Notes from WebWorks RoundUp 2009

I attended two days of the WebWorks Roundup here in Austin this week and served on a few panels. I enjoyed signing books as every attendee got copies of books from XML Press. It had featured speakers like Tom Johnson and Stewart Mader as well as sessions with Lisa Dyer and Alan Porter to name a few. Here are my summary take aways from the sessions.

Wiki adoption

Stewart Mader is a wiki consultant, probably the most experienced, practical, and sensible wiki adoption expert available today. His message about wiki adoption resonated with me as I look for collaborative authoring solutions for our Agile teams. He said, if you look around the enterprise, people have high adoption of email for their daily business tasks. In the adoption phase for a wiki or collaboration system, you can tie a wiki to email conceptually as this ubiquitous useful way to get work done. If you think about it, more complex systems have a higher learning curve, so people default back to email to get into their comfort zone. But, sending email messages is an isolating experience – email doesn’t let you work together collectively like a wiki does.

For example, working in the shared space of a wiki is like using light rail to get to work. He has made friends on the train he took each day years ago and he’s still friends with them today. In other words, being in an environment that enables social interaction is more powerful. He says to think about the business process a wiki affects – do not just apply what the Internet says to do with a wiki. The biggest and most powerful collaboration going on with wikis in the enterprise is group collaboration – small groups. You don’t want one-off contributions once, you want repeated collaboration and repeated use, as frequent as email and as a simple core tool that they use for everyday business. Preach it, brother!

He also talked about measurements to indicate that adoption is successful. One of the biggest dangers he sees is counting the number of pages created when adopting a wiki. Don’t do it! Better metrics are measure per time period or per some other unit:

Views                    Day
Revisions      per       Page
Comments                 Unit
Tags                     Type

Automation – 1001 Nightly Builds

Some of WebWorks’ customers gave talks and a panel discussion about automating software builds using WebWorks Automap. These were great eye-openers and my ears perked up because they were writers working in Agile environments. They have to release in tandem with internal development cycles, so they automated as much as they could. One doc group used to have a 15 page document on how to create a PDF complete with screenshots for all the settings. Mary Anthony from Palantir said their writers have to document 4 user interfaces, 3 admin GUIs, more than 12 servers and an API, and they used advanced techniques such as text insets in FrameMaker. Using WebWorks, another writing group had automated PDF generation, wiki output, plus HTML output, all from Framemaker source files.

This was interesting to me – they found there was a true documentation domain and it was hard for someone who usually builds software for them to put together docs. Terms like cross references, text inserts, and so on, were foreign to their build engineers. They don’t even have the concept of “book” as a collection of chapters with a TOC in Framemaker. Even using a Windows server to automate builds was outside of the build engineer’s knowledge.

I learned about a tool called Apache Ivy, which is an agile dependency manager. Using this manager helped them integrate their documentation builds with the product builds. Mary Anthony explained that Ivy waits for the outcome of another build – like a refrigerator holding chocolate pudding, Ivy opens the fridge door and gives the build process what it wants (the chocolate pudding, or the fine documentation).

Overall a great couple of presentations about automation from which I learned a lot.

Blogging and Web 2.0

Tom Johnson is a blogger and technical writer and likely the most subscribed-to blogger in our particular tech comm niche. He gave a great talk based on his blog series, Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging. In case you’re curious, the sins are being Fake, Irrelevant, Boring, Unreadable, Irresponsible, Unfindable, Inattentive. (I’ll link to the rest once he has the blog posts finished.)

He had great pictures representing each sin. My favorite quotes were from Penelope Trunk (The Brazen Careerist, Blogs without topics are a waste of time) and Stephen Fry’s blog entry, “Don’t Quote Me“.

This session was a great starting point for our next panel about Web 2.0, although we mostly talked about blogging. The Technorati State of the Blogsphere 2009 report came out yesterday, so it was useful to talk about some of the findings from it (73% of bloggers use Twitter as compared to 14% of the general population, for one.) I enjoyed talking with Alan Porter and Tom on this panel and I may have asked as many questions as I answered. All in all, a great two days of discussion and presentations.

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