Monthly Archives: March 2009

Go vote, STCers!

It’s quite easy to vote online for STC officers, just dig out the email you received from that has your STC identifier and password, click the link to, and enter your ID and password. Once you’re on the voting site you can click through on the ballot to read each candidate’s position statements.

I’m tickled that two people of the most energetic academic instructors I’ve met are on this year’s ballot, Hillary Hart and Sandi Harner. Hillary Hart is in the Austin chapter and teaches engineering students about technical communication at the University of Texas. She and I worked on a committee to build the program for our hosting of the Region 5 conference, and Hillary’s great to work with, plus just fun to talk with. She uploaded a 30-second video about her candidacy to YouTube – take a look. The live oak trees behind her and the sunny breezy day are Austin classics!

I’ve talked to Hillary about the Body of Knowledge and she accepted and listened to my concern about overlap in effort with the eServer Technical Communication Library, a resource I frequent quite often. Hillary explained that the BoK approach is much more like a portal, offering pathways for those who have no idea what technical communication is. They are using personas to design the portal and I enjoyed reading those very much, but they must have been embedded in the survey because I can’t find the list online. One of the personas is available online in a Tieline article – the age 50 plus persona. Another persona may be a hiring manager or HR representative who is not familiar with technical communication. They are looking to partner with existing content sites as well as offer original content too. Quite the resource! Side note: the forest contains the trees contains a forest of trees – the Tech Comm Library has a category about Body of Knowledge.


You’ve got Google Site Search data, now what?

I’ve been collecting decent search data for only about three months now, after an initial misconfiguration. Since we have  multiple help sites and multiple search engines, some of the data from the early months of implementation isn’t as useful – for example, I didn’t have the code quite right for stripping out the parameters from the URL, so for “Search Term” we got a lot of search keywords for “15-0-Docs” which is one of the URL parameters for our separate search engines, not the term folks were searching for. If I drill down on the 15-0-Docs link in the report, I can see the keyword parameter, but it’s not an easy scan.

I can re-run reports using only the dates where I had corrected that problem, and then the Search Terms are more accurate. The main thing I want to keep doing now is continue to collect data!

I have sent out early reports to other writers and to our product managers when it seems useful for learning what our users are searching for.

I’d love to hear from other help authors – what are you doing with reports about search terms? These questions lifted straight from Google Analytics seem like a good start.

Visits: Who searched and when?

  • When did visitors use site search?
  • How do visitors who searched compare to those who didn’t?

Search: What did visitors search for?

  • Which search terms did visitors use?
  • Which categories did visitors search?

Content: Where did visitors search?

  • Where did visitors start their searches?
  • Which pages did visitors find?

Now, what would you do with the answers to these questions? How would you redesign your site or content based on the answers? I’m going to dive deeper into those two questions with the information I keep collecting.

Twitter for usability testing or doc testing? Sure, here’s how

My coworker went to SXSW Interactive this year, and I merely went to lunch with people near SXSWi and followed the #sxswi Twitter stream, and now I am browsing through the sketchnotes. I went to BarCamp Austin on Saturday and presented about FLOSS Manuals and the Book Sprint methodology we’ve been experimenting with. It went great, and afterward I even got a nice compliment “You are a force of nature, aren’t you?” That made me grin big!

But back to Twitter for usability testing. How can that be done? The CMS Showdown featured at SXSW Interactive actually came up with a way to do it, and then there’s a video on Vimeo showing one of the participants watching and commenting as the Twitter stream goes by on her screen.

JoomlaSxSW AmyStephen’s Review of the Review from Amy Stephen on Vimeo.

Basically, set up a time for a certain number of website users to try certain tasks on your website or application. While they use the application, have them log on to Twitter and make comments, including a pre-set hashtag in their Tweets. By the end of the testing period, you’ll have a record of micro-comments (140 characters or less) collected with the tool.

Somehow this use of Twitter to “judge” your product or documentation makes a lot of sense to me. You pick a hashtag and a span of time, and ask people on Twitter to read the doc or try the product at the same time, putting their thoughts up as 140-character or less Twitter posts.

Now, be sure to save off the stream of comments because, as Jenny Levine noted, the stream of the moment is momentary.

A week or so ago, people in the technical education sector did something similar to what I’m suggesting – they all discussed a topic at the same by putting the hashtag #educhat into their Tweets. We’ve been talking about a similar organized chat time for FLOSS Manuals.

I’ve blogged about uses for Twitter before – usability testing is just one more use to add  to the list.


Association demographics based on website visitors

I just learned about Quantcast and their web viewer profiles. It’s like Google Trends for Analytics. Great fun if you’re as curious as I am about associations and how they tick and the web.

Apparently the site reports are available for any site that tracks users with Quantcast, and of high interest to me is that some associations use Quantcast, so I can look up association web stats if I know their site URL and they’re using Quantcast.

Naturally I started with looking up the Society for Technical Communication, STC. There is a disclaimer that “We have sparse data for this site, so estimates are rough.” But come to find out, “The site is popular among a rather female, more educated audience.” If you look at Demographics the visitors are apparently also middle-aged and tend not to have children. Or at least, the members who visit the site resemble those characteristics.

STC Quantcast

Contrast those demographics with the American Library Association, the ALA. They’re a huge user of iMIS, the association management product I document at work at Advanced Solutions International. There’s a great blog post titled “What is iMIS?” written by my favorite “Shifted Llibrarian” blogger, Jenny Levine, that describes their large number of membership options and therefore pricing complexity “because ALA offers 30+ types of membership and there are multiple divisions and round tables, we have more than 900 pricing rules in iMIS.” Wow.

According to Quantcast, the ALA membership tends to have young children ages 3-11 and they are affluent.


The ALA recently reported about their web site management  methods in a case study about integrating Drupal with the iMIS membership data titled Integrating Drupal and iMIS: ALAconnect Case Study. Really interesting reading.

Quantcast has an audience site search that enables marketers to enter demographics and get a list of websites whose readership matches the audience the want to target. I just like to web-spy on people, I guess.


Firefox Book Sprint complete!


Wow, we did it! A book in two days thanks to a great group of writers, an excellent Subject Matter Expert, and remote contributors from Calgary to Moscow to Bangalore. This sprint was our first serious attempt to include remote contributors from anywhere. We had about 14 remote writers with at least 5-7 in the room in Palm Springs, and up to 25 writers online at a time. The PDF (link) is 160 pages long and looks downright snazzy. A printed copy is available on Lulu.

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

The manual is available online at

What is a Book Sprint?

Book Sprints are an innovative format based on Code Sprints but with the focus on producing documentation instead of code. Ideally a week-long event, a Book Sprint starts with an outline for a newly formed book idea, and ends on the last day with the production of a printed book available to participants and interested readers using an on demand print service. Writing a book in a week or less is an incredible and demanding feat. It was enabled by the FLOSS Manuals platform which has turned the corner from wiki to collaborative publishing platform. The platform enables fluent collaboration with local and remote writers, a low technical threshold and an automated print source generator that produces beautiful book-formatted PDF files. Upload this file to a print-on-demand service, and you have a fast moving process able to produce books at the same rate programmers change the software.

What FLOSS Manuals did at Winter Camp

My summary view is that we activated and energized our network, borrowing those terms from Zita Joyce, my outreach co-worker for the week whom I quizzed endlessly about what it’s like to live in Amsterdam. It was a productive and exciting week for a fledgling non-profit like FLOSS Manuals. We have a pile of work ahead of us, but by distributing the work to teams we have created efficiencies and people have chosen their areas of interest and abilities. Check out this diagram showing the work from the week.

Floss Diagram

View more documents from r00s.

There’s also a great video depicting “A day in the life of FLOSS manuals…”

“Roll Up! Roll Up! for the greatest show on earth. That’s right never before have you had such unlimited access to a distributed network
meeting in real life. This time we know it’s for real. This is pure gold for network academics the world over.” I’m just rebroadcasting from Mick Chesterman, an amazing activist and video pro with whom I asked about everything from screencasting to quilt blogs.Yet those two bits of media best barely describe my amazing week in Amsterdam. So I offer my photos from a couple of sightseeing tours as well.

And now, I’d better get to work on the Firefox Book Sprint! We have fourteen remote collaborators and starting in earnest tomorrow. If you’re in the Austin area, join me at Flightpath at Duval and 51st from 5:00-7:00 tomorrow and Wednesday (3/17 and 3/18). You’ll find me as the writer with the FLOSS Manuals sticker on my laptop.

Stories from SXSWi 2008 – Future of Volunteerism

I can’t believe it, but SXSW Interactive rolls around again this weekend. I found still-unpublished notes from last year’s Future of volunteerism, Adapt or Die session. Woops! They’re sloppy but fun to revisit so I’ll go ahead and post.

Virtual Relay for life – awareness, advocacy, fundraising
running in parallel, not a replacement
complementary – reaches new constituents

Amer. Cancer Society
National Geographic
March of Dimes – Story telling is a big part of engaging volunteers in social spaces – stories are about babies, preventing birth defects.
Every baby has a story – people can tell stories about their babies.

Flaws from Amer. Cancer Society
-fragmentation – recruiting volunteers different ways for different divisions – moving from Kansas to NYC would give a volunteer a different experience
– no one under 60 wants to stuff envelopes, they want to be more active
– don’t miss opportunities based on location – developer example
– 2 million volunteers – active groups on the ground, driving people to treatments, etc. But no nationwide strategy to communicate
What they’ve shifted to
– new campaign “a little time, a lot of good” (sounds like microvolunteerism!)
– talent strategy officer now
– if they want to keep volunteers, they have to find new jobs for those volunteers
– online team shares for events
“your PR and marketing person isn’t your webmaster, need chairperson for each event online”
-created Facebook volunteer recruitment, building applications that let Facebookers get credit for gathering volunteers.
-opened an “office” in Second Life
Frozen Pea Fund – yay Austin connection through Connie Reece!
-Youtube has more “social” people uploading video, growth is exponential
– Pew study says 2007 22% shot their own video, 14% posted it online
– looking for case study on usability for the new site

Be honest, be responsive, spot trends, speak up.
Technology and non-profits can go hand-in-hand.
Yahoo now selling ads based on time spent and depth of engagement.

Email asking them to take an action – if they actually place the phone call, the level of engagment is superior.
– they don’t ask much but when they do, they really show up.

Peace Corp – government – nervous about the Internet.

Red Cross – They had volunteers build up the Second Life presence, were able to show money was raised there, they didn’t hire anybody. And with sweat equity and extra hours spent, they could be on Second Life despite their general counsel being very nervous about it.

Metrics – number of friends, money raised, page views.

techpubs wiki writing

12 Networks, One Camp


Last night we all gathered in a movie theater setting and each network attending Winter Camp gave a five minute presentation about their network and each member introduced themselves, in English, even though only a handful of the 160 people here speak English as a first language.

I was both humbled and in awe of the activism and energy my fellow Winter Campers display. Many, it seemed, are artists in new media or curators. There are some developers here as well but the majority of attendees seem to be actively running conferences or in-person events themselves. There were few US-ers there, with many more Europeans represented. One other network organizer said she invited her US activists but they were busy with a potential union organization of reality TV script writers.

Not only is the artwork for Winter Camp cool, the vibrant participants are making this event really interesting. Rather than a t-shirt giveaway for the event, we all got European-sized pillow case shams. Great idea!

img_3734Andy Oram, an O’Reilly editor, has two blog entries already posted and I wanted to be sure to link to them to offer his perspective which has been extremely valuable. Today I learned that large publishers consider a book’s “buzz window” (my term, not the publisher’s) to be about three weeks only. In other words, you only get about three weeks to promote a book. He discusses “a network of networks” in his first post (be sure to click through to the video) and OLPC along with many other networks in his second.

Today we met from 9-6:30 with an hour break for lunch, and had great discussions about not only the writer’s experience with the FLOSS Manuals tool, but also what experience are we creating for readers? I gave a short presentation about Book Sprint planning and we discussed ideas for improving and building on the Book Sprint experience for at least an hour.

The upcoming Book Sprints are listed on the FLOSS Manuals blog, but I’ll also list them here:

PureData Book Sprint
We are trying to work out the dates now for a sprint in NYC. Hans-Christoph Steiner and Derek Holzer will be at the helm.
Possibly it will be in late March, in NYC.

FSF Book Sprint
The Free Software Foundation will host Book Sprint (Organised by Andy Oram and Adam Hyde ). It will be to work on a manual introducing newbies to the command line.
Boston, March 21,22

Doctrain Book Sprint
The Doctrain conference will host a Book Sprint in California. Janet Swisher and Adam Hyde will co-ordinate. The sprint will be about FireFox, and the Mozilla Foundation are sending Chris Hofmann (Director of Engineering at Mozilla) to participate.
Palm Springs, California. March 17-20.

Open Translation Book Sprint
A Book Sprint to write a manual about Open Translation tools. being organised by Adam Hyde and Allen Gunn (Gunner from Aspiration Tech).
Amsterdam, June 26-30.

techpubs wiki

Free as in freedom, not free as in no cost

I’ve been telling writers early and often about the upcoming Firefox Book Sprint at DocTrain West March 17 and 18 to write a manual for Firefox 3.0 along side of Chris Hofmann, Director of Engineering for the Mozilla Foundation! I can’t go to DocTrain for various reasons, mostly because March is a busy month in Austin with SXSW in the middle of it. But I do plan to help out with writing each day by noon Pacific time and working until I have to pick my kids up from preschool. 🙂

One of the responses I’ve gotten that I think is typical for many professional writers is “I can’t write for free right now.”

So I’ve been working on my statement of value, and here it is. I have found my volunteer work to be invaluable as a learning experience and exercise in connecting to others. But I will also admit that I’d personally love to sell enough books that a “big time” publisher notices and says, wow.

Before the OLPC Book Sprint in August, the FLOSS Manuals community had quite a nice discussion about money and free documentation and I am hoping to convey it accurately to you. Adam Hyde states it much more eloquently than I can in this video.

FM doesn’t intend to necessarily make a profit on book sales, but we aren’t afraid to make money either. Income from book sales is typically used to further fund FM’s goals, though, which is a non-profit model – invest your gains to further your aims.

We have a 2 Euro markup on printed books sold through Lulu but anyone can download the PDF for free from FLOSS Manuals, always. If a book sold 10,000 copies (or some other high number), that book’s Maintainer could give all the money back into FLOSS Manuals, or use the money to do things like pay for development on the project itself, pay themselves a writer or organizer fee (such as 1000 Euros per Book Sprint), pay for travel and accommodation for writers to attend a Book Sprint, or sponsor a Book Sprint to start another related book, and so on.

My point of this post is to try to ensure that writers know that FM is about free as in freedom. FM is in its startup phase but growing fast. If innovation in book publishing is an interest of yours, or if you think you could some day “profit” by contributing to a particular book on FM, then you might want to find out more about involvement in a Book Sprint. It wouldn’t have to be the Firefox one coming up, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to get started.

I’d love to hear what you think about this model.