Tag Archives: information

Wikislicing project gets real – introducing InfoSlicer as a Sugar Activity

Scissor-style information slicing
Scissor-style information slicing

A photo of old school remixing – printing out Wikipedia articles and recombining them. 🙂

This was a fun learning exercise as part of an IBM Extreme Blue student project creating a Sugar Activity called InfoSlicer.

Instead of using scissors, you can now slice information by downloading Wikipedia articles, editing and remixing them, and reading them online. also uploading edits to Wikipedia (Edited: woops, that was part of our use case and it should work in the future because it was designed with that extension in mind).

Under the covers it is using the Darwin Information Typing Architecture, also known as DITA (dih-tuh), a standard set of DTDs (or schemas) that allow sharing of open source transformations and an open toolkit implementation. See dita-ot.sourceforge.net for more information.

Watch a demo of the InfoSlicer Activity in action here:

This Activity was part of the Wikislice Project. We met our goal of creating custom curriculum materials from Wikipedia for OLPC but we still have work we want to do to help teachers use it.

I can hear all the librarians and teachers of the world saying together – cool!


Check her out!

Here’s my interview for GirlStart, highlighting a technical communication career for the “Check her out!” section of their website. The toughest question for me was the last one! GirlStart is a non-profit based in Austin that empowers girls in math, science, and technology. I was pleased to be able to say what a great career information development is, and also reading the other interviews was an inspiration to me!
So, here goes.

Senior Technical Writer, blogger
Advanced Solutions International and JustWriteClick.com

What do you do and what are some of your job responsibilities?

I write online help, website information, and user manuals for software that people use to run associations, non-profit organizations, and faith-based organizations. Our software can conquer mailings, large events, fundraising, organize and retrieve member contact information, and handle magazine subscriptions just to name a few tasks that large organizations do for their members.

I have to learn new features of a product quickly, and analyze the tasks that our typical users want to accomplish with our software product. Technical writers are sometimes described as extremely fast learners who can also interview to get the information they need as well as a journalist. My job involves writing, interviewing, learning about users, checking the software for quality, helping improve the user experience with the product, and constantly checking the future horizon to ensure our deliverables match what our customers want.

I also write a blog about information development and design at Justwriteclick.com, and it has helped me learn so much and connect and collaborate with others in my chosen field. I started blogging for my former employer, BMC Software, and it opened doors and opportunity to me because it moved me to the edges of my comfort zones.

How did you find your current job?

I belong to a professional organization called the Society for Technical Communication, and networking through those affiliations has helped me find every single career-type job I’ve found so far. Professional networking and social networking are huge parts of job-hunting, especially for fulfilling, flexible work like the jobs I have found a passion for.

Did you learn any of your skills from school?

I’m a little unusual in that my path to technical writer started with an undergraduate degree in chemistry, where I learned a lot about scientific thinking and process. After reading the manuals in the analytic laboratory where I worked for a summer testing powder samples of infant formula, I decided to explore how those manuals were written. I discovered a master’s degree program in scientific and technical communication and learned a lot of my specific job and career skills there, but I have also had to continually educate myself and reach out to others to learn more skills, for both technical and design-oriented skills. I also read a lot – books or blogs, either one is highly useful and helpful to me. I attend presentations, conferences, and training classes as well.

What would you tell a girl that was interested in doing what you do?

Technical writing and information design are professions that a lot of women have found to be fulfilling and interesting, and for many reasons, women are prevalent in the profession. I’d encourage you to read as much as you can and practice writing because both are important skills for writing technical information. I also would encourage a sense of excitement and exploration with technology, whether it’s Webkins or a Nike+iPod running sensor.

What are some of your hobbies?

I enjoy running very much and while I’m not fast, I am consistent. I’m into running for the long term ever since I found the best running partner in a friend 30 years older than me. I also write for my blog as a hobby and explore the latest technology in social media and computers by talking to my friends and colleagues online. I read voraciously and have joined at least three book clubs in the last few years. I also enjoy kids and especially my own kids. I teach my son’s classes as often as they let me and love going on field trips, even if they’re just in the backyard with a flashlight or binoculars at night.

What is your favorite website?

My favorite website is bloglines.com because that’s where I store all my blog feeds to read, and reading is my absolute favorite pastime. Probably my favorite website to visit is dooce.com because she’s an excellent writer and her daughter and my firstborn son are nearly the same age, so much of what she writes about I’m living. Right now, I enjoy del.icio.us/annegentle because it’s where I’m bookmarking all my favorite places to read and savor later. To talk with friends and coworkers, I enjoy twitter.com and twemes.com.

If you could talk to you when you were 12 years old, what advice would you give yourself?

This is a tough question, I have to say. Don’t argue with others for the sport of it comes to mind first, because my wise sixth grade teacher wrote that in my yearbook. Secondly, you’re not fat! Looks don’t matter as much as you think, but perceptions of presence, actions, and words (written and spoken) do matter. Learn as much as you can from those more experienced than you, and learn how to listen really, really well.


Info architecture work that sometimes makes my head hurt

  • Most info architects agree – planning for reuse is harder than conditional text. But even conditional text can be difficult, especially if there are multiple conditions that overlap. The winner of the “most conditional text” contest was this commenter on my talk.bmc post with 64 conditions in a FrameMaker document.
  • I still struggle with topic authoring – but I’m finally “over” separating content from format. Whew! That only took a couple of years. This week I’m chunking of information using the rule of “seven plus or minus two.” That doesn’t usually make my head hurt, until I start coming up with all sorts of scenarios (maybe the user wants to set up their web site pricing for a DVD sale in the month of March!) and then I find myself writing too many topics.
  • I also read Jon Udell’s great post about potential reasons why del.icio.us hasn’t really gone mainstream, Discovering versus teaching social information management.  I think my own tag merging and pruning best practices need work.  My favorite lines are from the comments, such as “people need to both realize that they can do that database query, and that they can refer to the results using a stable URL. I’m coming to believe that both those operations are still way beyond the capabilities of mainstream web users.”
  • And finally, inline linking versus grouping links together. Usability studies and experts disagree on the correct way to link. I’m not sure I have the answers yet either. Better keep studying and linking.

What are some aspects of information architecture that are making your head hurt lately?

techpubs wiki

Specialized information hoarding

I get the greatest blog ideas from my lunch companions lately. This week it was a few former BMC writers. At BMC, the writers have an annual book exchange around the holiday time, and it was so popular we sometimes repeat it mid-year.

At our book exchange, everyone would bring a wrapped book, place it in a pile, then draw a number out of the hat. The person who drew the lowest number would chose from the pile, unwrap the book, read the description, and then the person with the next number would choose to either “steal” the already unwrapped book or take from the pile. The person who drew the highest number would have many unwrapped book titles to choose from.

For a few exchanges in a row, Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell appeared in the book exchange pile, so all four of us at this lunch had read and enjoyed the book very much.

Could you hoard all the information on a topic if you wanted to?

uspbkjacket_w150.jpgJonathon Strange & Mr Norrell is a wonderful fantastical story about the return of magic to England due to the two people in the title (well, and due to other forces). There are humourous parts, and the fun of the book is that each magician has a very different approach to learning magic again. One hoards all the books about magic. ALL the books. This aspect of information hoarding was especially interesting to us writers at our lunch discussion. Could you even do that in modern day – collect all the books about a certain topic (albeit a narrow focus?) No way.

Another observation is that the cautious one is the one who hoards all the information and only very reluctantly shares it with his reckless pupil. I’m working on a panel discussion on collaboration and I can’t help but remember this book and how fruitless and unsuccessful it was for Mr Norrell to attempt to keep all the books on magic in a single library. The similarity I would draw is how difficult and unhelpful it is to try to write all the information and hoard your topics, never to be remixed into other deliverables.

If the information is hoarded, how is it released to the wild?

Another story that came up in the same week of lunchtime conversations was one from Don Day. He has had a certain camera since he was in high school, and never knew that much about it. He has taken it apart numerous times, and looked for books about the camera, searched on the web with all the identifying text he could find inside the camera, and tried to find any additional information about it, but never found out more.

But! This past year, when someone (I believe the book’s author) uploaded several chapters from a book about specialized vintage cameras to the Internet and it became indexed by Google, Don learned that his old camera that he couldn’t previously identify is worth a couple thousand dollars! It was like the TV show, Antiques Roadshow, had delivered an appraiser to Don through the Internet.

Don’s love of cameras comes full circle in the information sharing sense. Don maintains a wiki about cameras called “Light of Day” and has wonderful photos there. I like this quote from Don’s bio in a wiki entry about the Central Texas DITA User’s Group meeting for October. “I work in high tech, but I love simple things, which is why I feel that an early camera, made of leather and wood, but fitted with a precisely-polished lens, is such a great complement to my own life experience.”

With these two tales of information collection, I hope you see the beauty of share and share alike. Any one else have a great story of information suddenly revealing itself? Or a tale of an information hoarder who met with trouble?