Tag Archives: social web

Choose Conversation and Community

We’re closing in on the second edition of my book being released and available! I’m super excited about it. I can’t stop thinking about it. On the way back from the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, I started doodling in a new notebook when all “items with an on/off switch” had to be off, and came up with this diagram for what the social web means to me.

The terms social relevance, social networking, and social media, as a triad for explaining the social web became very clear to me after reading this rather complex title: Enterprise Social Technology: Helping organizations harness the power of Social Media Social Networking Social Relevance by Scott Klososky.

Social Web

You see, these three social powers offer us content folks an entry to the strategic playing field of the social web.

What I realized is that there’s a stream of conversation and community throughout all these social threads. I hope that the second edition of my book connects these threads with more clarity than ever. I hope the long title doesn’t prevent you from tweeting about it. And I hope we all can relate our stories to each other to keep learning about the social web and growing our field’s influence on it. Let’s choose conversation and community as a strategic benefit to all our documentation efforts.

Storytelling and the Art of Community

I just received my pre-ordered copy of the Art of Community and wow! I am learning so much already. Jono Bacon is the author, and his experiences with communities come from years with the open source Linux project and now Ubuntu.

I believe many types of communities can benefit from reading this book, from professional organizations to preschool boards. So far I’ve only read about bikeshedding, governance, and conflict resolution, both areas I need to know how to handle!

The book opens with a story of a teen-aged boy racing across England to go to a meeting with people he has only met on the Internet – and he’s late! I loved this story as a hook for the book.

It reminded me of my own first-time experience with “Internet friends” (as the friend’s wife in the story calls the group.) My perspective was as a girlfriend whose boyfriend had the “Internet friends.” 🙂  Here’s my story.

It was the mid-nineties and my boyfriend Paul was working at a university as a system administrator. In his spare time, he stumbled across a group with a single goal that captured his attention – the distributed.net team, the Internet’s first general-purpose distributed computing project. Their goal was to win a contest to crack or decode an encryption key using many computers, each one doing a small amount of the calculation work.

From Cincinnati, Paul got more involved with their project, and chatted with the group on IRC quite a bit. As strange as it sounds, I got to know the group through their IRC handles – cow, dbaker, Nugget, Moonwick, and decibel, to name a few. One week they decided it would be great to get together for dinner in Indianapolis. My girlfriends from college who lived in Indianapolis didn’t quite know what I was talking about. “You’re coming to visit? And visiting us as well as some new friends of your new boyfriend? And he only knows them through the computer?”

Paul and I drove over from Cincinnati to Indianapolis, about a two-hour drive. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I trusted Paul knew these guys well enough to want to hang out. I was a tagalong but my curiosity, which I have in abundance, was piqued. Would the first meeting be awkward or natural? Would I have anything to talk to them about?

palmpilotsAs it turns out, we had a fun time at a fondue restaurant. We were stuffed full of food and good laughs. The guys happily played with their gadgets – Palm Pilots were the popular one of the time.

Oh, good times. That meeting was the first of many for our group. We traveled to Atlanta later to scope out different locations for a company and at the end of that quest, many of them moved to Austin to work at the United Devices startup company in 2000.

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 upcoming.yahoo.com to respond by 8/15.

Book Release Party Invitation
Book Release Party Invitation

Announcing Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation!

I’m so pleased to tell you that my book is available now from Amazon.com and BarnesandNobles.com and for sale in Austin, Texas at BookWoman on North Lamar. Published by XML Press, this book was fun to write, difficult to finish, and a dream come true for me, a kid who read 500 books in a school year in the second grade. I love books and I love this book especially. But I do want to keep improving it with blog entries here and responses to honest and thorough reviews, even negative ones.

This sample chapter is available (by direct PDF download or on Scribd) to start the conversation and I invite you to comment here or on Scribd.
Free Chapter Conversation and Community

If you’re here in Austin, I’m working on scheduling some book signings at local bookstores, and be on the lookout for an invitation to a book release party in the next few months! I want to share my excitement.

And lastly, I have to thank my blog readers – you are collectively loyal, smart, funny, and engaging. I couldn’t have written this book without you.

Social weather in online communities

I’m writing this as the rain falls down in Austin, Texas. I’m learning that with practice, you can learn the ebb and flow of a conversation and become a meteorologist for the “social weather” that’s ongoing in a community. For an example of social weather, do what Clay Shirky describes in his description of the course with the same name at New York University. Simply make some observations next time you walk into a restaurant. Is it noisy or quiet? Slow or busy? Are there couples or groups dining? That collective atmosphere is the social weather, which I first read about on Jason Kottke’s blog.

Photo courtesy DiscoverDuPage http://www.flickr.com/people/discoverdupage/

In a restaurant you have visual and auditory cues to give your inner meteorologist a chance to assess the social weather. In an online community, you need to understand the cues that occur in writing, in emoticons, and in frequency and intensity of updates to content. In the presentation “Blogs and the social weather” at the Internet Research 3.0 conference in October 2002, Alex Halavais describes a deep dive into analysis of blogger’s discourse.

“By measuring changes in word frequency within a large set of popular blogs over a period of four weeks, and comparing these changes to those in the ‘traditional’ media represented on the web, we are able to come to a better understanding of the nature of the content found on these sites. This view is further refined by clustering those blogs that carry similar content. While those who blog may not be very representative of the public at large, charting discourse in this way presents an interesting new window on public opinion.”

While this concept may sound new and exciting, it is quite 20th century. I was surprised to learn that analyzing newspaper content to determine public opinion was researcher Alvan Tenney’s original concept in 1912. 1912!


Casual users and Power users – what type of online help do they want?

I have been scanning through some of the presentations at the STC Summit that I had to miss due to the packed schedule, and Scott DeLoach’s presentation, Best Practices for Developing User Assistance caught my eye. He has slide after slide of Facts listed based on research in user assistance. Facts from those important and difficult-to-uncover research studies in the ways people read help and read on the web. The citations are excellent!

He starts by separating out the stages of use, saying 80% of your readers are in fact the casual user (novices and advanced beginners), and the other 20% are power users (competent performers, proficient performers, and expert performers). These definitions come from Dreyfus and Dreyfus’s Mind over Machine: the power of human intuition and expertise in the era of the computer.

The great thing about Scott’s presentation is that he offers citations for each of the claims he makes, even when (and especially when) there is a slight difference in interpretation that may affect your design or writing decisions.

Of special interest to me is his claim that the Power Users are the ones who want online communities. For some companies, I wonder if that means that building an online community is considered to be “icing on the cake” and a project that can’t be funded because it targets a smaller group of users. In companies with mature documentation sets, though, it seems like building an online community with the available tools would be a natural next step for technical writers.

What do you think? Do novices and beginners want a community online? Or are communities reserved for the power user?


I signed a book contract! Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation

I’m simply buzzing with excitement because the ink is drying on my first book contract, and it’s with XML Press with the capable Richard Hamilton at the helm.

The title is Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation. Here’s the announcement and description of the book. I’m nearly done writing it, the designer (the very creative and talented digital artist Patrick Davison) is working on the cover and interior design.

I hope you’ll put it here (on your well-stocked bookshelf):


Bookshelf photo courtesy of Stewart on Flickr.

Though it’s completely possible you’ll put it here (handy at the side of your work station or on your computer):


Workstation photo courtesy of Travis Isaacs on Flickr.

I was asked earlier, why don’t you blog about the process of landing a book contract? I’d love to tell some great story about a bright response on how I brilliantly negotiated a book contract. But there is no such story. : ) I honestly think writing two blog entries a week for the last four years or so has been the best way to explain the point I’m at today with a book contract in hand! Look for the book this summer mid-2009, as I have an aggressive schedule going right now.

Social networking and generalizations

I’ve seen a few too many email blasts and blog entries with a lead that dramatizes social media with these sweeping generalizations about age groups using social software. The average age of Twitter users is 32, so any line about 30-40 year olds is plain wrong. The average age of Facebook users skews upwards due to the pranking popularity of choosing “69” as one’s age.

Recent demographics from Facebook say that in the last 60 days (from end-of-March 2009), the number of people over 35 has nearly doubled. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is still women over 55. Over 4 million more US women 35-44 and nearly 3 million more US men 35-44 used Facebook in March 2009 compared to September 2008. The majority of US Facebook users are now over 25.

Because the data doesn’t match these types of age scales, I cringe a little when I see age generalizations associated with social software.

There’s ethnographic data from danah boyd that describes that the actual difference between people using different social software sites is in fact class-based.

People are networking as always – and I’d argue, the usual is to relate more to people your same age in a similar life stage. But you miss out when you box people into age groups.

I blogged previously about the need for visibility into younger age groups to getting involved in associations like the Society for Technical Communication (STC). As a result, I had great pointers to 20-somethings who were doing neat things in the tech comm space. Tony Chung, your name came up! He’s a fellow blogger with me at the Duo Consulting blog. Another woman had been given her mother’s tech comm consulting business at a quite young age and was succeeding mightily.

Ann Wiley wrote a great email about how much age doesn’t matter when it comes to technology. And I agree, and I hope she doesn’t mind if I quote her here:

Those of us who came into the world in 1948 are blessed indeed. The horizon is very big, looking out from that year, and it gets bigger all the time. The war was over, our parents were indulgent, and technology came our way. The question is, what can we make of all that opportunity?

It doesn’t matter what age you are when you get into social technology, but your attitude does matter.

One last personal anecdote about the benefits of spanning generations in all your activity. One of my best running partners of all time is now in her seventies, and I ran at the same pace as she did when I was in my late 20s and she was in her mid-60s. She was and still is a faithful companion, a good listener, and a wonderful mentor and coach.