Happy New Year! Let’s take the opportunity to look forward into 2010 and beyond. Here are, in no particular order, ten predictions to consider. As we’ve talked about some of these on our blog before, we’ve included links to these earlier posts.
1. The battle between the “Engineering” and “Craft” schools of thought within technical communication will come to some sort of resolution
Let’s start with a brief description of what we mean by “craft” and “engineering”:
The “writing as a craft” school emphasises the need to deliver creative, innovative and perfect products. They are often “hand-crafted”, individually created, one-off solutions.
- Pros: Often more suited to customers’ needs.
- Cons: Often costly and time consuming.
The “writing as engineering” school emphasises the need to create efficient processes. They are more automated solutions.
- Pros: Productive, predictable, efficient.
- Cons: Deliverables may not suit customers’ needs. The resources needed to set up the process at the beginning.
It seems that one school comes into vogue and then the other. However, we think we’re likely to see a situation where more content is written and stored in reusable formats (engineering), which can be used in more innovative ways (craft).
2. The rise of content analysis
We talked about content analysis in previous posts, and its growth rises partly from our first, fourth and fifth trends – the move toward taking content that already exists and doing more (and better things) with it.
3. More Web-based content and Web Analytics
For many people, particularly those under 30, if information is not on the Web, it doesn’t exist. So it’s inevitable we’ll see more and more technical documentation being published on the Web. We may even see the end of Help files, as such: it’s likely they will be seen as locally stored versions of Web pages.
The value of technical documentation has been extremely difficult to measure. Web Analytics offers the ability to measure the effectiveness of the deliverables in new ways.
4. The rise of User Generated Content and the networked manual
By networked content, we mean integrating content that resides on other web sites. The Semantic Web and other Web technologies will allow us to draw in relevant content from elsewhere. So perhaps we’ll see the emergence of collections of open source content (“content assets” or “process assets”) that technical authors can draw upon when they are writing.
5. More collaborative and conversational authoring
We’ve talked a lot this year about integrating original content and commentaries on content from both in-house Subject Matter Experts and end users. See our previous posts on user generated content.
6. Better searching and navigation
The Semantic Web offers the promise of better filtered, contextual content. We’ll see tag clouds and multiple navigational routes (through categorisation) become commonplace in technical documentation.
In the past, we’ve predicted the rise of folksonomies. However, these haven’t been taken up as much as we expected. We’ve also talked about Information Types – where content and navigation routes are filtered, depending on the type of user. Microsoft’s plans for Information Types, promised in Windows Vista, are unlikely to ever see the light of day. Having said that, many Technical Authors do provide filtered content today, using technologies such as Dynamic HTML, CSS and conditional build tags (which enable the production of multiple versions of the same document set).
7. Greater use of multimedia
There’s not much to say about this, apart from saying the benefits of screencasts and videos seem to outweigh the downsides (it getting out of date quickly, localisation issues, searching limitations etc).
8. The return of specialised job functions
This idea originates from Tony Self of HyperWrite: Technical publishing in the 1960s and 1970s comprised a number of specialised job roles: writer, typesetter, illustrator etc. The increased use of XML and other Web technologies will lead to greater scope and greater complexity. This means we’re likely to see more specialisation (particularly around publishing XML content) in job roles and the outsourcing of certain specialist tasks (like the old days of computer bureaux).
However, we’re also likely to see the emergence of hybrid roles (part author, part Web developer), as well as content analysis/wrangler opportunities – taking a top down view on how content can be synthesised into user documentation.
9. More location based content
10. Innovation will bring User Assistance back in to fashion
Economic recessions often are times of great innovation. This also may mean the need to introduce new and unusual concepts to users. We’re likely to see a need to explain these concepts, plus a need to provide advice on what makes a good choice.
We’re also likely to see innovations in technical communication. There is still the risk these new deliverables will be developed by non-technical authors, so the profession still needs to promote its value to the business. It’s possible technical authors will also be able to draw on the developments that will emerge from the Education, Design and Support sectors. The Education sector is facing similar issues, and we should see new ways in which training and education is delivered.
What did we miss?
In previous articles on future trends, we’ve discussed embedded and guided Help. Emerging Web technologies (e.g. HTML 5 and XML) offer greater scope for these, but the problem often lies in the lack of available space on the computer screen and, more importantly, the lack of foresight to include these at the planning stage of the User Interface design.
Time will tell if we’ve got this right or wrong. What do you think?