Tag Archives: blogging

Finding and following conversations – applicable for technical writers?

Bryan has the following ideas for finding and following conversations, and I think these are quite applicable to our role as technical writer also. The only item I find wanting in his post is – what keywords do you use? My initial ideas are: product name, keywords for the problems and solutions that your product addresses, and company name. Perhaps even the job titles for people who use your product like I’ve blogged about previously.

Finding and following conversations

  1. Search on Google Blog Search
  2. Search on Technorati
  3. Use an RSS reader such as Google Reader
  4. Start subscribing and listening to podcasts through iTunes
  5. Subscribe to Google Alerts
  6. Reading blog comments
  7. Jump onto Twitter and establish a presence in Facebook

I found an excellent case study of technical writers engaging in conversation through Dee Elling, who is the tech pubs manager for a programmer’s IDE. She has a blog post called Help on Help where she gets lots of comments from users – some of whom are in her camp, others who are ready to go to battle for the help content, namely the code examples that had mysteriously disappeared between releases.

Dee answers honestly and really empathizes with their need for those examples, and has a plan in place for replacing them. Her blog post is a great case study for how to have ongoing conversations with your customers.

I’ve been thinking about the writer’s interaction with customers a lot lately, because of blogging and podcasting and wikis other social media pursuits that seem to lead us towards documentation as a conversation with customers. As Tom Johnson found in his Web 2.0 experiment, some users think that the help system has boundaries. How can we break down those boundaries (seems like search is part of the answer)? How could Tom have ensured that his customer sought out conversation rather than answers?

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Examples of content providers blogging for customers

Sarah O’Keefe wrote up a nice summary of the WritersUA Pundits Panel, and Bogo Vatovec (of Bovacon)  made a statement something like this:

Introverted technical writers will not be writing help any more and will be replaced with experts moderating support forums. … Technical writers can no longer afford to hide in their cubes, they must go out and become experts and talk to the users.

I left a comment on her post that I see a similar future for our profession, although I do not have a value placed on introversion versus extroversion – likely introverts make perfectly good community managers and forum moderators since they can do that from their desks for the most part.

But, it does take some bravery to put your real personality online. I’ve found that a few of us are doing that – going from technical writer to blogger writing directly to customers.

While many of us blog to an audience of other professional writers, there are technical writers out there who are blogging to their end-user audience. Here are two examples:

  • Another example is Dee Elling’s blog for CodeGear users. This entry offers a great example of a real conversation with customers. I applaud her bravery (and emailed her to tell her) in facing these sometimes abrasive responses with a sense of customer service and helpful attitude. She doesn’t always have a good message to bring (they are working furiously to give their customers more code examples which we all know is time-consuming and difficult). But she brings a message directly to customers anyway.

Is anyone else talking directly to their customer base with their blog? Consultants in technical writing and content management are definitely talking to current and potential clients – Palimpsest is Scriptorium’s blog, The Rockley Blog, The Content Wrangler, and DMN Communications to name a few. But what about conversations with end users? I’d love to see more examples.

It’s the network, not the media, plus, the Content Wrangler Community on Ning

Another one of my takeaways from last week’s South By South West Interactive conference is that it makes sense to use the term “social networking” rather than “social media” to describe sites and tools that help you stay connected with others. We’re not all journalists, and the “media” part of the term seems to signify that you want to share media, but in reality, you want to share interests, ideas, and connect with others.

Join the Content Wrangler Community on Ning

There seemed to be an amazing convergence for me last week, when not only did I witness some neat interactions at the conference in person, online I was also having neat interactions with other members of the Content Wranger Community on Ning. I’ve started a Blogging group there as well, and I posed two questions to the group – one is, How do you find time to write blog entries? and the other is, Blog engine as a CMS? Or CMS as blog engine?

Please feel free to add me as your friend, add a comment, join a group, connect with me on The Content Wrangler Community. I’d like to get to know my readers!

Austin’s own STC president Leah Eaton invited the most people to join the community in the 3-day timeframe for a contest, so she gets to choose from a list of conferences to attend. Naturally, I encouraged her to attend DocTrain West where I’ll be moderating the Meet the Bloggers session featuring Scott Abel, Darren Barefoot, Aaron Davis, Tom Johnson, and Scott Nesbitt.

Social Media Marketing Playbook – book review

Cover of Our Social Media Marketing eBook
This book was an easy, fun, read, and seemed especially pertinent after all the immersion into social networking I’ve been doing with SXSW Interactive. The 100-page book, Getting to First Base: A Social Media Marketing Playbook, is aimed at your company’s marketing department for them to read before deep-diving into the social media landscape. Julie Szabo and Darren Barefoot share their stories and even their somewhat embarrassing lessons learned, sparing you from the same fate while also encouraging you to start the conversation.

At talk.bmc our entire intent was to start the conversation. So I know how daunting and intimidating it can be, yet you also have to dive in and sit back and listen. It’s not an easy road to walk. But sometimes ROI stands for Risk of Inaction, so eventually you should learn your way around the tools of the trade. I still like Reach Or Influence for the ROI acronym when applied to blogging. 🙂

This book gives you specific examples of tools and technology you can use to start the conversation, and also has the proper amount of caution about being genuine and having good intentions. One of my favorite quotes:

The vast majority of products are
ordinary. Worse, most customers
have made their buying decisions
about staple purchases years ago,
and it’s difficult to change their
minds.

So, what to do? Pull off the “online equivalent of a publicity stunt,” create a meme. To me, this is such a daunting task I can’t imagine writing a book about how to do it. But sure enough, these two have the experience and case studies to show for it.

I also liked the “influencer” chapter, describing the rules for interaction with bloggers. Looking at it as a blogger rather than a marketer, it’s good insider information to have. For example, check out this trick! Let’s say someone has a feedburner feed, but they haven’t published that little graphic that shows how many subscribers they have. Just insert /~fc/ into their feedburner URL, and voila, you have the little graphic! Example: http://feeds.feedburner.com/~fc/JustWriteClick. Super secret way to check out your friend’s blogs and see if they have any subscribers to speak of.

Glory be, they like their technical writers as monitors!

Darren has a background as a technical writer, and when the book talks about who is a good candidate for the sometimes time-consuming task of monitoring the blogosphere, I’ll bet it’s Darren who’s giving the nod to the technical writer. My other favorite quote:

On the development side, technical support engineers
or technical writers are often a good choice. They’re good
communicators, tend to have a broad awareness of the
company’s products, and can even reply to basic
support-related posts.

I agree whole heartedly. I think the Agile technical writer that Sarah Maddox describes is precisely the right person to be identifying keywords, get RSS watch lists configured, and read, read, read, and respond when necessary or find someone in our company who can respond correctly.

Wikipedia doesn’t like marketers – tread carefully

And, my personal favorite topic, wikis, is addressed. The book has an excellent section about what to do and what not to do when it comes to the tricky waters of Wikipedia. To me, this section alone is worth the $29 for this book! Solid advice with the proper amount of respect for the community behind Wikipedia.

All in all, nicely done and a great read for marketers and bloggers alike.

Look out, updated headshots are coming

The headshots I’ve been using (including the one that stays on my blog at talk.bmc.com) were taken by my husband one morning before work. In fact, my son is on my lap in one of the ones that didn’t make it to the “released” state. 🙂

Since those were a few years old, I decided it was time to update my headshots. So I asked my photographer friend Beverly Demafiles to come over to the house one late afternoon this fall for some professional shots. And wow, did she deliver the goods! I highly recommend her services if you’re looking for professional portraits or for wedding photography. She’s here in Austin and does spectacular work.

Beverly Demafiles photography logo

As a blogger, I’ve found it important to ensure that people know there’s a real person behind the writing. By offering updated photos I think I can continue to ensure that you know it’s really me. Plus, with some of these perspective portraits, you can know that I’m pretty short, really. My friends mostly think I’m taller than I am, though. I guess I must “stand tall.” 🙂

A few years ago, I accidentally painted our house pink. Pepto pink in fact. I have since vowed to buy quarts or pints of paint and try out colors on the side of the house so the neighbors can vote before any paint is applied in earnest.

pepto pink house

So, in the spirit of trying out portraits before plastering them everywhere, which portrait do you like best? Your vote matters so let me know which ones you like best by leaving a comment with the number.

  1. anne_001_small.jpg
  2. anne_002_small.jpg
  3. anne_003_smal.jpg
  4. anne_004_small.jpg
  5. anne_005_small.jpg
  6. anne_007_small.jpg
  7. anne_009_small.jpg

Wiki as forum, FAQ, HTML editor, XML editor, or CMS?

Wiki as the new FAQ

I discovered and have been meaning to write about Wiki is the new FAQ, an excellent blog post talking about SAP’s use of a wiki featured in an article in the Wall Street Journal. I especially like the play on words in the title. Reminds me of “brown is the new black” or “pink is the new blog,” hee hee.

A wiki can be a Frequently Asked Questions repository, much like the knowledge bases in their heyday in the late 80s. My favorite line from the blog entry has to be its closer: “It’s about a different way of thinking around how to interact with the community.” And that is what I have explored with my wiki presentation, about how to build community with a wiki and be an active member of that community. But what are other uses of the wiki?

Wiki as the next-generation customer forum

For many information seekers, wikis are better than forums because they are more easily searched and once you get a hit, the articles are meant to be scannable. Compare and contrast this to a long thread on a support forum where the answer to your question might be buried in the middle of a discussion about the mysterious beep in someone’s house. In my beep example, there are literally 78 pages of forum discussion, and if you read through the threads, you discover that a group of people took it upon themselves to go to the person’s house to find the beep. It has probably two years of forum discussion around the possibilities. Quite a fun and entertaining read, though, but not that efficient. Still, consider the community that built up around beep troubleshooting. Great stuff there.

But consider that your software users might not have the time to read through even a few pages of a forum discussion about a solution to their problem. That is where a wiki could be more useful than a forum. While forums are a fun online community for many, wikis might be the new generation of forum and many wiki engines offer comments on each article which are the next evolution of a forum – you can discuss the article itself. Another blogger, Leigh Blackall of Learn Online, discovered “The gold in a wiki is often in the discussion pages.”

Wiki as an easy HTML editor

Wikis originated as the quickest way to create a website without having to know HTML code. Really, wikitext is all about quickly doing headings, paragraphs, and lists.

Unfortunately each wiki has different rules for how to indicate a heading or list item or type of list. For some, it might be easier to just learn HTML code. And in the case of the Drupal CMS, there’s the ability to either use a rich-text editor or hand-code the HTML. It’s easy to troubleshoot when you can just view the HTML code, but what’s odd is that sometimes the resulting <div> tags generated out of your webform entries in Drupal seem to overlap.

But most wiki engines offer the fastest and easiest way to make a web page with a URL that you can consistently refer to.

Wiki as the new book

Some folks are pre-populating their wikis with book content, which is always an interesting test of what parts of a book are considered essential for “bookness” or “wikiness” – do you keep a table of contents? Is there any index? What page metaphors do you subscribe to in the wiki? These questions can be answered by looking for examples and analyzing their success. I especially like using wikis for the wiki aspects that go above and beyond books. For example, I’ve been exploring the Meatball Wiki site (Thanks Janet!) – and they have an excellent page with all sorts of Indexing Schemes categorized, such as Readership and Authorship which are fascinating for use in wikis as opposed to books. The Ontology category seems the most book-like to me, and I really like how that page offers ideas for all the possibilities that wiki offers.

Wiki as the new website

Does any company use only a wiki as its public-facing website?

Wiki as the new Content Management System

Eventually, the wiki can be the source files for important content, and I would guess there are people moving towards this wiki-as-cms system already. With my work with the OLPC project, I am learning more about wikis as source files, and found that the compare is actually quite powerful visually. Take a look at two versions of the demo or release notes from a release done in September. There is color coding and side-by-side comparison of text that is easily scanned for what changed, was added, or deleted. I’m learning so much about wikis for localization and translation efforts as well with the OLPC project. For example, this past week, I added links to translated content, such as the Spanish translation of the Simplified User Guide. The wiki engine itself (in this case, WikiMedia), lets me list the additional language pages in a blue bar on the original page, and then each language page automatically links back to the main language page (in this case, the English page.) Automatic is nearly always useful.

Do you see wikis being the next generation of other documentation outlets? Do tell.

Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler, advocate for change

I’m listening in on Scott’s somewhat-famous Web 2.0 for technical communicators talk. He has given it 15 times this year already so I’m very excited to hear it here in Austin, TX at the Quadralay WebWorks RoundUp user conference. Here are my notes.

Scott Abel’s Web 2.0 for technical writers presentation

How can writers show they have highly transferable skills? What are the in demand skills?

information architecture, interaction design, modular content creation, localization and translation, document design, standards knowledge= document engineer (read Document Engineering by Robert J. Glushko and Tim McGrath). How to add value to our careers – by creating human- and machine-readable documents, whatever form they may take.

seeqpod.com – playable search engine. Files that exist and are playable. Does it actually look for keywords within podcasts and let you play the relevant portions of that podcast?
songsza.com

jott.com – what would you like to “jott” – automatic voice recording from your cell phone that can be played back.

tapefailure.com – clips of your users using your website – combine and compare patterns

tagging

del.icio.us – showing his list of tagged bookmarks at del.icio.us/abelsp.

Offered a case study of using for call centers using del.icio.us – have your call center people automatically add tags to items that make sense to them, then the techpubs department can see all the tags, the frequency of the items, and the different vocabulary words used for their bookmarking.

mashups

periodic table of visualization methods
simile.mit.edu/exhibit/ – how you can filter content from a web browser. See the value of visualizing data in more visual ways for the average user.

syndication, subscription

pipes.yahoo.com – visual editor for RSS feeds, bringing them together and combining them.

hosted software (Software as a Service or SaaS)

docs.google.com Google Docs & Spreadsheets (side note – I’ll be publishing my wiki talk from STC Austin using Google Docs’ Presentation tool)
thinkfree.com
zoho.com – documents, spradsheets, projects, notebook, planner, wiki, others

blogs

documentation teams or developers putting end-user doc onto blogs

wikis

interactive voice response company using wiki
parking meter company using wiki
Virgil Griffith created a wiki scanner – salacious edit site – looks for IP addresses and associates them with the company name.
DITA Storm – edit DITA pages on the web.
guided authoring – can developers write role-based documentation if they are guided to do so, with examples and guided templates so they know where content goes.

podcasts

techwritervoices.com

video documentation

viddler.com – allows you to upload videos and annotate them.
See also video jug, expert village, sclipo, 5min, viewdo, teacher tube, youtube howto

social networks

linkedin.com – LinkedIn for Groups – STC and CM Pros will offer a member directory

Get his slides from slideshare.net.