon

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