Tuesday, June 8, 2010

the future is now

If I could predict the future I would have sold my stock while it was still worth something, I would have won the lottery by now, and so on. So I know that what we mean when we discuss the future is our educated guesses about current trends. End of disclaimer.

On Saturday I attended The Future of Technical Communication, a small conference put on by Cheryl Landes of
Tabby Cat Communications. The focus was clearly on social media as the current trend. The presenters were:

  • Rich Maggiani on Social Media: Present and Future
  • Neil Perlin on What's up eDoc?
  • Ed Marshall on Effective Job Search Techniques for Social Networking
  • Patti Butcheck on A Wiki Primer
I gleaned much from each of the presentations. I have to admit that even though I was among others of my kind (tech writers) it wasn't as much fun as Mass Innovation Night was because the emphasis was not on new technology or new uses of current technology but on where our skills fit in with current trending technology in the technical communications field.

Rich Maggiani's generational take on social media reminded me of a chapter I read back in 2007 in IMS Crash Course by Steven Shephard (which came out in 2006). The Millennials are indeed different from the Boomers and from Generation X because they have grown up with social media and all the gadgets that a subset of their Boomer grandparents spent their careers designing and documenting. From the technical communicator's point of view, they are a vastly different audience for whom we must tailor the content we produce. The emerging trend for communicating with that audience is clearly user-generated content. How the role of the technical communicator will play out in the realm of user-generated content is fodder for a whole 'nother conference. Get your slides ready, Rich!

As an aside, with all due respect to Rich, we Boomers did not grow up with party-line telephones. Even my cousins' farm deep in the Maine woods without indoor plumbing had direct telephone service. Just thinking about that makes me wonder how the cell phone coverage is up there. If any of them had stayed on the farm, they'd probably still need land lines. End of humorous aside.

My take away from Neil Perlin's presentation was naturally about the tools and not the audience. FrameMaker cannot die soon enough. Nor can RoboHelp. It was good to hear Neil predicting their imminent demise. I'm left wondering when a better tool than Word will emerge for creating single sourced content for multiple output formats. The best thing I got out of it can be summarized thus:

Never call it documentation. Documentation is done by those quiet people on the third floor. Call it content. Content is cool.

Ed Marshall's presentation on using social media in the job search was rich in "how-to" with tips and tricks for using LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. However, my most valuable take away was how he positions himself as an experienced professional. Having been coached by outplacement folks to downplay years of experience, I needed to hear that.

I have to say that Patti Butchek's presentation on wikis was my favorite. She walked us through real world application of a wiki to meet a technical communication need. Also, I had no idea there were so many wiki tools available. My best take away was that you have to know when a wiki is the right medium. As Patti said: "Don't send a wiki to do a blog's job!"

So after a long day that began with an encounter with my crazy neighbor and ended with tornado watch and a microburst I was left still wondering what the role of the technical communicator will be in this brave new world.


  1. Hello,

    Two comments concerning your take from my presentation, if I may:

    - I'm not predicting the death of Frame. My point was that we need to periodically revisit our tools and how we use them and Frame is an excellent example. It's very good at producing long documents, but the need for long docs may change if we start doing single sourcing, in which case there's less need for one 800-page document and more need for 800 one-page documents - e.g. topics. In that case, we might want to rethink whether Frame is the right tool and if it still is, how we use it.

    - Nor am I predicting the demise of RoboHelp. It's been around for a long time and Adobe has stated that they're committed to it.

    You did nicely grab the essence of one of my major points - "content". To this day, the $8 million story, and my wife's reaction, remains one of my career highlights.


  2. The role of technical communicator is going to evolve into part curator, part technical writer, and part community manager. I can share some insight on the matter if you feel it worth your reader's time.

  3. Neil,

    Thanks for the clarification. I guess I attributed my wishful thinking to you :-)


  4. Mark,

    Would you be interested in doing a guest entry?