Explosions: keeping ahead of the blast

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Is it just me, or are we seeing a notable growth in the tools and voices linked to our profession? Are we, the technical communicators (writers, authors, designers, whatever..) finally clued in to the internet and making the best use of the global space? Are the tools we use starting to touch other areas of our organisations, thus raising our profile, which raises the bar for the tools, which expands the reach, which raises the profile…

It’s just me, isn’t it?

I’ll happily admit that, a couple of years ago, I was growing apathetic with this industry. I dreamt of working in a zoo, tending to cute fluffy animals and having nary a worry in the world (and likely not enough money to pay the bills). Since starting a new job in January this year I’ve rediscovered my vigour and enthusiasm, and that seems to have been matched by the tool vendors. I would also try and lay claim to the growth in technical communications focussed blogs and websites but that’s a little generous of me I fear.

FrameMaker has launched a new version and a new suite, AuthorIT has launched a new version, MadCap blazed onto the scene (geddit) and ruffled some feathers, and the XML focussed single source arena seems far more active than it was. Now, I’m happy to admit that it may just be that I happen to be more aware of what is going on, but the coincidences are a little too high to ignore.*

Of course what this really means is that, at some point in the near(ish) future, people are going to start to select a tool. The XML guys are reasonably future proofed in that respect for, as they all share a common file format/standard, the choice of tool isn’t the locked in choice it once was. In a way, AuthorIT is in the same boat as they can roundtrip through XML, even though they store their information natively in a database.

But our dear old FrameMaker, despite the new version and a seemingly re-invigorated development team, now sits as the odd one out. When I heard that Adobe had launched a Technical Communications Suite I presumed, instantly, that it would mean “instant single sourcing”. Possibly a simple CMS backend, from which you could pluck topics and edit them in FrameMaker or RoboHelp. At the very least a proper roundtrip between those two tools and, as we now know, we don’t get any of that. In fact Adobe have introduced even tighter coupling between their two applications and I’m still trying to figure out if that is a genius move, or a final throw of the dice.

Regardless of which tool you choose, or which blogs you read, this profession is growing. Links are being established between other groups, and as software continues to increase in complexity the understanding of the need for good documentation is continuing to rise. I’m certainly spending less time explaining both what I do, and why it is needed and that can’t be anything but a good thing.

The ability to self-publish has created millions of “writers”, and an astonishing change to the way people view the written word, in a very short time. Some of those people write about technical issues, indulging themselves by sharing their hobbyist knowledge and, as such, they are both the subject matter experts and the technical writer of their niche.

As a profession, our ability to collate, filter, sort, and organise information, tailoring it for the right audience, providing that information at the right time, in the right place, will be the key differentiator. The playing field is levelling out, but we have some tricks up our sleeve yet.

* I’m deliberately ignoring the HATT arena, if you have any insights there I’d love to hear them.