Saturday, July 17, 2010

some questions about tools and techniques

Mark Fidelman's post about the survey regarding technical communicators and their tools - How well do you know Technical Communicators and their tools? - got me thinking about all kinds of things I want to know about the current state of the tech writing universe. I thought about writing a blog post about each of these questions, but then it hit me that it might be more thought provoking to just blast out the questions.


Where are the content management tools in all of this? Nobody using Expression or Drupal?

Why are there so many competing tools? Development tools aren't this incompatible.

What's so important about HTML5?


Why are people still writing verbose narrative documents? Why are specs from pharmaceutical companies so bad? Why isn't anybody doing anything about it? Why are technical communicators so blase about the crappy reputation of our profession?

Why can't we learn to write short sentences in the present tense and active voice? Why is this technique news to tech writers? It was drummed into me early and often. I've communicated it to my staff back in the days when I managed tech pubs departments. What is the big deal?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

mass innovaton night 16

Last night I attended my second Mass Innovation Night. It was even more fun than my first one (last month). Amazing entrepreneurs presented to a packed house. I do mean packed. People were sitting on the floor and standing in the hallways. July is supposedly the slow season for this kind of event. It sure wasn't slow season at the IBM Innovation Center last night!

The stars of the show were definitely Pietzo Hybrid Electric Bike and Episend.

Pietzo had bikes available for test rides and folks were zipping down the IBM corridors. I was happy to discover that the bikes were lighter than I expected. The battery and motor don't add that much weight. The amount of zip you get from the motor is amazing. I can definitely see widespread adoption in urban areas really having a green impact. In my other identity as a plover warden at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge I immediately thought that positioning a fleet of Pietzo electric bikes at strategic locations outside the refuge would do wonders to reduce the number of cars on the refuge and the long lines of idling cars on summer weekend mornings. I'm picturing cleaner air, less damage to vegetation, and less pressure on the environment. I'll bet it would reduce the amount of roadkill when the swallows are massing for migration too.

Episend's strategy for sending and sharing all kinds of media is brilliant. You can send anything to anyone: large files, videos, mp3, photos, links, whatever. I immediately signed in to Episend and checked out the UI. It's simple and elegant. I have always wanted a way to send media files to people without having to worry if they had the right application to view it or worrying whether Outlook would deem it harmful or the recipient didn't support the right MIME type. Episend eliminates all that worry. It's all so easy! The presentation was great and the M&Ms were a big hit (M&Ms seem to be emerging as a theme in these innovation nights).

In my continuing quest to integrate technical communication with new media, I had a long and productive conversation with the folks from Real Cool TV about how they develop video content for marketing communications and how similar techniques and technology could be used to develop content for things like hardware installation, software tutorials and user guides, and so on. They impressed upon me the importance of brevity-- something that I've emphasized in technical communication. Their insights into communicating via video dovetailed nicely with the philosophy I've been pushing for years regarding user manuals: People don't read manuals, they use them. Great conversation.

Acquia Drupal Gardens had gorgeous presentation slides and an exceedingly practical idea: you can develop Drupal web sites without being a superhero. No superpowers required for content management? Who hasn't been waiting for that? I need to give some more thought to how a service like Drupal Gardens can integrate with online help authoring and other technical communication challenges. This presentation definitely gave me a lot to think about.

What a terrific night! And if a Martian spacehip ever does land in my backyard, I'll be sure to send out rich media content complete with an interview with the Martians.