MadCap Software hosted their first ever conference, MadWorld 2013, last week, which I attended as an invited speaker. Here are my initial thoughts and reflections on the second day.
We have a ticket to the STC Summit 2013 that needs to go to a good home.
The STC Summit conference has over 80 education sessions on technical communication, organised in seven tracks. It will be held between the 6th-8th May. There is also an exposition, with more than 50 companies represented. Ticket prices normally cost between $900-$1,400, depending on when you book (although students willing to help out can get in for a couple of hundred dollars).
We’ll be at Technical Communications UK conference next week. Ellis will be speaking on the 4th October (at 11.00) on “What does the iPad 3 mean for Technical Authors?”. The Technical Communications UK conference includes speakers from outside the technical communication profession, with the aim of bringing a new perspective on communicating information.
A successful conference is as much about the people you meet as the presentations, so it will be fun mixing with all the other delegates.
One of the issues we’ve been promoting for many years is the importance for Technical Authors to publish their user guides and online Help on the Web. A surprisingly large amount of companies still don’t offer Web versions, for reasons that include:
Kyle has built a multi-million dollar business on the back of offering repair manuals that manufacturers choose not to put on the Web. The manuals are available free-of-charge, with ifixit.com making money from selling spare parts.
Wiens said that if machines in other industries — for example, tractors used by farmers — were to break down over a handful of years and couldn’t be easily repaired, consumers would openly revolt. “In industries where consumers really care about a quality, long-lasting product, there’s no way companies can get away with it,” he said. more
We’ve suggested in the past that organisations publish Help for their competitors’ products, so they can engage with their future customers.
Publishing to the Web provides a path to publishing to mobile devices and tablets. It also means, finally, Technical Author can measure the value of what they produce – how many people want to read it and what they think of it.
Regardless of the objections from other departments, this is probably the single most important thing a Technical Author can do.
Do you agree?
I have just got back from speaking and attending the Society for Technical Communication’s annual conference in Chicago – STC Summit 12. While my body is back in London, my brain is still partly still halfway across the Atlantic, which might explain any incoherence in this post.
As there can be ten sessions running in parallel, each attendees’ experience can be unique. However, it is possible to spot the major themes of the conference. These were:
Another theme was: what ever technology changes are likely to appear on the horizon, Technical Communicators are in a good position to handle them. Certainly compared to the Publishing industry.
The “Beyond the bleeding edge” themed presentations were very impressive. Mozilla’s Popcorn project could have a big impact on Technical Authors. The popularity of the ifixit.com Web site, and the rapid growth of the company, shows how popular instruction manuals can be if they are accessible on the Web. It also shows what can happen if you don’t publish your content on the Web – someone may reverse engineer the content and publish it on their site.
I also really enjoyed Karen McGrane’s presentation on the approaches the Publishing and News industries are taking to tackle the issue of mobile content.
Primarily thanks to Twitter, there were many people I felt I knew already. I was looking forward to finally meeting people such as Rahel Baillie, Val Swisher, Rhyne Armstrong, Janet Swisher, Andrea Wenger, Anker Jain, Joe Gollner, Larry Kunz, Alan Houser and John Hedtke. I didn’t get a chance to say hello to everyone – I missed Scott Abel and Rachel Houghton, for example. Even though Americans are welcoming by their nature, it does help to be connected to people via Twitter.
It’s the first time I’ve spoken at a conference in the USA, and it was interesting to see the differences and similarities between it and the European conferences I speak at.
The STC Summit is bigger than any other similar conference, apart from tekom (in Germany). At the same time, I was speaking, delegates could attend nine other presentations. Some of the presentations, particularly the “beyond the bleeding edge” presentations were more “advanced” than I’ve seen at any European conference.
The conference also has “lightning talks” –
three nine x 20 5 minute presentations one after the other. These forced the speakers to be succinct and this format worked very well. There were also a lot of talks on personal promotion – finding jobs, networking, selling yourself etc.
This year’s ISTC (STC equivalent in the UK) conference, “Technical Communication UK”, has a little on mobile content and nothing on HTML 5 or intelligent content. The UAEurope conference seems to be much closer to the STC themes – perhaps because so many of the speakers are from the USA.
Another difference was the number of students and people under 30 attending the conference. The STC places a lot of emphasis on research, professional development and awards, which was good to see.
There was a consensus that DITA and other forms of XML were the way to go, but no-one really challenged this belief. Often, content has a short “shelf-life” and consequently little value, so a cheap, quick and dirty solution may be the best solution. DITA is still really weak in terms of the outputs it delivers.
America most definitely has an obesity problem – having another meal an hour after the first, huge portions and cheese sprinkled on everything. So does Britain, but on a different scale. It’s worrying to see the direction in which Britain may go.
There was also a belief that we’ll live in a world of a myriad of mobile devices - that the 80:20 rule won’t apply. I wonder if just a few devices will end up dominating the marketplace.
There still seems to be an awful lot of people who are not publishing their content to the Web, and if you’re not on Google, you’re invisible. The rise of mobile devices may well be the catalyst for this to change.
I look forward to watching the recordings of the presentations I missed – the STC’s Summit@aClick site will contain the recordings in 6-8 weeks time. I’m pleased I took up this offer to speak at this event. I found the event was informal, informative and full of humour.
Here is a copy of the slides Ellis will be presenting in Chicago on Monday.
STC summit 2012 What Should Technical Communicators Do When Products “Just Work”?
The UAEurope 2011 conference last week comprised many great presentations and a lot of useful information. One interesting piece of news was that both Microsoft and Oracle have been including their online Help content (and other forms of User Assistance) as part of their SEO strategy.
By publishing the Help on the Web and optimising it for the search engines, these Help pages now appear at the top of Bing and Google. This has boosted the overall performance of both companies’ Web sites, and it has meant that users are going to the “official” information when they have searched for answers to their problems.