Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"tech writers will learn to be more independent and entrepreneurial"

Tom Johnson outlines the future role of technical writers. I agree with Tom ("I share the hope" is more accurate :-) that in the near future, technical information will be gathered via Wikis.
However, I am not sure that what I will be selling would be tutorials and other books.
By "tutorials" I refer to any kind of structured information set. Today, programmers and product managers deliver more structured text than ever before. It is structured, and it is structured in a way the customer would benefit from reading it.
More and more documents requires less and less intervention on my end.
I'd also replace the argument for endless documentation tasks with finding a new purpose for the tech writing role. It is true that "If you’re a tech writer for such a project, the documentation will be like a living child, always growing, maturing, asking harder questions, getting into more trouble" but it can go in opposite directions: let the tech writer boss it all, or forget using tech writers altogether. The writer has to constantly add value to the documented project. Not only to the project's documentation, but to the project itself. (hint: think of usability rather than of the code.)
As for delivering a clean text. The technical world is already writing in Globish. I'd guess it has done so from as early as 1998, but am not sure that it's OK to use present perfect tense anymore.
It all new for us, writers, but the future belongs to the brave, as it has always been.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Five years from today

The article Google - 5 years from today (Hebrew) claims that within 5 years Google will offer a stronger, AI-based search. Great, of course, but not futurist at all. The immediate analogy is to MS-Windows and MS-Office. Sure, its easier to write user guides on MS-Word 2003 that it was on MS-Word 97. Easier, but nothing more.
I eager for a futuristic view of documentation.
A year an a half ago, when I failed to introduce Wiki to the folks I work for, I introduced it to ... a friend of mine.We met in a pre-birth class, helped our wives to breath-at-command, and moved on to talk about nearly a interesting as topic, naimly, work.
So he implemented a Wiki at his workplace, and a user guide was formed.
This user guide is written by developers;
No resources were assigned to the writing task;
It is written over a very long period of time;
Its accuracy is tested on a daily basis.
It's simply great.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bribe your Blogger

I have been a journalist once. As a part of my job I was invited to a product roll-out. Some people were talking, some PR guys put printed text to my hands, asking me to publish it as is, and some other guys fed me with delights I learned to cook by myself ten years later.
It was bribery, fair and square. The journal I worked for had never run for free (although the publisher had never stopped trying to do so, and at the end wend bankruptcy... ). I dodn't work for free, and it was OK to pay me with food in order to make me do things.
This is why blogging is so great. No one pays you (at least not directly) and it is OK to say exactly what you want to say.
Unless... you are paid to blog. Sponsored blog are as OK as official-journals. What I dislike are bloggers who aim at differentiating between journalism and blogging in the account of freedom and unbiased writing.
A "blog" I came across today is writing about the food he was served in a Google Israel event. This is journalism. Period.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The New MyYahoo

I have subscribed to Yahoo in 1999.
There was a YahooGroup I attended and posting to the group required a subscription. So I subscribed, got a Yahoo email account as well. Later on, I populated my MyYahoo page with things I thought I'll read on a daily basis.
I didn't, so I dropped it.
Years later I subscribed to Gmail. The new email account took over my Yahoo mail account overnight. Today, I am using Google Reader, and blog here. Yahoo? I visit my Yahoo page once in a month, if any.
But I do visit that old Group (now classed under TechGroup) every other day. Why is that group so successful, and why MyYahoo is not?
The answer is, of course, usability.
I return to a website that is useful for me.
Gadgets won't do. Usabilty always does.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

WYSIWYG was wrong

First, there were printed books. Sure, you can buy everything for a dollar or two on paperback, but, for some reason, people prefer a $45 hard copy that weighs a pound or so and hints of the real value of the book.
Then, user manuals did just the same. OK, 20 years ago there was no desktop-printing. but the printhouse could print single-font single-style $1 copies, or go for the good old $45-1lb copies. They ship more expensively, demand more personnel, and the customers get a sense they are getting real value for their money.
WYSIWYG text editors mimicked this approach. Why send a TXT file to your good-old printer if you can send a DOC file to the color-printer over the cubicle? It make you feel you write beeter content, it costs much more and it creates jobs.
I used to work like that myself, I admit. I mimicked book layouts I have never read myself. Then, I switched from Word 2000 / 2003 to RoboHelp X5. Then, I have to move on to a new tool, and the printed layout looked fine, but totally different from whatever I knew before.
The content was readable and accessible. I used up to 10 styles for the entie user guide. Sure, I couldn't create 5 types of bullets and another 4 types of notes.
So what?
The readers could still find what they were looking for and my work became way more simple.
I don't take credit for dropping WYSIWYG. But it dissapeared, and I never missed it.
At that point I started experimenting SocialText for my documentation projects.