So what is happening with #techcomm in the Web 2.0/social media space? Where are the innovations happening in technical communication? Tools? Techniques? Delivery channels? When is Web 3.0, aka the semantic web, going to come into its own? I've spent the past couple of days looking for answers to these questions instead of writing. Know what? I haven't found as many answers as I thought I would or as I would have liked.
Probably the best and most concise look at the future, at least for 2011, is Sarah O'Keefe's blog post, 2011 predictions for technical communication. I see the movement toward XML-based authoring accelerating even more quickly than it has been in recent years. Content strategy, content analytics, content management, and collaborative authoring are all seeing lots of buzz in discussions about technical communication, though I don't yet see them listed as required skills in job postings. Most of the job postings I see still focus on writing skills and expertise with specific authoring tools, with an occasional requirement for a specific content management tool. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.
Getting back to the social media theme, in the comments on Sarah's post, Sarah Maddox wrote
"Another trend may be that we will focus on going to where our readers are. This is just another way of expressing the “know your audience and their environment” rule. For example, if we’re documenting web apps and social media apps or if our audience lives in those apps, we should look at how we can use them in the documentation."
How right she is! The next big trend in technical communication may just be the rebirth of the oldest trick in the tech writer's playbook: writing for the reader. Know the audience. Know what they're trying to do and under what conditions they're trying to do it. Put yourself in their shoes. Whether the user is a first-grader trying to login to his school's homework app, a researcher using some kind of hardware/software combo to collect his data in real time, an astronaut on the ISS trying to troubleshoot the on-board computer, or a soldier on the battlefield trying to repair a piece of equipment, the very best technical communication will provide what he needs.
Past, future, or way past the future, knowing the audience is and will be the trendiest thing in technical communication. Whether social media is the delivery mechanism for our content or not, it gives us valuable tools for understanding the audience.