It’s that time of year for us to gaze into our crystal ball and share your and our predictions for the future of technical communication for 2023 and beyond.
This is the Cherryleaf Podcast. Welcome to The Cherryleaf Podcast. Around this time of the year, we tend to do a podcast on future trends in technical communication. Last year when we reported them in podcast episode number 119, the main trends were:
- The development of more specialist roles
- The use of natural language
- The integration of voice and text
- Artificial intelligence
- More structured content
- Reusing content across the user interface and in technical documents, and
- The continued growth of API developer documentation.
So what will the trends be predicted for this year?
We’ve done the same thing that we’ve done in previous years. We’ve posed a question on social media and we’ve got responses back from different people, and that question is, what are your predictions for the future of technical communication for 2023 and beyond? So what I’ll do is I’ll read out the responses that we got on the different platforms where we posed the question.
we will start with the responses from the Write the Docs forum
And Kristian Klima said
There’s always the next season for markdown :slightly_smiling_face
I think that in the SaaS world, we’ll see more technical content in the UI and integrated help panels and reduced reliance on a complete Help Center style website.
This is the concept of the omnichannel as content strategy and it’s something that we’ve talked about in previous podcast episodes. And it’s also come up in the past as a trend for the future.
On Twitter, Alan Houser suggested
– Photoshop for text (adjust style, tone, other characteristics)
– Application of GPT-X to generate user assistance content
And Fabrizio Ferri Benedetti said:
– First semi-serious experiments with AI-assisted docs
– Greater emphasis on UX for documentation tools
– Appearance of a major doctools players through open sourcing (finally Google’s docs stack will see the light?)
And, sadly, a renewed push for docs automation, because companies are freezing hires and don’t want to hire technical writers. Poor souls.
And Mike Pope responded to Fabrizio’s suggestions:
File this one under “We’ll try again things that we tried 1 and 2 generations ago” 🙂
Yes, I think that relates to, well, two things really. The automation of content, which has been attempted a number of times in the past. And also the idea of an open source free tool that has all the capabilities of the commercial authoring tool.
Dawn Baird suggested
Prediction: private Slack channels will become the new hyper-focused social media for those of of who want to cut out the noise and connect with like-minded ppl. They already work like your fav coffee spot that you don’t want to shout too much about in case it gets overrun.
And it is interesting with the potential demise of Twitter and the growth of alternative platforms like Mastodon that they have much more of the feel of early user forums and smaller groups than the mass appeal and mass audience that there’s been on Twitter. And it could be that instead of it, people migrating to Mastodon, that they may well migrate to Slack instead.
Salman Rashid on LinkedIn said
I am thinking metaverase-based approach to documentation/training. Might be slightly further down the road, but not so far in the future that we shouldn’t start thinking about adopting the metaverse to support, educate and train users.
I have seen demonstrations of. Augmented Reality systems that can provide technical information. There was one from an elevator company, I think it was Otis, that demonstrated, I think, using a Microsoft platform, how they could maintain a lift or an elevator.
And another that’s also described in other languages and guide them to where things should be taken apart or repaired.
And there have also been demonstrations or proof of concepts from BMW for assistant to help mechanics maintain engines. And also one which was a defence or military application which was about maintaining the interior parts of a tank.
Now, I don’t think I’ve seen any examples of applying virtual reality to technical documentation. I did hear of a system where it was being applied for training purposes, and that was in the medical sphere to help, I think it was lab technicians, perform tests in a virtual environment. And also I think surgeons to practise doing surgery.
But as I said, I haven’t yet seen that within the technical documentation space, so it will be interesting to see if that does happen
Viva Amplify looks exciting … #InternalComms team will manage all comms ‘campaigns’ … considering channels … I’m gonna say this will be an over-promise, as the dream is to have ‘one place to manage everything’ and it’s not feasible in an established complex org.
Now I looked into this and he’s talking about a product called Microsoft Viva, which is being launched by Microsoft. And within that there will be a range of different modules or products, including one which is called Viva Answers. And again, let me quote from website which is a website called collaboratewithcat.com. And it says:
With Answers in Microsoft Viva, employees can crowdsource knowledge from the organization to find the answers they need. A conversational experience, Answers connects users with experts. Answers are matched with existing answers using natural language processing, and experts are rewarded for contributing to the knowledge base. By leveraging subject matter expertise captured in Viva Topics, Answers connects employees to subject matter experts, helps them get questions answered, connects them with new sources of information, and increases their learning.
Now, this to me sounds like Microsoft trying to come up with their own version of Stack Exchange and some of the support systems that are out there. These systems often live or die, succeed or fail, by the willingness and the ability of the subject matter experts to write the answers to the questions that people have. And then, of course, the ability of the software to bring those answers to the front.
So I’m rather sceptical that this will take off. And I think I share the views of wedge. That it may be an overpromise, we’ll see.
We’ve also had some suggestions from clients as well. So let’s go through them. One was talking or client that was interested in a product called Signalpattern. And this is a tool that enables people to, let’s say, discover, organise, use and share API based information. So what it can do is extract information from APIs and then present that information as graphs or dashboards. So that you can get a summary of how your organisation is doing, you can search and explore across data silos and you can interact with data in new ways. So sort of combined mashup, visualising.
The way that they promote it. And you can then also communicate that information onto other channels like Slack to give summaries. For example, how far away the next bus is from the bus stop outside your office. Now, potentially that could be extended to documentation as well. That you could extract documentation that is stored within an API from different APIs to combine, to make an information resource or manual, perhaps an online guide in some form that is a combination of different sources. And is dynamically being updated whenever the content from these different sources stored in the API gets updated at the source level.
It’s not at all that we’ve tested or tried yet, so I can’t vouch for whether that would be possible or not, but the concept of content within APIs that can be combined mashed up as it were. We could see that in the future.
Another suggestion from another client was that we will see more collaboration more tools to enable what they called documentation as a team sport and we have that today. And we’re seeing more collaboration between us and our clients through tools such as Slack, through Figma, online canvases like Mira and Mural. Through both 365 and Google Docs. And through GitHub.
And there was a podcast recently by Tom Johnson about an authoring tool called ArchBee and that could be another platform whereby there’s more collaborative authoring between an expert technical author and the subject matter experts who may not be so expert on writing clearly.
And picking up on Fabricio’s comments about the first semi-serious experiments with AI assisted documents, we have seen some recent announcements from Google along those lines and those relate to Google Enterprise Knowledge Graph.
And we will provide links and a bit more information on these in our newsletter that goes out every month. It’s free to subscribe.
And I’ll provide some information from the websites now. So what Google is saying is
Google Enterprise Knowledge Graph organizes siloed information into organizational knowledge, which involves consolidating, standardizing, reconciling, and surfacing data in an efficient and useful way.
Add intelligence to your document processing with Google’s Enterprise Knowledge Graph
Google Cloud introduced Document AI to automate document processing and to streamline workflows with state-of-the-art machine learning models. With the deep neural networks, the models generalize the learning from seeing hundreds of thousands variations of the documents. But when information is missing or ambiguous on a document – like a missing address or entity name – a human may need to search for it…often on Google.
With Document AI, we are bringing the power of this “Google search” to help customers understand their documents. This means that the same Google knowledge graph technology that helps you find the name, address or phone number of your favorite restaurant can now enrich your document extraction with the right name, fully qualified address, and updated phone number.
So this is using AI to fill in missing content within a document. And it seems primarily aimed at internal documentation rather than user focused task-based information. But it may potentially extend or have uses in that field as well.
With the information that is extracting, it may well be just structured contents and numerical content. Things that are easily defined like a name and address of post code and the like. So it would be interesting to see how that works with more unstructured, less structured content.
But this one, I think is very interesting. Will it only apply to large organisations? Or could it be applied to small organic organisations that have less content for the knowledge graph to search? I don’t know. Or can it extract certain information from the general populace or organisations? Again, it’s something that may be worth investigating.
So there have been suggestions of how APIs can be used to create content or filter content. There’s also still the growth that we’ve seen over recent years. I think it will still continue of more and more APIs, and those APIs will need to be documented. So for technical authors, they’re still going be an opportunity to get involved in documenting those APIs.
What we’ve seen over this years with different clients where we’ve been helping them implement APIs and write the documentation has been an increase in focus on the user journey and the wrap around content in addition to just the reference content and how to make it them as intuitive and usable as possible. So it seems like this growth in the application of user experience will continue within the field of providing APIs and API documentation.
The last thing I want to discuss is looking back to see what might be happening in the future. At the end of November, Cherryleaf celebrated its 20th anniversary. So thank you if you’ve been along with us in any way along the journey.
So as I said, looking back, can that indicate what might happen in the future? A colleague of mine was talking about some of the things that we did in the early days and. Now they’re just seen as commonplace, but at the time they were pretty radical. From the beginning we were fully remote and we were virtually paperless. We were one of the few companies that would e-mail invoices rather than fax them or send them off in the post. We had a telephone network that was based on Voice Over IP using a VPN tunnel. We had our own virtual private network for the applications that we could use within the organisation.
And over time we move to Software as a Service applications. And that really did help the organisation, help Cherryleaf a lot by being able to use a range of different products. Software as a Service; just pay a monthly fee.
And into the future, it seems like Software as a Service will be a useful approach for many organisations. If you need a particular service, you can just buy in a small, specialised product that does that. And if you don’t need it, you can cancel. You can access it via web browser whenever you need it.
Looking back, there have been some challenges and struggles, some issues that never have been resolved, and it may be that as we go forward, they still may be unresolved. If they’re solved, it would be fantastic. The types of things I’m talking about are issues around how content is often embedded with the presentation, which can make it hard to change and repurpose reuse.
And we mentioned earlier Markdown. One the advantages of a platform like Markdown is that it does separate the content from the presentation layer.
And related to that has been the growth of video. When we began, YouTube didn’t exist. And a lot of content today is presented in videos and walkthroughs. There’s a lot of visual content and lots of content in PowerPoint. And there still is that struggle, often with video, of searching for the right piece of content. How to reuse content and repurpose it. All different formats.
There’s also the ongoing question about structured writing and unstructured writing, structured content versus unstructured content.
There are advantages with structured content in being able to repurpose and reuse the content, but it comes at the cost of making people write in specific way and having to. And often extra contextual information about the content they’ve written. I wonder if we will ever be able to resolve the tensions between those two approaches. Hopefully we.
So those are the predictions for the trends for 2023 and beyond within the world of technical communication. If you’d like more information on Cherryleaf’s technical writing services and the training courses we provide then you will find that information on our website cheryleaf.com. Also on Twitter, and we’re now also on Mastodon: cherryleaf@Mastodonapp.uk . That’s it for this episode. Thank you for listening and goodbye.