Tag Archives: search

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?


Collaboration with asynchronous communication – getting to know “you”

While gearing up for different conference trips and presentations, I’ve been trying to get to know collaborators using asynchronous communications, such as listening to Char James-Tanny’s podcast on techwritervoices.com. She presented “Virtual Ways of Communicating” at a Florida STC meeting and Tom Johnson recorded it and posted it later.

I really enjoyed not only listening to Char speak but also hear the audience questions and interactions. For example, when she showed tag clouds, one audience member asked, does the size and format of the tag words change when a tag is used more often than another? And I thought, wow, I’ve always assumed that is exactly how it works, but haven’t actually asked the question, such as refresh rate or what relative sizing means. It points out to me that I take a lot for granted in the Web 2.0 world due to observing so much of it so often. But, a new fresh perspective offers me the conceptual details that people would seek when first exposed to something like a tag cloud.

As part of listening to this podcast, I found many suggestions for cool videos, popular wikis, and new uses of RSS such as RSS that I hadn’t heard yet. I realize that no matter how hard I try to keep up, there are new applications of technology coming in every day. I thought I’d collect these together though as a nice collection of “have you seen this?” which may not make much sense unless you listen to the podcast, but these were enjoyable to hear about and explore on my own.

Stories from SXSWi 2008 – Creating Findable Rich Media Content

Here are my notes for the Creating findable rich media content session at SXSW Interactive. Listen to the podcast for yourself if my haphazard notes are difficult to follow.

  • Navigation typically not followable for Flash, etc. Text is embedded, not retrievable by spiders, key text is not prominent or differentiated (even XML).
  • Lack of a unique URL hurts your linkage and Google ranking subsequently.
  • If content is not coded or tagged correctly you’re not as findable.
  • Disney example – their entire site is Flash. You can make Flash search-friendly, navigation is key – just make sure spiders can get through.
  • Javascript function detects non-Flash capable browsers, so viewers get primary content (text, anything you can add to an HTML page).

Samsung example – Flex and AJAX for 20,000 SKUs of different tv models, used XML site maps to get all the deep links (which were previously unfindable).
Economist has a video site – 1 page for each video linked from master.
Tubemogul lets you upload videos in bulk with good tags, good titles.Not always rich media that’s the problem, but the execution, making sure you think about search and findability early on in the project, and tag early.

Sometimes content goes up only for a month and then comes back down, so search is irrelevant. Plus, if you want a rich experience, then you don’t worry about search – you actually want fewer people to have that rich experience.

Creating a findable strategy – or make your content find your users. (Now that is an interesting concept to ponder for technical writing.)

Fiat website – Flash-based
Layered approach – CMS backend with XML that transforms either to HTML or to have Flash consume the content. This approach could be mistaken for a form of cloaking, make sure intent is legit and alternative is a faithful representative of Flash content.

Other SEO suggestions – break up container, create deep links from blogs to specific content allowing inbound links.

Other findable strategies
Never ending friending report 2007
Asked people ages 14-29, if you had 15 minutes of spare time, what are your top two choices for using that time? Social networking or talking on cell phone were the top answers.

Target example (Adweek article) -Back to College campaign on Facebook
2-3 months lifespan, so this is an example of not worrying about findability, but rather ensuring that your content finds your users. How does Target create a dialogue with college students; one that would inspire and support their transition into college life?
Give freedom to kids to discuss produts, within their own community.
Personalized checklists sent to mobile.

Funny side note – I think this Target campaign was a nominee of one of the “Suxors” as one of the worst social media campaigns in 2007.

Consider everyone’s accessibility – mobile phones, text to speech, and so on.

Google webmaster tools – google.com/webmaster – these are relatively new.

Q: What is the biggest challenge coming up?
A: Something should be invented to work in the authoring stage to give info to the search engines.
Q: What about exclusionary methods? They don’t understand the ping pong effect something that’s cool will come around everywhere? His clients don’t want to pay for the bandwidth and so on.
A: I don’t think they actually answered this other than to say viral is always good.

Q: What about microformats?
A: The Google panelist said it needs to get more standard and have more attached to the content. He did point to http://www.google.com/experimental/.

Specialized information hoarding

I get the greatest blog ideas from my lunch companions lately. This week it was a few former BMC writers. At BMC, the writers have an annual book exchange around the holiday time, and it was so popular we sometimes repeat it mid-year.

At our book exchange, everyone would bring a wrapped book, place it in a pile, then draw a number out of the hat. The person who drew the lowest number would chose from the pile, unwrap the book, read the description, and then the person with the next number would choose to either “steal” the already unwrapped book or take from the pile. The person who drew the highest number would have many unwrapped book titles to choose from.

For a few exchanges in a row, Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell appeared in the book exchange pile, so all four of us at this lunch had read and enjoyed the book very much.

Could you hoard all the information on a topic if you wanted to?

uspbkjacket_w150.jpgJonathon Strange & Mr Norrell is a wonderful fantastical story about the return of magic to England due to the two people in the title (well, and due to other forces). There are humourous parts, and the fun of the book is that each magician has a very different approach to learning magic again. One hoards all the books about magic. ALL the books. This aspect of information hoarding was especially interesting to us writers at our lunch discussion. Could you even do that in modern day – collect all the books about a certain topic (albeit a narrow focus?) No way.

Another observation is that the cautious one is the one who hoards all the information and only very reluctantly shares it with his reckless pupil. I’m working on a panel discussion on collaboration and I can’t help but remember this book and how fruitless and unsuccessful it was for Mr Norrell to attempt to keep all the books on magic in a single library. The similarity I would draw is how difficult and unhelpful it is to try to write all the information and hoard your topics, never to be remixed into other deliverables.

If the information is hoarded, how is it released to the wild?

Another story that came up in the same week of lunchtime conversations was one from Don Day. He has had a certain camera since he was in high school, and never knew that much about it. He has taken it apart numerous times, and looked for books about the camera, searched on the web with all the identifying text he could find inside the camera, and tried to find any additional information about it, but never found out more.

But! This past year, when someone (I believe the book’s author) uploaded several chapters from a book about specialized vintage cameras to the Internet and it became indexed by Google, Don learned that his old camera that he couldn’t previously identify is worth a couple thousand dollars! It was like the TV show, Antiques Roadshow, had delivered an appraiser to Don through the Internet.

Don’s love of cameras comes full circle in the information sharing sense. Don maintains a wiki about cameras called “Light of Day” and has wonderful photos there. I like this quote from Don’s bio in a wiki entry about the Central Texas DITA User’s Group meeting for October. “I work in high tech, but I love simple things, which is why I feel that an early camera, made of leather and wood, but fitted with a precisely-polished lens, is such a great complement to my own life experience.”

With these two tales of information collection, I hope you see the beauty of share and share alike. Any one else have a great story of information suddenly revealing itself? Or a tale of an information hoarder who met with trouble?

Serendipitous trips through the river of information

Anne Zelenka has once again nailed down the idea of how to work in a new world where there are far too many sources of information and no way to use technology to help you sift through that information. So you get on your raft and float along the current, and along the way you find the information you need to get a job done.

In The Future of Ignoring Things on Internet Evolution, Cory Doctorow says “I’ve come to grips with this — with acquiring information on a probabilistic basis, instead of the old, deterministic, cover-to-cover approach I learned in the offline world.”

One of the commenters on Cory’s article talks about navigation, saying “We need a sensible, extraordinary navigational system which helps the things we care about at the moment rise to the surface.” How amazing would your help system be if you could apply this technology to your product’s help?

My own journey – searching information

As for me, I am coming to terms with the idea that I’ll stumble upon useful information. But I tend to think I’m a pretty darn good researcher and that my Google Fu is strong, enabling me to find the best relevancy and authority in my information seeking. The more I travel on the river of information, though, the more I’ve come to appreciate the serendipitous discoveries.

My occupation – supplying information

Since as a technical writer, I write the loads of information that others need to sift through (or travel upon, choose your metaphor), this mind shift seems very important to follow. While Cory and Anne are miles ahead of most of the audience of the product I work on for my day job at ASI, my work on the OLPC project has a very different audience and that audience might be closer to Cory and Anne in their ability and desire to find information probabilistically. So for the OLPC project, documentation in a wiki seems appropriate. For ASI, only subsets of the overall audience might benefit from a wiki, such as the technical implementers using the Software Development Kit.

So, back to the basics it is – consider your audience while creating that flow of information. And keep an eye out for that extraordinary navigational system.

An example of serendipity in information finding

And now for the storytelling portion of this blog post. I often write blog entries and leave them in draft form for a while. This very post happened to be in draft form while I wrote and published my recent Wikislices entry. Sheece Baghdadi, who is a technical writer for Webaroo, saw my link to Webaroo, came to my blog, and posted a comment on my entry. I read Sheece’s comment, and I followed the link to Sheece’s blog, where the current post is about searchradar.webaroo.com, which attempts to address the very problem that “searching is easy but finding is hard.” With the Search Radar FireFox plug-in, additional search queries are suggested to you in a column to the right while using Yahoo or Google. I immediately saw a connection to this post, which was still in draft form. So I added this story to the post. What a journey.

searchradar tag cloudThis type of suggested searches might be helpful to our end-users since the vocabulary varies widely for non-profits, organizations, or churches using our technology. Other searches might suggest a serendipitous path for our users to take to obtain the information they need. Take a look at the tag cloud that offers other search possibilities when you search for “agile” at searchradar.webaroo.com.

Blogs are a great way to find information probabilistically. I think there are other applications of technology that can help our end-users find information probabilistically as well, if they are ready for it.

An ITIL-centric search engine

Dr. ITiL tipped me off to a specialized search engine for ITIL

There’s a new research tool for those of us learning about and researching ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library). You can find it at www.ITServiceToday.com. I’ve used it and I like the categories it gives you to search within — like Google’s Images, News, or Groups categories, you can choose news, articles, white papers, blogs, or training, once you do your search, and find the keywords within that type of document category. It defaults to searching within articles. He says journalists like using it and I would agree, the hits I’m seeing are good quality docs.

Thanks again, Dr. ITiL, for a good research tidbit.

A smart Google search to locate specifics in BMC’s tech docs

Here’s a method for searching BMC’s repository of technical documentation using Google

You can use Google’s site: search feature to look for technical documentation that’s stored on the http://www.bmc.com web site. Just add site:bmc.com/supportu/documents to any search string that you enter in Google, and the results that are returned are only from the BMC web site in the directory where technical documentation is stored. It’s even doing full text-search within the PDF files, so it’s quite useful. Here’s a sample search string. Just enter it in the Google Search field.

smtp site:bmc.com/supportu/documents

Any other favorite Google search tips and tricks? My favorite collection of them is on the O’Reilly site, related to the Google Hacks book. My most used feature that Google offers has to be the automatic spelling correction it does on search strings. How about you? Any favorite Google features you’ve discovered?