It was an interesting opening keynote session for the Content Management Strategies 2010 conference that opened this morning at the Hyatt Regenecy in sunny Santa Clara. JoAnn Hackos opened the procedings shortly after 8am, and amongst other things announced the cancellation of a few speakers who were tied up in Europe and effectively grounded by the ash currently spewing out of the volcano in Iceland.
This is about the fourth or fifth such conference I’ve attended and usually JoAnn gives a solid keynote presentation where she usually outlines the latest trends that she has observed in the industry. This time she did things differently, and brought up a panel of experts to join her onstage: Gershon Joseph from Cisco Systems, John Hunt from IBM, and Jonathan Price from The Communications Circle. They each made their own opening statements (Gershon on the topic of “de-siloing” writers/content/etc, and Hunt on the increasing role that collaboration plays), but Price’s comment seemed to strike a chord: that “conversing with your audience” is a meme which is becoming very popular now and that conversely the old “we publish, you absorb” model is old hat. People are demanding a much more interactive flow of information, and that they are now seeking information at the topic level, with fewer people bothering to read anything larger than that. He went on to say that there are a variertyof tools already out there (such as YouTube) that can provide people with the targetted information that they want when they want it. He also believes that more/better taxonomies will end up being required to make this happen [I don’t agree with this point, as I think a folksonomic, bottom-up approach to content tagging is likely the better strategy than imposing fresh top-down taxonomies, though to be fair he may have meant this as well].
JoAnn went on to mention that she once asked her sister, who is a Professor of Graphics Design, whether or not she taught Photoshop. The answer was: “we used to, but now all of our students learn how to do it from YouTube”, the point being that students are seeking information in ways that better suits their needs and schedules.
JoAnn then brought out following four points as food for thought:
- technical writers need to become more collaborative as a community: the idea being to not be afriad of mixing the formalized content we produce with the informal.
- we need to re-examine our processes and ask if they continue to make sense: for example, does it make sense to continue with the publishing model that most of us currently use?
- she also emphasized the role that metrics has to play so that tech writing teams can determine the value of what they are doing. (This led to one of my favourite comments of the day when she said “we make content look nice, and make sure the page breaks look right, but really, does anybody care?”).
In the end she concluded that must work on answering these questions if we don’t want to make the job of knowledge transfer obsolete.
DITA, YouTube, metrics and mashups anyone?