Author-it 5.1 launched

From Author-it:

“This update resolves a number of known issues and has several new
features including:

Object Variants: A flexible way of creating and maintaining different
variations of a single object. Similar to versions, variants remain
linked to their primary (or parent) object, however unlike versions
you can have multiple variants active at any one time. You define the
criteria to control which variant is used in each adaptation of the
book. For example, variants can use criteria based on location
(country, state, or city), product version, supported platform, and
so on. You define the criteria that suits your content.

Author-it Quick Search: Quick Search provides the full set of
advanced search options. In addition, it saves each search result
while the window is open, enabling you to access the results at any
time without completing the search again. The window enables you to
navigate through your library, and provides options for working with
your library content.

Batch Import of File Objects via Drag and Drop:
A fantastic new feature enabling you to batch import images and
quickly create file objects by drag and drop. Simply select an image
file (or files) and drag and drop into the object list in the main
window.

For detailed information please see the Release Notes at:
http://www.author-it.com/kc/index.mv?33580″

Microsoft Style Guide for Windows 2007?

We received this email yesterday:

Microsoft Style Guide for Windows 2007
Do you know whether such a thing exists or whether you know of anything else that might help? I am updating the help for our new product and it uses a Windows 2007 ribbon style GUI but I don’t know what all the elements are called.

The Microsoft Guide of Style was written in 2004, so it’s a case of looking elsewhere. We suggested the Microsoft Office Word team blog, which has some useful information on this.

How do Technical Authoring teams work?

This looks like an interesting event:

“The next Cambridge ISTC group meeting will be a discussion about how technical authoring teams work:

* how are teams structured (and do all the technical authors in the
business work as a team)?
* how is work divided between authors?
* how do authors work with other people in the business?
* what is successful about that way of working and what are the
limitations?

We’ll hear about the experiences of 5 or 6 people who work (or have worked) in a variety of different contexts (as a contractor joining other authors in a company; as part of a permanent team of authors; as someone for whom authoring is only part of their job).

This will be organised as a relatively informal round-table discussion with lots of time for for Q&A and discussion.

Here are the details:

Date: Tuesday 5th August
Time: 7pm
Venue: Red Gate offices (Jeffreys Building, St Johns Innovation centre, CB4 0WS
More detailed instructions are on www.red-gate.com”

The event is free and open to anyone to attend, but numbers are limited so please let them know in advance if you’d like to come.

How many technical authors know about Mooer’s Law?

In 1959, Calvin Mooers, a researcher into the science of Information Retrieval, developed Mooer’s Law:

“An information retrieval system will tend not to be used whenever it is more painful and troublesome for a customer to have information than for him not to have it.”

Its original meaning meant: people will avoid an information system because it gives them information which is painful and troublesome to possess.

However, Mooer’s Law was reinterpreted by Roger Summit and others as meaning: “information will be used in direct proportion to how easy it is to obtain”.

According to the latest edition of E&T magazine, a study by the Centre for Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER) at UCL for the British Library noticed readers are now “power browsing” (i.e skimming or scanning) online content.

“It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense”.

One of the common practises in technical communication and user assistance is to publish “deep learning” content on paper, rather than online. This research would seem to back this up.

However, the research does note a concern: people may be getting out of the habit of deep reading, as a consequence of reading most of the time from a screen.

If this is true, then this would cause problems not only in the for academic research field, but also in the user assistance/technical communication field too.

Should we worry about this?
What should we do?

What Web 3.0 is really about for technical authors

On Monday I had a good chat with John Fintan Galvin, who is a true expert in Web technologies and SEO, about Web 3.0.

According to Fintan:

“Web 3.0 is all about the automation of connections between resources in a context-sensitive way. These connections can be made between anything defined as a resource, e.g. people, content, systems etc.

For example

“Now – You go to Google, you type in a search phrase, you find a few companies and based on your internal model you establish a relationship and you do business.

Web 3.0 – You type in your search query and the system does the rest based on what you have told it previously and what it can learn externally.

If I search for an item that is:

* below £5 in value
* something I have purchased before
* available from the company I made the purchase from last time
* whom I was happy with them
* and they’re in the first 3 results
* and I have an account

then place the order.

In simple terms, everything will have much clearer definitions on what they are and what they provide. This allows for the creation of automatic relationships between resources for specific tasks or functions within given contexts. Underlying all of this will be a system of trust that allows for the programmatic decision making…

The primary issue is to get people to understand that it’s not just a sound bite, but an actual structural change in the way business will be done and that they have to prepare for it.”

How does this relate to technical communication?

Today, online Help (user assistance) is developed in a way where information is provided through manually created links (tables of content and indexes), rather than purely by automated (Google-type search) links. If semantic intelligence can be built into linking and search results, then technical authors should take advantage of this.

In a technical writing context, the example could change.
If I search for an item that:

* is written in British English
* has been optimised to be viewed on a mobile phone
* is available from a site I trust
* is for advanced users

then show me that page.

The concepts are similar to “information types”, a concept Microsoft considered and dropped in the 1990s as part of HTML Help. Information types promised the ability to present different views of the information based on the type of user, content etc. Where it differs, almost ten years on, is the whole concept can be extended much, much further. Web 3.0 promises are more flexible, more automated system with the capability of information being aggregated from a range of disparate, trusted sources.

It would require well-defined rules of engagement with other businesses or data sources. If information is being drawn in from outside your domain, then it needs to be from a trusted source and in a trustworthy form. In such an environment, technical authors would need to do much more statistical analysis of what users want and how they behave – both modelling scenarios and analysing behaviours.

Geek Corner

It could be that the Open-ID standard is extended to include information on how a users prefers to receive user assistance – their level of expertise, preferred learning style etc.

Fintan stated:

”The technologies that count are RDF, OWL, HTTP and SPARQL. I would also add SVG but then again I am obsessed with it. Ensure that you have first class knowledge of relevant ontology / taxonomies related to your industry and general movements towards standards in inter-industry areas.”

Disclosure

Fintan’s company, IO1, and Cherryleaf are both shareholders in a joint venture, ECS Ltd.

DITA – Slaying sacred cows or burying problems?

There have been a number of posts recently on whether some commonly accepted best practises in technical writing are actually needed these days. This has come about as people question how they can develop the DITA standard to handle things like lead-in sentences and stem sentences.

These don’t fit into the standard, and a number of people are now saying we don’t really need them. This is very convenient for the DITA standard – it makes the problem go away.

My concern about this is that there has been research that shows “Lexical repetition, cohesive devices and other textual features will need to be incorporated into specifications right from the start, i.e. during the document planning stage.” Indeed, we wrote a blog post on this research back in December.

I trust the needs of the reader will be balanced with the needs of the writer when coming up with an efficient writing standard that works for the reader.