Tag Archives: social media

STC2008 – Engaging diverse audiences with screencasts, wikis, and blogs

Two Sun microsystems writers from southern Cal
Gail Chappell gail.chappell@sun.com
Cindy Church cindy.church@sun.com

“Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.” Robert C. Gallagher (author)

Audience – college age developers, industry-savvy developers working in the workforce coding enterprise apps

Documented NetBeans Ruby – tool for creating Ruby language programs, part of Netbeans integrated dev environment. Free, open-source software, means that contributions from the community are welcome, both for the product and the documentation

Survey by polling readers of their blog and the mailing lists – both audiences had the same expectations of deliverables – printed docs to learn at their own pace, also wanted screencasts, their initial assumption that only college age would want screencasts, but found that everyone wanted overviews and to see what it’s all about.

Assume that company-written docs are accurate, only trust community-written docs when they’re from a well known name in the industry. They’ll only trust blogs from well-known sources.

A plan that changed everything – content delivery as previous, writing style went from formal to folksy, nontraditional role, they went from writer to community member.

Previously they weren’t providing any rich media formats such as video or screencasts. If they added these, though, something had to be removed, so they scaled back on the online help. Their developers indicated that they always searched for info on the web.

Disadvantage – steep learning curve for the videos especially.

Came up with a plan for 3 writers online help, tutorials, blog, adding screencasts and wiki.

Screencast – video capture of the computer screen that includes audio narration. They used 3-5 minutes to introduce program features, 10 minutes screencasts showing how to build an application. Asked a well-known developer to narrate for them, Tor Norbye. Wanted to help build his persona, used royalty-free background music and rolling credits. Link to the page containing the screencasts – http://www.netbeans.org/kb/60/screencasts.html.

Wiki – collection of web pages that users can add and edit by using a web browser. Their “rock star” Tor Norbye contributed to the wiki. Metrics weren’t high but they were coming to the wiki. Engineering originally set it up with updates. Wanted initially to put the tutorials on the wiki, but on this official website, netbeans.org, that’s where all the other tutorials were being placed. Use the wiki for drafts of doc instead of uploading tutorials. One way to use wiki was delivering info quickly, didn’t have to be perfect or templatized. Also used the wiki to post drafts, then emailed user forum to let them know they could review it. Once it was reviewed and vetted, transferred it over to the main website instead of the wiki. Feedback from customers on docs they’d like to see – wish list of docs, requested that the community help write those docs as well. They also searched the internet to find info in blogs, and pointed to those blog entries that were helpful.

Blog – Insider scoop from the tutorial divas, mix technical and non-technical topics, such as interviewing a student ambassador and posting vacation pictures to the blog. Include tidbits from tutorials. tips and tricks – top three ways to install on linux, tried to post at least twice a week.

Traditional docs – using company templates and guidelines. Short, focused tutorials, containing steps, screenshots, and code. Went to minimal online help. Addressed needs of global audiences and those with limited bandwidth, unlike screencasts. Kept online help to real basics, got rid of “duh” information that people could figure out on their own. Thought about posting online help files on the web, but ran into immediate problem, when they searched, they hit help topics, but users didn’t necessarily want that. Embedded feedback mechanism on all help topics, webform per topics, when it sends, it goes to every writer on the Ruby project.

Q from audience – you’re doing open source, but what about licensed software? One A from the audience, Extranet with support login IDs.

Still maintained formal style, but only for tradition docs.

“Let the authors be free to use their own individual writing style” from the developer survey

With the wiki and blog, it was much less formal, adhered to company branding requirements, but bypassed editorial review and used conversational writing style and own voice. They became trusted names as well.

Final big change – from writer to community member – new hats – writer, managing editor, first responder, community personality. When they had questions, they’d ask the community forum, which was staffed by both the Sun employees and the community members, they’d get answers quickly.

They’d search the web once or twice a week and post new news to the wiki, to keep the front page of the wiki dynamic and updated. Could provide a more varied doc set.

They enjoyed “first responder” best of all – getting the emails responded to within 24 hours of receiving it. If they had to ask an engineer, then the user got feedback right away that they’re working on it. Writer knew they were responsible for the areas for which they wrote the doc.

Looked at their doc formats and tried to figure out how to get an online identity – included their names on the tutorials, on screencasts closing credits, the blog, and the wiki. Also have their pictures and bios online.

Five major challenges –
convincingdetractors – many writers didn’t want to change the way they were presenting information
overcoming steep learning curve esp. for screencasts – Tor didn’t want screencasts done on camtasia, wanted them done on Mac. Also a tutorial doesn’t make a good script for a screencast. Also had to record at least twice.
Finding a venue – where to upload the screencasts, didn’t want to use Youtube, not a large enough frame size. NetBeans TV is where they ended up posting. August started posting, there’s a rating system on NetBeans TV, plus post related docs and screencasts. Wanted quicktime format movies. So used mediacast.sun.com, only Sun employees can post to it, but anyone can view the posts.
Watchdogging the wiki – all they do now are quashing inappropriate content. If a community member has posted a tutorial and it becomes outdated, what to do? Pull it, ask the community member to update it? Mark it as “not vetted/warranted,etc?”
Combatting shyness – we’re accustomed to writing in anonymity, but had to put up pictures and their name. Made a blog that was a group blog, could encourage others to write.

Three tactics for analyzing the success of deliverables

Omniture SiteCatalyst – looks at daily unique visitors
socialmeter – determine number of social sites that link to their pages. (Hey, cool, my blog’s social meter score is over 1,200.)
User comments and ratings – part of their help system and the wiki.

Milestone releases last summer, after five months, analyzed. What succeeded, where to improve.

Screencasts – most popular was 1000 views a day, 2nd most popular was 240 views a day. 160,000 downloads from mediacast, had to open extra ports to handle the downloads. Going forward, have dev record screencasts on their own, and writers will produce screencast. Tools – IShowYou, Snapz pro. Finalcut pro for editing (“like using a sledgehammer to pound in a thumbtack”). Keycastr to record the keyboard shortcuts that appear in the upper right-hand corner of the screencasts.

Most popular tutorial was actually the written version of popular screencast with 180 downloads a day. Installing and configuring ruby support averaged 130 visits per day. Socialmeter score of 314 by end of five month period – del.icio.us, furl, digg, google links, reddit, shere, spurl, Technorati links.

Advanced tutorials got far fewer hits
only one comment on online help pointed out missing/incorrect info
averaged one comment a day on tutorials, esp. getting started.
change and Ruby programming language changed their tutorials, user feedback made them aware. Fixed tutorial, blogged about it when they fixed it.
Blog results – more than 300 visits per day, top 10 blog entries are technical topics, most read were from previous project. Good for short topics, testing tutorials, building relationships with the community, and polling customers.

Wiki results – added new, edited existing. wiki daily unique visitors 65 on front page. 22 on Installation, 6 hits per day on documentation area, averaged only 11 hits per day on the whole wiki. Socialmeter score was 146, lower than screencasts. Low community participation. Need to make official web site and wiki work better together. While their wiki had only 3 community-produced docs, Netbeans.org just attained 150 community-contributed docs. Will do usability on the front page of the wiki. Want to set up a rewards system and have a free giveaway – tshirts for tutorials.

Projects on the horizon
Vodcasts – screencast on iPod with RSS feed to iTunes. Quality is degraded, though, so they would produce file specifically for vodcast.
Books – Still a lot of value in a book; quote from a developer “to master something as complex as a new language, I want to be comfortable on the couch with no computer in sight”
Next-gen screencasts – interactive, want to stick with Mac and native OSX. Thinking of screencasts in another native nonEnglish language. They also make sure there’s a written doc that matches the screencast to make it accessible. They also show keyboard shortcuts during the screencasts. Youtube is a good venue for just faces, interview with developers at a Sun conference in Sydney.
Videos
Wikipedia – want a page that describes the technology they’re working on.

Regardless of age or experience, a developer thinks like a developer.
Screencasts, wikis, blogs and traditional written documents meet the needs of developers across generations, from college-aged developers to industry-savvy developers.
A developer can never have too much information.

… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

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STC2008 – Writing as an Asynchronous Conversation

I had high expectations for Ginny Redish’s talk at STC this year, and she did not disappoint. It was wonderful to have my ideas about conversation and technical communication vetted and couched in academic terms such as linguistics, pragmatics, and so forth. Here are my notes. Please let me know if this is useful to you and if you have any suggestions for my liveblogging skills.

Writing as an Asychronous Conversation
Ginny Redish

Our conversation is synchronous – at the same time.
The term Asynchronous means at different times.

Book = Letting Go of the Words

Conversation as a theme for all we do as technical communicators.

Asked – how many of you have a different degree other than technical communication? Nearly everyone raises their hands. Ginny’s background is linguistics.
Exploring – all the new social media ways that technical information is shared through written conversations – participatory media as discussed by Harold Reingold in the keynote session

Boundaries – not discussing Skype or VOIP (it’s synchronous and it’s not written, it’s voice), not talking about IM or chat because it’s synchronous, not talking about AI (computers talking, Eliza).

Think about a recent trip to the web – why did you go, what were you doing? How much was that a conversation?

Caroline Jarrett’s model of forms – appearance (looks), conversation – jam in the middle of the sandwich (how it talks with the user), relationship (does it set up trust, credibility?)
We’ve been writing these for a while… UI, Error message – dialog boxes are conversation

The conversation is often prefaced with “How do I?”

Think of conversation as turn taking – it’s not always explicit, but you’re anticipating questions – implied conversation. Example – “What’s in the box?” – Hardware includes a SIM card (implied next question, “What’s a SIM card?” placed in a textbox) Last question after listing all the contents of the box, “Missing something?”

Another example – bulleted list “If you want to do this, here’s how” It’s a conversational way to do things, and there’s research to show it. Doesn’t have to be questions, can be “If/Then.”

Not this – Issuance of a TOP command results in a line zero condition.
This! To go to the beinning of your file, type TOP and press Enter.

Linguistics research on pragmatics (language in use, the context) The context may cause the utterance to have a meaning. Speech act theory – in many cases the spoken words are not taken literally, but you must understand the meaning behind the words.

4 maxims of conversation from Wikipedia – Gricean_maxims
If these are violated, cooperation/agreement declines.
Deborah Tannen – sociolinguist, misunderstandings because of the meta message behind the message – cultural, gender understandings.

Do not make your contribution more informative than is required – minimalist principles.

Person 1 – I’m low on gas.
Person 2 – There’s a station around the corner.
Assumptions – they’re in a car, that it’s a car fuel that they’re talking about
What if Person one responds, I know that, but I left my wallet at home – repairing the conversation. In writing, we have to anticipate the conversation so well that we think about how the conversation is interpreted and the user’s next question and response.
Person 2 has reason to believe that the gas station is open and is selling gas.

Next conversation – a good one or not? NO
To exit the program, type Quit and press Enter.
Be sure to save your files before you do that.
Actual example from a manual that Ginny has reviewed.

Implications of following Grice’s maxims:
know your users, what they know, and their context
think about interpretation (write so as not to be misunderstood)
realize that context changes
turn taking – give and take turns

Examples from Caroline Jarret, open university web forms
points – what are points, do you need them to graduate or to enter the program?

Pat Sullivan, Purdue University – dissertation from Carnegie Mellon, read only as far as what they thought would solve the problem.

Write with first things first – context first.
Approved fumigation with methyl bromide at normal atmospheric pressure in accordance with the following procedure, upon arrival at the port of entry, is hereby prescribed as a condition of importation for shipments of yams from foreign countries. (paraphrased)

Give and take in conversation
are pieces of info right sized for what user wants a s a chunk – too much (fire hose, wall of words), too little at a time (have to click Next too often)
are questions grouped logically

LiveValidation example:
Say “hello” to LiveValidation (form box)
if you don’t type fast enough, webform responds “How come you’ve not said ‘hello’ yet?”

CHI to HHI? Should it be not computer-human interaction but human-human interaction through the computer?
Tee hee, right when Ginny asked, are information products going away? Her slide show went on screen save mode.

More people go to Google than the user manual – should you spend resources contributing to the customer forum instead of expecting users to go to the manual?

Future of information for students – ? textbooks replaced by spectrum of web pages

Think “conversation.”
write conversations.
Facilitate conversations.

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?

DocTrain West 2008 – Darren Barefoot – Social Media 101: Now Everyone’s a Technical Writer

Here are my notes from Darren Barefoot’s talk, a self-described recovering technical writer.

He leads with what defines social media? Create your own definition around these concepts:

  • Conversation – comments on large media sites allow ayone to speak to the media person keeping on the pedestal
  • Collaboration – 7 million people collaborating on wikipedia, likely the largest collaboration in human history
  • Sharing – some sort of microbroadcasting is built into every type of website
  • Scope – there are no longer 42-minute hours on televisions. Your buckets of stuff and time are sliced and diced. Ebooks can be 10 pages to 1000 pages.
  • Community – constructing affinity groups is easy, accessible
  • Transparency – blogging encourages transparency – medium is the message
  • Authenticity – example of knowing it’s fake is fakeSteveJobs.com, Lonelygirl15 is an example of outed fakery

42% of Chinese internet users have a blog

“The people formerly known as the audience”The people formerly known as your audience

Survey of 1200 bloggers – why do you create content, do social media? Talk to friends and family first, Keep personal history, Emote top three. But make money bottom response.

How to use a Wiki – video showing how to collaborate without using email (yay).

Updated to add: How to use Twitter – video showing how friends use twitter to keep up with each other between blog posts (these are awesome videos, I now love commoncraft)

An excellent, engaging talk, with the conclusion being, there’s no way to relinquish control, it is already too late.

Here are the takeaways he left us with:

  • Relinquish control – realize that the best documentation for your product is already not on your website.
  • Users will help each other – put screenshots in Flickr to make it easy for your users to grab them and use them in their own doc
  • Empower your most passionate users – for example, the Red Room Chronicles created by a Marriot business traveller. He must be the most passionate hotel user known. Offer those users previews, invite them to focus groups, make them feel special.
  • Think outside the page – Twitter troubleshooting tips, and of course, remember video and photos.
  • Go where your users are – find their community spaces, be present as needed.
  • Relinquish control – again. 🙂

Technical writers and conversations

I’m continuing my musings on connected conversations and tech pubs since there were such great comments and conversations going on with it.

I had an “ah ha” moment at SXSW Interactive, when one of the social media metrics panelists Rohit Bhargava said he sees three areas or channels for measurable conversations – Public Relations, Marketing (Sales), and Customer Support.

For me, those three categories crystallized this connection: where our role as tech pubs is strongest in an organization, that’s where we might start successful conversations.

Gordon McLean’s post cites Marketing and Sales as a strong tie-in, and sure, I’ve seen that and worked in that type of environment. Marketing concepts such as Business Service Management and white papers about ITIL were the primary reason and communication idea I used when I started my blog at talk.bmc in 2005. Product documentation that helps drive sales or close deals is a great method for proving our value.

Tech support seems the best alignment for many companies, as Charles Jeter’s follow-up points out. Tech publications that drive down support costs are another area where value proof lies.

Where tech writers don’t stand much of a chance, based on my limited experience, is public relations. We tend to be a fact-finding lot, not the “spin doctor” type, nor are we necessarily prepared or educated in the ways of crisis communication. I myself cringe to think of having to write blog entries for Southwest Airlines after the recent safety fine. There’s a great case study on crisis communications at BlogWrite for CEOs – Case Study: Southwest Airlines’ Corporate Blog and Crisis Communications and reading it makes me realize how difficult it can be to blog for a company as a representative of a company.

Now, my question is, will companies pay technical writers for a conversation rather than a deliverable? Perhaps only if there are some metrics to prove worth and value.

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.