Monthly Archives: May 2010

Elsewhere on the ‘Net

I haven’t done a round up of other places I’ve been writing lately, so I thought I’d offer a roundup of articles I’ve written for other sites.

What I’m writing

10 ways to motivate employees to use your CMS – Fierce Content Management

As a content strategist, what motivations help you meet your content goals when integrating a content system? Often the tool selection gets the most attention, yet the motivation of contributors is going to make or break the success of the project. Motivation is a psychological feature–a willingness to act that precedes behavior. You might think of a points system with rewards as a motivation system, but rewards are only one type of motivation. Read more

Putting the User in User Assistance – WritersUA

People on today’s social web are accustomed to participating in conversations, having a voice, giving opinions, offering reviews, and generally interacting with content and with each other like never before on the web. How can we enable users to respond to or contribute to user assistance? The answer could be a wiki, but a wiki is not required to enable more interaction with users. Here are some specific techniques, starting with the simple and moving towards the more complex, including wiki implementation practices. Read more

What I’m reading

I’m also posting reading items to my delicious.com/annegentle account that might interest my blog readers.

First Steps in Flex Screencasts

The concise examples seem to resonate with how developers learn new technologies.

We meant to do that… (part I) | MsCyra’s Web Development Blog

They say developers learn best by watching (or seeing the results of) other developers code.

How developers learn survey results – interesting

Results from flash developer survey, 100 or so responding. “…the tendency to lean heavily on search to find out about technology and the low number of developers who use classroom training. Online training and videos are fairly popular – although in each case around 50% do not use them.”

WDVL: ‘Users’ Versus People–Understanding What Motivates Online Behavior – Page 2

“As consumers of online experiences are becoming more sophisticated and demanding, understanding and applying psychological and sociological principles in the design of online resources is becoming increasingly critical.”

Google Analytics: Passing the Individual Qualification Test

I did it! I passed and received my individual qualification (IQ) for Google Analytics. Hurray! And Whew!

The site offers a way to look up people who have passed their IQ test so you can verify if someone has it (here’s mine). I wouldn’t call myself an expert yet, since I think expertise comes with more and more experience. The test itself had well-worded questions, and you need 80% correct out of 70 questions.

I got 81% correct (hence, the whew). I double-checked all my answers, and if I didn’t know an answer for certain, I looked up information either in the Conversion University site or the Google Analytics help site.

With 90 minutes to take the test, my look-up-to-verify method would not have worked for all the questions, and I had to be quite familiar with the University lessons in order to verify what I needed quickly. I wish I could find out more about my incorrect answers. Apparently I need to work more on ecommerce, which makes sense since I’ve never run an ecommerce site so I don’t have hands-on experience with one.

Why pay for an individual qualification? Avinish Kaushik has an excellent post where he says for every $100 you invest in web analytics, you should spend $10 on tools and $90 on people with the brain power to think about the results from the tools. So for me, it made sense to test my brain power on a tool, but I realize that each site needs its own analyst behind it to choose the measurements and connect the site to the business.

Documenting Open Source Software

I love reading different community perceptions of both FLOSS Manuals, where we write open docs for open software. I’m also lurking on mailing lists and forums where open source projects are figuring out documentation needs for their users. Forgive me if I ramble a bit, but I’ve been thinking about these concepts lately while discussing them with other writers.

Attention on FLOSS Manuals

Here is a great quote from a recent outburst of articles and blog entries mentioning FLOSS Manuals. On the Linux and Open Source blog on ZDNet, Dana Blankenhorn summarizes his post explaining “Why open source documentation lags” by saying,

If programming is like bicycling, documentation is more like basketball. The best players don’t always win.

He offers great explanations for the lags in documentation, and let me tell you, the reasons are not just tied to open source software, all software documentation could use more team sport and collaboration efforts to create decent documentation.

On Network World in a post titled “Creating a library of FLOSS Manuals,” Amy Vernon asks, “…why do so few applications have manuals to start with?” Her initial answer is tied into the use of manuals, asking her readers, “When’s the last time you read a user manual?” Fortunately, she found the offerings on FLOSS Manuals to be quite useful. And I think that’s the key to software documentation, whether it’s open or closed, the usefulness of the doc no matter what form it takes will be its final measure (such as, distance to be tossed or microseconds spent on the page).

What’s Free and Open Software?

At the STC Summit someone asked me quite earnestly, “But what is FLOSS? What does Free, Libre, Open Source Software mean?” I think she wanted to know, is it a philosophy, a concept, a rubric, a religion? I believe the explanation she sought is available in a question and answer set on the FLOSS Manual’s About page, describing both free and open.

Open Source emphasizes availability of source code to software users. … Free Software emphasizes the freedom to modify and reuse software, which of course also requires that source code be readily available.

I wish I could pull these great quotes out of my back pocket when speaking about FLOSS, but I keep learning myself and integrating the definition more fully in my own mind.

Talking Even More about FLOSS and Docs

Last week I talked to Michael Cote last week about wikis, open source documentation, and so on, for his new “make all” podcast. See Coté’s People Over Process » Beyond Documentation – make all #004. I immediately jumped to “who are you writing for?” as the very first question to ask. I think you also should ask, “What are they reading already?” Audience analysis is important everywhere but even more so in open source I would say, because much documentation effort is focused on the developer, which sometimes means non-technical end users get ignored. Also, there is so much free, liberated content in open source, you have to visit (ans answer!) the question, do we make it or gather it.

I also said that FAQs are a perfectly good starting point, especially if customer support is your main goal. In an email exchange later, we talked about how documentation is a great conversion tool for website visitors. With web analytics, that measurement is possible. In essence, your documentation can be your storefront. Aaron Fulkerson describes it well on the MindTouch Blog, in “Your Most Valuable Storefront.”

Business Etiquette, Community Etiquette

After seeing this great instructional guide to eating sushi, I realized the only way I knew any of the rules or guidelines for sushi dining was through example. I learned that one of my examples was wrong – you’re not supposed to make a “soup” with your wasabi in your soy sauce.

Sushi Rules, Social Media Rules

These sushi instructions remind me how tough it can be to teach social media. I have had a few college professors ask me, what should I be teaching in a social media class, and how will I know if they have the lessons learned that they will need? I have been thinking about this question often.

One answer is, social media is just another tool in the toolkit to help you do your job. So, the same rules apply as in other learning situations. Yet, I think this answer is a copout. Some lessons are harder to learn than others and may be quite public and offer some humiliation. With an online community marching towards a goal, the stakes are higher than whether or not I made a wasabi soup.

In some cases, the situations are as specialized the rules of a golf foursome. Don’t talk or make excessive noise while someone else is concentrating on their swing. But golf has many more detailed rules that you learn as you practice, or rules that apply when it’s hotter than 90 degrees, such as where you can drive a golf cart. Golf insiders know these rules from years of practice and from having someone show them the rules.

So what are some of the rules we should help online community members with?

Understanding Subtleties and Helping with Guidelines

Social media and online community settings have many obvious rules, yet there is also subtlety in many online communities that insiders must explain to others. Guidelines you would find for online communities are basic for any people skill.

  • DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS. You sound like you’re shouting! The same sensation can occur with exclamation points!
  • Some communities will have more or less tolerance for people who sell things – be it software or services.
  • Introductions are still important in online communities.
  • Your dress and appearence may not matter as much as in-person meetings, but your online representation of yourself can either look spiffy or slobby.
  • Interruptions are also difficult to judge in an online setting, so you want to go with the normal flow of conversations that you can observe.
  • Make sure community members have the resources and connections they need to do the job. This guideline is basic business etiquette but might be more difficult in an online setting.
  • Know when to switch communication to real-time – whether it’s phone or Skype or IRC, having a good feel for when to talk synchronously is valuable.
  • Understand local cultures and norms, even when participating in a global community. Basically, be considerate of others.
  • Know when to ask questions, how much to research before asking, and figure out where questions are answered.

I know there is much, much more to business etiquette than just these guidelines. What am I missing that is essential for a student of social media to understand before approaching an online community? How should a student conduct themselves online?

Austinites Talking about SXSW Interactive

Tom Johnson asked Janet Swisher and I about our experience with the South By SouthWest Interactive conference in comparison to the STC Summit. Janet and I are both from Austin – though she has been here nearly 20 years and I have a mere 10 years as an Austinite. We edited the captions, so hopefully the text matches our voices. Tom did a nice job in the interview, though I don’t think it’s fair to compare the conferences even if there is crossover recently in attendees. They’re two very different conferences with different goals and different roots.

Advocate for Community Documentation

“Anne, I see you as an advocate for community documentation” – what a great compliment. I was so pleased with the response to my STC Summit talk last week, Strategies for the Social Web for Documentation. Here’s the short description of the talk:

Let’s say that the most driven and driving developer on your team, who also happens to be a popular blogger, comes to you and asks why your end-user documentation doesn’t allow comments or ratings. Rather than stammering something about Wikipedia’s latest scandal, or reaching for imperfect responses that sound like lame excuses, do your homework and learn best practices from others who are implementing social web content that is conversational or based on community goals. Along the way you may realize there are good reasons not to implement a social media strategy, based on studying the potential community and time you’d spend in arbitration with community members on contentious issues, or you may discover that you can borrow from benefits of a single approach while still meeting business goals.

Objectives:

  1. Identify specific types of tools on the social web, such as tags, blogs, wikis.
  2. List risk areas and pitfalls.
  3. Identify writers’ roles with social media (instigator or enabler).
  4. Plan a strategy of listening, participating, building and then offering a platform or community.

I’ve also posted the slides on Slideshare for all to see and share with others.

While talking to technical writers who are struggling to find the vocabulary to describe their new way of working in a content curator or community role, I got the sense that we’re all trying to reinvent our approach to traditional documentation. Coming together at a real-time, in-person event helped me focus my thinking and I appreciate all the dedication that went into the event.

Words, Made for People By People

As Sarah O’Keefe said just before Erin McKean‘s keynote at the STC Summit in Dallas today, here’s a woman who got Venture Capital for a word-related business. That’s so unique, you’ve got to be interested in what she has to say! Erin was an excellent speaker – she related her opener to the recent news that “Technical Writer” is now its own separate writer job in the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Erin’s title is “Dictionary Editor” and she admitted it’s not in a standard category. More like an extended intensive hobby. She’ll be just fine, though, folks.

Her message that dictionaries do not need to be merely a collection of abstracts resonated with this audience – 700 attendees at the Society for Technical Communication annual conference, the STC Summit. We found her talk entertaining, informative, and insightful. And if I were a sixth grader with a thesaurus, I’d layer in even more adjectives!

My takeaways from her talk are summarized here:

  • Dictionaries are tools, not books (even though the dictionary definition of a dictionary says it’s a reference book!)
  • People make words. Journalists have to write definitions for invented words daily. Case in point – geeksta.
  • True authority is a matter of confidence – in the match with an audience, in the author, or in the context the authoritarian brings to the conversation.
  • Finally, and I knew this already from trying out Wordnik, conversation about words is a wonderful thing.

Try wordnik.com to see how users of a tool can make the tool more and more useful.

For people.

Making words.