Draftback – could it reveal how Technical Authors actually write?

James Somers is releasing an add-on for Google Docs, Draftback, that enables you to play back and analyse the creation of any Google Doc you have permission to edit.

It means you can see how a writer created the document, the sections they spent time rewriting and rearranging, the elements that were pasted into the document from elsewhere, and so on.

From an organisation’s perspective, the graphs Draftback that produces potentially could be used to show when and where the writer spent most of their time:

Timeline of activity

I could see this illustrating the impact of last minute changes to a product, review comments and other external factors. Potentially, it could also highlight areas where a writer might need assistance or training.

What do you think?

Your policy and procedures manual as software

Jared Spool tweeted this morning:

HyperCard was a hypertext program that came with Apple Macintosh in the 1980s. It allowed you to create “stacks” of online cards, which organsiations used to create some of the first online guides. It also contained a scripting language called HyperTalk that a non-programmer could easily learn. This meant HyperCard could do more than just display content: it could be used to create books, games (such as Myst), develop oil-spill models, and even dial the telephone.

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SharePoint for documentation projects

Most of the Technical Authors I have met don’t have a good thing to say about Microsoft SharePoint. In many ways, it represents how not to publish content online. It is seen as encouraging people to move print-optimised documents (Blobs) around, rather than units of content (Chunks), and users are typically left to rely on search to find which document contains the information they are looking for.

For all those issues, SharePoint may still have its place – for managing documentation projects.

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New job vacancy: #4133 Technical Author, City of London, £32K-£37K DOE

This is an opportunity to join a technical writing team within a fast-growing, independent software company. Our client develops Web-based financial trading software for the world’s largest financial institutions. They have an immediate vacancy for a Technical Author with a passion for technical communication.

You will developing end-user documentation for a range of products, producing user manuals, online help and API documentation.

See #4133 Technical Author, City of London, £32K-£37K DOE

Why Technical Authors make the best Project Managers for Agile projects

Red Gate Software’s Dominic Smith mentioned in his presentation at UAEurope conference that the company had found Technical Authors were ideally suited to take on the role of Project Manager for small Agile software development projects. In fact, Red Gate had morphed most of its Technical Authors into to a hybrid Project Manager role.

Dominic made a strong case why Technical Authors made good Agile software project managers:

  • They are focused on the user
  • They understand the user
  • They understand a lot of the technological aspects
  • They are used to delivering projects on time
  • They are more extravert and people-orientated than programmers (yes, this is broad generalisation)
  • They ensure User Assistance isn’t forgotten in the project plan, and that it is considered from the very start
  • They can provide a business focus to the project, and are able to kill projects that don’t make business sense any more.

Do you agree?

Disclosure: Red Gate is a client of ours.

New software that might interest Technical Authors

Here are some new tools we’ve found that might interest Technical Authors.

Google Ripples

Google Ripples is a tool that enables you to watch how posts get shared on Google+. If you publish user assistance or support information via Google+, it could help you track how far and wide it gets distributed. It could also help you see who are the most influential people, when it comes to transmitting a message.

Anthologize

Anthologize is a free, WordPress plugin that enables you to publish the content as electronic texts.

Grab posts from your WordPress blog, import feeds from external sites, or create new content directly within Anthologize. Then outline, order, and edit your work, crafting it into a single volume for export in several formats, including—in this release—PDF, ePUB, TEI.

The User Manual 2.$

Here is an interesting interview between Robert Scoble and Aaron Fulkerson of Midtouch on how MindTouch’s technical communication software is changing how people work together at big companies.

“We started seeing more and more of our customers—Intuit and Microsoft, Intel and Autodesk and Mozilla – launching these documentation communities where they have a body of content for user manuals,” explains Fulkerson. “Just imagine taking ten DVDs of video and text and putting it on the internet for the first time. What does that do for your search engine optimization? And then building a community around that where [customers] can contribute to it. They’re registering with the site, they’re sharing information with you about how you can improve this or that—of course it’s helping lead generation.”

“Enterprise wikis and documentation communities may sound like rather different applications, but Fulkerson asserts that they’re actually the same use case—they’re just applied to two different things. “One is internal around enterprise systems, the other one is external more around social media sites. But they’re both delivering collaboration and social capabilities in a web-based environment that’s connecting systems together.”

Contact us if you’re interested in looking into Mindtouch’s software.