I originally published this post back in 2009 and updated it again in 2011. I’m keeping it here for historical purposes. All the items listed came to be. Back then, they were out on the horizon.
Tech writers have always needed to keep up with current technologies. That is the case today more than ever. I’ve been in the field for over 20 years, starting back before online help, back when you copied manuals to put in binders, back when you wrapped up docs weeks before a release because you had to get the book off to the printer.
That’s nothing like today. Changes are so massive, so fast, and coming from so many directions that it is impossible to keep up. Still, it’s important to try. For anything that applies to IT applies to tech writing. Writers must be know something about everything and be ready for it. We’re going to have to specialize and collaborate more than ever before.
Here, briefly, are my thoughts on what I think are some main topics to track. This is a companion piece to my post about Twitter feeds to follow; all apply to tech writing. This post is to explain why to track those feeds. It’s not a comprehensive overview or list. More will come. I may change some of the content here as I come across more information. For today though, this is a beginning. I hope it starts you thinking. Be sure and review the list of Twitter feeds in the other post. Sign up for a few and you can start learning right away.
Questions to consider:
Is the app you’re documenting on a cloud? Will your docs be? Should or can your docs be? If your developers have moved apps to the cloud, maybe that’s where you will need your docs for that app to be stored as well (if they’re not already).
If there are security issues for your docs, should they be behind a corporate firewall? Could some be in-house and some in the cloud? If so, then you need to know, as it would be a factor in content-management planning/content strategy for doc setup. Keep up with the security aspect in particular.
Are you developing materials for access over a mobile device? Assume that the cloud is involved.
If there’s a way to cut costs by moving your docs to a cloud, is that something you might want to suggest at your company? Would you suggest a public or private cloud?
In any case, if there’s discussion in your company about moving apps to the cloud, or if they’re already there, you should be in on the planning or know what’s going on. So you might want to keep up on this topic. Here are just a few pertinent articles I’ve found lately through the people I follow on Twitter (my favorite is @cloud_dennis).
2 in 3 IT Managers Have Cloud Funding
An Essential Guide to Possibilities and Risks of Cloud Computing
Mobile Cloud Computing: Is Your Phone Drifting to the Cloud
Keep your head in the cloud…
You always need to know about search functionality and trends. That is how people find information in your docs.
The latest news is that Google isn’t using the metadata tag for searches. If your docs are online and you have a Google search button enabled on it, will it find as much if you’ve put everything into a metadata tag? Review the SEO docs on the Google site to find out how it works, and keep it in mind when you write. Don’t write for search, but know how it works.
Keep real-time search on your radar as well. I still have to look into that more. In the meantime, read anything you see about it.
Search Engine Watch has been around from the start; they’re the experts. Follow them!
Holy smokes. Where to begin…
Twitter: It’s a great way to push information. I could see using it for submitting questions and getting answers out quickly. You could set up a hash tag for your app or docs. You could set up separate feeds for different aspects of your docs. Then users could just go to that feed and get current info and some in past tweets. You can use it to announce doc and app changes. For gathering and sharing information, it’s invaluable.
Facebook: businesses are definitely using this. It is constantly evolving, and has functionality expansion planned. This could definitely be a place for user input and user-generated information, at the very least. They recently expanded their search functionality; think about taking a look on their blog.
I was at a WordPress WordCamp last weekend, and someone mentioned that a younger person they knew wasn’t using e-mail any more. That person was using Facebook instead.
Now, there’s Google Wave on the horizon. I’m excited to see how that is going to change the landscape. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
You cannot ignore social media. It’s not going away. It’s also always changing, and doc departments need to determine how to fit it in to their plans. This one is a lot of fun to keep up with.
If you’re not already working in an agile shop, assume that you will be before too long. Also, you have to keep up with programming trends. If developers are changing their basic work processes, you absolutely have to know how that works. This has been going on for a while, so you need to know about it.
Think about starting to incorporate the processes into your work. On big writing projects, set up daily scrums with the doc team. Leads could be the Product Owner or ScrumMaster. Agile doesn’t need to apply just to programming. If you start using it in your department, it’ll be easier to integrate with the dev team. Don’t wait for this to come to you. Go get it.
When I read about the user stories, I immediately thought of personas. Tech writers should definitely be on the project team and be able to contribute to developing user stories. That is about designing apps to meet user needs and objectives.
You also have to determine how to write docs in an agile environment. How do you plan and design your docs for the long-term while being able to put something out quickly with the latest sprint? I know there are writers out there in the midst of this, so I’ll be trying to get more information.
There are big changes coming with this. It’s not officially adopted yet, and isn’t scheduled to be for several years, but is starting to be used. However, it will impact docs. The most notable changes I’ve seen so far are the effect on tables and possible reduction in use of Flash. These are serious enough for docs that I’m going to begin research on this next.
This open-source blogging platform is increasing in use. You need to know CSS and it helps to have a general knowledge of programming in general so you can read a bit of the code. Even if you don’t know that, you could still figure it out.
It’s also very easy to use. There’s a world-wide community that works on and supports development. There are designs already made that you can use and customize as you want. There are plug-ins that enable you to do just about anything you want: set the site up for mobile access, optimize searching, possibly add a wiki.
The point is, it’s all ready. So, poof! You could have a very basic website framed, set up, and running in a day or so, and have the capability to add more functionality through all the plug-ins. Of course, larger sites would take longer to set up. Every theme uses standardized code, so once you learn the basics, you’re good to go. It’s phenomenal, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
That’s a start. I’ll keep adding more information to the site. For more items to track, I’ve also listed some on my Watch List page. Never a dull moment, is there? Especially these days!