I'm starting to think about a conference presentation I have been asked to make later this year. Sometimes, our talks are about "big picture" issues, such as "what makes a good technical author?" or "what's the value of documentation?", and I'm currently considering whether I should talk about the future trends in technical communication.
The two current trends in technical communication
There seems to be two trends in technical communication, at the moment.
The first is the move away from a craft-based approach to creating documentation, and a move towards a more "engineering" based, methodological approach. It explains the interest in and move towards single-sourcing, XML, DITA and such like. It promises more efficient writing processes, faster "time to market", but little change in what the end user actually receives.
The second trend is the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies to provide user assistance. I've heard it also called "free documentation", "right to remix", the "democratisation of documentation" and "tech writing 2.0". I don't think any name has stuck yet, apart from the generic "Web 2.0". It's a trend that promises a major difference in what users actually receive as user assistance.
We describe Web 2.0 as having three main themes: the aggregation of knowledge; collaboration on content creation; content as conversations (and linked to that, the wisdom of the crowd).
When I presented on Tech writing 2.0 at the end of 2006, the major developments mostly related to the aggregation of content across the Web. Today, the biggest developments seem to be with conversational content.
It's content that is, today, being created away from the Technical Publications department.
What does this mean to technical communicators?
I think the questions technical communicators should be keeping in the back of their mind are:
1. Should I be adopting and embracing these trends?
For some organisations, particularly those with a small user base or a small authoring team, the answer is NO. It's hard to see where the participation and the benefits will come from. However, will that mean their documentation will look inferior to more mainstream software?
2. Can these two trends be unified?
Will these trends converge? Will Web 2.0 content rip apart all those carefully laid plans for a single repository for all your content?
3. Who will take on the role of editor?
Who will keep all this information in order? Maybe you will need to take on the role of an editor.
The correct answers, I believe, have yet to emerge.
What else should I be reading apart from the Cherryleaf blog?
Take a look at these articles:Why Do People Write Free Documentation? Results of a Survey
by Andy OramThe State of Free documentation
, by Adam HydeThe state of free documentation
by Anne Gentle
What do you think?
Labels: technical communication, technical writing, trends