Monthly Archives: August 2009

My Book Release Party rocked!

I had such a great time at the book release party for Conversation and Community. I know I’m overdue in posting, but wanted to write something up about it. It was fun!

Party planning was fun too. To set the conversation scene, I brought these Table Topics games – the original edition and the book club edition. The cards have questions like, “what did you get into trouble for the most when you were young?” or “what alternative title would you give this book?” These were a lot of fun.

To represent “community” I brought in nearly all of my sons’ Lego figs on square Lego boards as table toppers. They were great fun! I learned later that some of the Star Wars figs are now priced at $10-12 each so some of those centerpieces were in the same range as floral arrangements, ha!

Games and LegosWe had so many people stop by and we filled the room pretty quickly. Often it felt like a reunion of the people in the book and all the writers with whom I have worked which is great fun! My parents came to the party from Dallas, then traded places with my husband so he could attend for a while too. Here’s a picture of me and my awesome husband at the party.
Anne and Paul

I signed books like crazy. I sold out of the box of books and my dad had to dig into my small stash in my car to meet demand. (Thanks Dad!) I also set aside books for people who had asked for signed copies and it’s a good thing I did!

The photographer of the Danish keyboard on the book cover, Jude Theriot, drove up from Houston and brought a signed, matted print of the photo as a gift! It was such a lovely gesture.

Wiki technical writer – job description

I found this “wiki technical writer” job description the other day and thought about the ideas in my book. Yippee! Companies are starting to demand the skills and strategies outlined in my book.

Here’s the job description, pasted from the STC Silicon Valley website.

Description:Oak Hill Corporation is currently looking for a Technical Writer with administrative-level experience using Confluence (or another major Wiki tool) to migrate and develop product documentation for one of our clients. The migration task requires some information architecture. This is an on-site full time position. The contract will be about 6 months and could result in a permanent position with the company.


* Bachelors degree in Computer Science or related field
* Thorough understanding of the business usage of wiki technologies (2+ years)
* Administrative knowledge of and experience with Wiki engines, preferably with Confluence or MediaWiki (2+ years)
* Experience documenting technical customer and developer materials
* Portfolio of work showing experience

Required Skills:

* Ability to design, implement, and maintain wiki namespaces and pages
* Ability to migrate legacy documents to wiki
* Ability to architect scalable wiki namespaces and page linking layouts
* Ability to create wiki templates
* Ability to fully utilize tagging and labeling wiki functionalities
* Excellent writing and communication skills
* Understanding of software development life cycle

Upon closer inspection I realized it is a six-month contract position, that may lead to a permanent position. One interpretation of the fact that it’s a contract position is that the company housing the Confluence wiki really only needs to use the wiki as a web CMS, not as a community site. That’s a valid use of the tool as it offers more interactive, shareable content than most help authoring tool outputs. Check out this case study on the Atlassian site for more information on using Confluence for user assistance.

Another interpretation is that the company hasn’t found anyone with this unique skillset and is hoping the Oak Hill Corporation’s reach will help them find that unique person. In a contract position, the technical writer will have to work hard in six months to establish themselves as a member of the community, as long as their online identity would be permanent enough to allow them to earn attribution on the content. Perhaps a writer who embraces the community would earn the permanent position, though.

I hope to see more job descriptions like this one. I know I see more and more demand for these skills and for user assistance on the web that blends well with the rest of the web content out there, is shareable, findable, and ultimately solves users problems.

What are you seeing? Is there demand for this type of content with these types of tools and skill sets? Are technical writers the ones filling the demand?

Organized, annotated collection of footnotes from my book, Conversation and Community plays host to all the links from my book, Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation.

I’ve written notes or created quotes for each URL and given them meaningful tags. The main idea is to gather them in once place, organized by chapter. Let me know if I can do anything to make these more useful.

STC Live Web Seminar – Climbing the Levels of Collaboration: How to Harness the Power of Crowds (or your new co-authors)

I’ll be presenting a webinar on Thursday September 10th at 1:00 EST about collaborative authoring techniques.

Here’s the session description: Groups can take action even quicker than ever before in history thanks to tools that amplify group communications such as wikis, blogs, forums, social networks, and instant messaging. There are distinct levels of collaboration that a group can attain and what they accomplish directly correlates to the level of collaboration.

  • Information sharing – Finding information as any technical writer does, via email, phone calls, interviews, and so on. A brief collaboration exercise shows the power of information sharing.
  • Cooperating – A discussion of Agile development techniques to help shape a web application and online help going with it. Introduces the use of wikis for documentation.
  • Collaborating – A case study of how a new in-person collaboration method called a Book Sprint is run with subject matter experts identified and working together to create an information deliverable, with FLOSS Manuals‘ wiki platform as an example.

You can register on the STC site and the cost is $79. So gather people round the conference table at noon Central time and let’s talk about collaboration!


From lame Paint drawing to awesomesauce diagram

From this hand drawing that I did in Paint:

My lame drawing

To this awesome diagram used as the chapter introduction to Community and Documentation:

chapter06 copy

The why and how of writing a book

I’ve been asked a few times, why did you write this book? And often it’s paired with, how did you write this book? I think I answer both questions in this interview I just completed with Emmelyn Wang on the site. Here’s an excerpt, but you can click through to read more.

STC Austin: In addition to your love of reading books and your desire to teach/learn, what other motivations compelled you to author Conversation and  Community: The Social Web for Documentation?

Anne Gentle: I felt compelled to write this book to capture this point in time – a time when user-created content is getting enough notice for Time magazine to name the person of the year “You.” As a wiki writer working on the open source education projects for One Laptop per Child and SugarLabs, I was seeing technical writing in a new light and I wanted to chronicle my experiences. Writing content that could be commented on and edited by other community members was different from a traditional technical writing role. Writing blog entries as a technical writer representing BMC Software was also rather unusual at the time I was doing it, in fall of 2005. We were working on the site because of a belief in the Cluetrain Manifesto.

Often I outlined or wrote sections of the book rather than write a blog entry twice a week. Little by little it formed into a book, with the help of Kelly Holcomb, my good friend and editor who would read the sections, ask questions to fill in the gaps, and stitch it together. I also am in debt to the writing communities and writers that gave me the experiences from which I gathered tales as examples. I wanted it to be in book format to reach a different audience than my typical blog readers. I wanted the book format to give more credibility to the premise that the social web is important enough that just another blog writing about it wasn’t enough, that the value here was enough for a publisher to invest in it. XML Press is the perfect publisher for that, because it provides content that helps technical communicators be more effective in their work and value proposition. What better value proposition can we provide than to get closer to our customers, understanding their needs and responding to them quickly.

Read more…

How do you curate content?

David Pogue would rightfully reprimand me for using the term “content” which he considers to be an insider’s word, meaningless to the rest of the world. He’s probably right, but content curation just sounds good because of the alliteration. There isn’t a better noun for a collection of writing, videos, text, pictures, diagrams, comments, articles, and so on that is available on the web and on paper. Or is there?

Photo courtesey L. Marie on Flickr
Photo courtesy L. Marie on Flickr

Curating is the act of collecting, preserving, and organizing. It’s usually associated with artwork, museums, education, and research institutions. Archiving is the act of collecting, preserving, and cataloging archives. So, as technical communicators, is there more value in content curating or content archiving?

From Wikipedia’s English-language definition of a Curator, I learned that “In larger institutions, the curator’s primary function is as a subject specialist, with the expectation that he or she will conduct original research on objects and guide the organization in its collecting.” In technical communication, becoming an expert quite quickly is highly valued by employers in high technology and the sciences. Original research is not usually needed by the employee, though.

There’s also a lot of interesting information in the entry for Archivists and Curators on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. After reading about archivists, I now wonder if that is the better term for what technical communicators do as they collect relevant information to help people learn how to use a software product or a particular gadget.

If part of your job is to go through customer support forums, seeking information worthy of archiving, you might be a content archivist. If moving content from WinHelp to HTML Help is part of your job, you might be preserving important artifacts – your online user assistance system. If your job is to go through community content and even create a Google Custom Search Engine for certain communities or blogs or wikis, you might be a content curator. You are building a collection that others can wander through at their leisure to learn about something.

What do you think? Curator or Archivist?

Book Release Party – Conversation and Community

It’s time to celebrate and get together in person to talk about rebooting, remixing, and reinventing technical documentation. If you’re in the Austin area, I’d love to see you at the Book Release Party. Here are the details.

Tuesday August 18, 2009
5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
North by Northwest
Restaurant and Brewery
10010 Capital of TX Hwy N
Austin, TX 78759
Cash bar
All are invited! Just be sure you respond so we can arrange the accommodations accordingly.
Go to to respond by 8/15.

Book Release Party Invitation
Book Release Party Invitation