Archive of Web posts


One step forward…

Firstly I’ll admit that I’m starting to feel a bit like a fool. I’ve been close to getting the new ISTC website launched for several weeks now, only for an subtle twist or unforeseen working process to scupper my plans.

I realise now, of course, that what I should’ve done was revisit the usage models of the website and finessed those first, rather than trying to shoehorn a somewhat antiquated set of processes into what is a fairly standard membership model. Oh well, live and learn.

That said, it’s not been the legacy processes that have really slowed me down, “life” hasn’t been particularly helpful either although quite how I’m sitting here in January when I’d hoped to have the new website launched in September last year is beyond me. My sincerest apologies, and please trust that I’m hugely annoyed by these delays.

The main reason for the delay has been making sure the membership functionality work, making sure that the processes for applying for membership, as well as renewing existing memberships, has been tricky, as has considering non-member access. The latter is something that only came to light at TCUK (in Sept) this year, Area Groups are not attended only by ISTC members so the website needs to be mindful of that as it will have, in the future, specific areas for Area Group attendees.

As such, there are essentially five levels of users for the new website:

  • Administrators – essentially myself (webmaster) and the team at ASL
  • Editors – anyone with the ability to post new content to the website
  • Members – access to content for ISTC members only
  • Attendees – for those who attend Area Groups but aren’t ISTC members
  • Guests – anyone visiting the website that isn’t logged in, or isn’t a member

It’s a more complex setup but in the long run it will make the new website much more flexible. A lot of the ground work I’m doing at the moment is in the background, with the hope that, this year, new features will be much easier and quicker to roll out.

And, just to prove that the new website does actually exist, here’s sneak peek of what will be launching soon:

Thanks for all your patience.

Learning from others

Whilst compiling my column for the ISTC newsletter this month (I offer a round up of the ‘best’ blog posts from the past month, hugely subjective I know) I was worried I’d skewed the resulting list of blog posts somewhat.

You see the team I’m part of are about to embark on a couple of brainstorming workshops to try and better improve the quality of our work and, lo and behold, it seems that there have been a few blog posts last month that feature, or discuss, how to be better, how to improve quality.

I scanned back through my Instapaper account (an excellent bookmarking/article reading facility) but it was true, it seemed that other people were thinking similar things at a similar time.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but this kind of thing seems to happen too often to be just that. I wonder if there is some sort of cycle involved here, and that the people who share their ideas on blogs are falling into a similar pattern.

Or perhaps that pattern already existed but it’s only becoming evident now as more and more people discuss and share ideas online?

Regardless, that sharing of ideas is hugely beneficial and reminds me that I really should do more of that here. Whilst no two situations, companies, or teams are the same, there is always a common level of information and experience from which we can all learn.

Whether it’s back to basics reminders, or more in-depth analysis of a specific issue, being able to tap into the collective mind of so many talented, intelligent and helpful people is something that is worth remembering.

We are all awesome.

On Google Wave

I think I’m starting to get it. I’ve used it a couple of times but not for any other reason than to play with it, but now I have an actual need for a place to collaborate with a group of geographically displaced people, the ISTC Community website, it’s starting to make sense.

And I’m not the only person that thinks Google Wave is best suited to this kind of collaboration.

I’ve realised that what Google have done is take the best bits from a couple of different communication channels, combine them and add a couple of improvements.

Those channels are email and Wiki, with a hint of instant messaging thrown in for good measure.

The easiest comparison is to email, with threaded conversations the main thrust of a Wave, but as you can edit and ‘interrupt’ any part of an existing message, with that edit viewable to everyone else on the wave, soon you begin to realise that it’s more like a message based Wiki.

The ability to see new messages in real-time adds in a type of instant messaging but I think the value stands in the staggered, traceable, timelined edits of messages. For a collaborative, group project workspace this is wonderful.

I’m still learning Google Wave and as it’s still being developed there are a few quirks and annoyances to be overcome but despite those, so far, they are far outweighed by the benefits.

There are other use cases of Google Wave in action, and if you are interested, I do have a small number of invites left.

ISTC Community website

As has been mentioned elsewhere, I’m currently planning to build a community website for the ISTC and thought it time to get you all a heads up and ask for some help.

The idea for the website was borne from the members panel that Rachel Potts ran last year, which cited “reducing the feeling of isolation” as an important benefit of being a member of the ISTC. It will also help to promote and publicise the ISTC and hopefully become a valued resource for technical communicators in the UK.

As such the new website will compliment the current ISTC website, and has two main aims:
– to encourage a sense of community amongst members, enabling all members to contribute and discuss related topics
– become the ‘online home’ for technical communicators in the UK

Initial thoughts and ideas include:
– sections for the local area groups
– a directory of ISTC member blogs (and other blogs of note)
– online forums
– regular updates (ISTC news or articles of interest)

The sky is the limit to be honest, but to better refine the list of requirements, and come up with a set of features I’m looking for some volunteers. I’m looking for your ideas and suggestions.

This website is for everyone to use, and it’s up to us to decide what features it will and won’t have, so please get in touch if you are interested.

ISTC & Community

Over the coming month or so, I’ll be casting around for opinion and insight from you, my lovely readers, particularly if you are based in the UK and especially if you are a member of the ISTC member.

Why? I hear you ask.

It’s because I’m planning, designing, and building, a community focussed extension to the website (or sub-website, or side-website or.. well that bit has still to be agreed). I’m still figuring out how best to collate the information and requirements for such a website, and where would be best to hold those collaborative conversations that will be required throughout the build and test phase of the website. I’ll announce things here as well as the ISTC mailing list (unless it’s something of particular sensitivity, but as I can’t even dream one up at the moment I doubt that’ll be an issue).

Exciting times ahead then, challenging some would say, and I have to admit I’m really looking forward to getting some momentum going. I’ve plenty of ideas but it’s not about what I want, it’s making sure the new website meets the needs of people who will be using it. With that in mind I’m currently planning on how, and who, is best to get involved.

But before I can ask anyone to get involved, I think it’s a good idea to have a clear vision for what it is we are trying to achieve and that’s what I’ve been working on this week and you can expect an update at the weekend.

Making the brave choices

I was recently asked to write an article about blogging for inclusion in a piece focussed on social media and how it will both challenge and change our profession as a whole and the more I wrote the more it helped me sort out my own thoughts on the matter.

One thing I’ve realised is that even if you don’t think social media will impact your own professional circumstances, I have no doubts that it will change the way our profession is perceived.

I’ve also come to realise that I’ve done a fair bit of talking about a lot of this stuff, yet continue to be stalled on actually doing it. So, with a new year stretching ahead of me I guess it’s time to put up or shut up.

As I have control of our developer community website the most obvious place to start is with a blog. Using the blog to publish short articles, and allowing people to comment on them seems to be a straightforward approach and with some encouragement I know some of the developers will contribute short articles as well.

The challenge will come in how we seed the community. At present it’s telling that with a little bit of PR, the number of people visiting the community website rises, so for now I’ll continue with the old school methods to drive traffic to the website (mainly through ‘update’ emails). Hopefully, if we provide enough interaction opportunities on the website, that need will drop away and the community well start to sustain itself.

Social media is a strange beast at times. There is always a lot of noise at first and, when it dies away it can seem like there isn’t much substance left. However, the people who are succeeding at using social media services, the people at the cutting edge of such things, the people who adopt new ideas and technology and are ready and willing to try them out to see if they work, are finding that there is a much richer set of capabilities than may be obvious, and the real value in your use of social media isn’t the technology but the people who use it, the community.

Your circumstances may mean that, for reasons outwith your control, social media just cannot be considered. However for everyone else, surely it’s time you took a step back and thought about the information you produce, the community of people who use it, and how best to meet their needs.

Maybe it’s time to make some brave choices.

And if you’ve come this far it’s about now that the reality of social media hits home.

You see for all the strengths and possibilities that the myriad of social media services offer, the one thing that no-one else can tell you is what choice to make. The direction you take depends on too many variables that only you know but, at this point, there is only one thing worse than making the wrong decision.

Not making a decision at all.

The information platform is changing, it is evolving and will continually evolve over the coming few years. You can’t afford to wait until the evolution is finished, you need to jump aboard now. You’ll need to learn fast, figure things out as you go, plan as best you can, and concede defeat at times but if you don’t then you’ll be left where you are now.

Except it’ll be 3 years further down the line and the rest of the world will have moved on.

Technical Documentation Know-how

A few days ago I received an email about a new website. I’ve seen it mentioned on other blogs but think it’s worth repeating as there is some useful information there.

I am contacting you because I have just thought that maybe a post about my new web site on software documentation and user assistance could also be interesting for your readers. In addition to about 250 useful links for technical writers, the site for example provides checklists and up-to-date market surveys of more than 350 help authoring tools, screen capture tools, screencasting tools and other utilities for technical communicators. All information can also be downloaded as a PDF booklet (approx. 100 pages).

On the website you can find some basic know-how, checklists, tools and links, which will help you to create clear and concise user-friendly manuals, online help files, software demos, tutorials and other forms of user assistance. Go have a look.

Thanks to Marc Achtelig of indoition for getting in touch.