Month: September 2009

How I use Twitter

In his closing presentation at the recent Technical Communications Conference, RJ Jacquez outlined how he uses Twitter as a way to communicate with the users of his product, and as a way to share ideas with, and learn from, other technical communication professionals.

There were several people at TCUK09 that used Twitter throughout the conference, sharing quotes, thoughts and ideas about various presentations and I eded up having a few conversations about why I use Twitter so I thought I’d capture my thinking here.

I have two Twitter accounts, one for personal use and one for professional use. The personal account is used for keeping up with people I know in social terms, and most of the messages are chatty, with the occasional link or photo. I find it a good way to keep up with people but I don’t rely on it so if I don’t check it for a day or so then it’s not something I lose sleep about.

My professional account is used to share my thoughts about either my current work or on various aspects of our profession, responding to things posted by other people, or tracking through the myriad of useful links that people share.

And that to me is one of the key reasons for using Twitter. It’s a filter, a filter of trusted sources, that constantly points out things I wouldn’t have found myself and where I can have discussions with my peers about things that interest me.

Our profession covers such a wide area that keeping up with the latest trends and discussions on the fringes can be nigh on impossible. Twitter offers me a way to keep in touch, to be part of the conversation about these things, and whilst it can be seen to be frivolous, the value to be gained outweighs the downsides.

However, like most social networking or social media services, you get out what you put in and when it comes to Twitter, you really need to try it to find out if you can benefit for it.

You can follow me on Twitter.

Massive Attack

Monday evening saw me heading into Glasgow, specifically to the O2 Academy, to indulge in some sonic overloading courtesy of Massive Attack, denizens of dub, trip hop and… whatever the kids are calling their brand of electronic noise.

I’ve always been a fan and can still remember, as I’m sure many others do, picking up a copy of their first album Blue Lines based on hearing the stunning single Unfinished Sympathy. Listening to it now it still remains fresh and unique, and whilst that has dulled somewhat in more recent offerings, they remain able to pull out something different, keeping them relative when other similar bands of the time have fallen away.

I have seen them play live at T in the Park many years ago, but this was the first time I’d get to hear a full set which, from doing a little digging online (setlist.fm is ace), I knew would feature some new tracks from their upcoming EP, due out next week.

Long time collaborator of the band, Martina Topley-Bird, provided the support and struggled a bit to get the crowd going, largely because of the stripped down nature of her set with just a percussionist to accompany her. That said she does have a stunning voice but it didn’t seem to fill the hall.

Massive Attack were, of course, at the other end of the hall filling scale, and it’s a testament to the sound mix that throughout the gig the textures of sound that the band use were evident.

And what a sound it is, I think I summed it up accurately on Twitter saying: “Bravo Massive Attack, great stuff, old songs reworked, new songs sound good. Loud, sonic, sexy, dirty, brooding, noisy, thumping gig.”

Some highlights from the gig include a soft, off-beat version of Teardrop which was OK but lacked the punch of the original, a new track which moved from a rote, repetitive refrain to a thumping, smashing cacophony, and the extended thrash that follows on from the hipswaying, lazily sexy sway of Safe from Harm.

Occasionally a little self-indulgent, yet still very driven, the band delivered a slick set, showcasing new tracks but not forgetting the tracks which got them to this point. Their political and socio viewpoints were evident but not forced and all in all it was well received by an appreciative audience. Can’t wait for the EP and the new album.

Notes from Technical Communications Conference

These are transcribed from my hastily written scrawls throughout the day.

Smart Authoring for a Smarter Planet
The keynote presentation by Peter Angelhides

Set the tone well for bigger thinking about our profession, broadening the scope to the world wide consumption of information and how it can be processed intelligently.

Information for your products is useful both for existing users and for future customers. Don’t lock it away, let Google find it and then follow the links back, find other sources, other places where conversations about your product are happening. Information allows this, product usage doesn’t.

Everybody’s (not) doing it: is it really OK to keep ignoring document users?
by David Farbey

“Documentation is an asynchronous conversation” – Ginny Redish (from her book)

Training are usually separate from Docs, suggest either moving Training (we have!) or requesting debriefs after training sessions.

“Developer Mirror” is all too common – aka The Curse of Knowledge (you forget how much you didn’t know, so presume everyone knows things you know).

“The conversation needs to be focussed on what both parties want to improve”.

If you can write an article, you can write anything
by Kim Schrantz-Berquist

Applying Journalism techniques to writing
Using “5Ws & 1H” (Who what when where why and how) forces specifics and may end up change the subject of what you are writing about.

Inverted Pyramid – get the 5Ws and 1H into the first paragraph, top loading the information.

Use the “Stop reading test” to determine if it is working. How far down the page can you stop and feel comfortable you know the 5Ws and 1H?

Google Earth help manual uses hourglass technique, toploads information, then has area for user to choose what to do next, then has more detail/facts.

Good way to present Support Notes?

www.how-to-write.org

Paths to success: Networking and Contributing
by Linda Urban

Build your network and Make a contribution – these are the strings and glue of being successful.

Connection with people, conversations are where it all happens.

Visual Attention: A psychologist’s perspective
by Dr Chris Atherton

Attentionomics. Gestalt.

Extraneous cognitive load so less is more (see Nurnberg Funnel on minimalism in documentation)

Magic number is 4 (recent studies show), not 7 plus/minus 2!

We have two parts to the brain, one deals with audio processing, one deals with visuals. Both work at the same time (which is why we enjoy videos/webcasts so much), but quickly max out when we are only processing one type of information (which is why reading is tiring).

Without Hot Air
by Niall Mansfield

Discussed how information was presented in the book (which outlines real solutions for combatting global warming).

Book is available through Creative Commons to download.
Drafts were posted to blog to drive discussion. Aim was to share the information as it was public spirited content.

The secrets of Telepathy
by Justin Collinge

A double session covering ways to to communicate better by understanding how other people process information.

Filtering in effect – aural vs visual – McGurk effect, video on YouTube.

Looked at a variey of filters (aka meta-programming) including Direction (away from vs towards), Relationship (similarities vs difficulties) and Frame of Reference (internal vs external).

Audience of documentation will cover all types, yet we usually only write for one. Taking a set of instructions; it’s usually aimed at completing something successfully, but what of the people who like comparisons, or who want to make sure that something DOESN’T happen (troubleshooting info?)

Similarites – 70% of people start with these, emphasise these first then cover differences

Can write opening sentences which cover differences & similiarities, and ‘towards’ and ‘away from’ views – this matches the inverted pyramid writing style.

Future Vision of Technical Communicators
by RJ Jacquez

“Social media has redefined communication”

What makes an experience engaging? Accessible, Collaborative, Compelling, Easy to use, Personalised, Responsive.

Build experiences that engage your audience

Digital users are here (Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott)

Socialnomics by Erik Qualman

Social networks have overtaken pron as the number 1 industry online.

SideWiki – comment on ANY website, no opt out. The conversation is happening now, whether you like it or not.

Scheduling everything?

My birthday is in a few weeks and, as is the way of things, I’ve been asked for a few suggestions for presents.

Apparently “nothing” isn’t an option though, so I did some thinking and googling and as ever came up with a few books that caught my eye.

The problem is that I already have 31 books in my “to read” list (which is missing a further 7 or 8 I think) so it seems a little pointless asking for more.

But the thing is, I like books. I do like reading I just don’t seem to make the time.

So I’m going to try scheduling some time for reading. I already have “get off your arse and go to the gym” in my calendar, so why not set aside a few hours a week specifically to get me back in the habit of reading.

That’s the plan.

It does seem, I dunno, wrong, to be forcing myself to read. Shouldn’t it be an enjoyable activity, something to while away a few lazy hours here and there? A way to lose myself in the depths of another time or place, escape the daily drudgery, and indulge my emotions.

All of these things, and more, are why I enjoy reading so I’m hoping that, by recreating the habit, I’ll re-learn the pleasure that can be had reading a good book.

Thoughts on TCUK09*

Having had a few days to process my thoughts about the Technical Communications Conference I can confidently say that it is the best professional conference I have ever attended.

I’ll post up specific notes tomorrow, but I wanted to touch on some of the themes that seemed to be driven out of most of the presentations I attended. Now at this point I should make a confession, it’s about the presentation I gave on the Thursday morning (the second day) of the conference.

My presentation had a theme, a single word that I was focussing on, so throughout the first day, in all the sessions I attended, I was listening out for that word. That word didn’t appear in one session, and I had to push to get the word out of another of the speakers (the last of the first day).

I claimed that word appeared in all of the sessions I attended, it didn’t. Now, as far as confessions go, it’s not exactly earth shattering news but it’s important to me that I let you all know because, as I said in my presentation, if you are blogging you need to be honest.

The word I was looking for throughout the first day was “conversation”, and I was pleasantly surprised when I heard it crop up in the later sessions of the second day and I admit I was quite pleased when the closing speaker, RJ Jacquez from Adobe both mentioned my presentation and had a similar view to mine.

As for the sessions I attended, I don’t think there was one where I didn’t learn anything, even though there were a couple where I was asked to facilitate when I probably would’ve ducked out to chat to some vendors. It’s good that the speakers, whether well versed in public speaking or complete amateurs (like me), seemed comfortable and relaxed and really engaged with their audience.

And that for me is a good way to sum up the entire conference. I shudder to think just how much hard work went into organising the conference but from the smaller touches (the goodies in the hotel room), to the softer, informal approach that Paul and Rachel embody so well, really made a difference.

Given that our profession is both broad and deep, it was great to have other aspects around the fringes covered as well (cognitive psychology anyone?). All in all I think there was something for everyone, and the benefits of being exposed to other niche areas really made the conference worthwhile.

If you are in the UK next year, if you work in a profession either directly related to, or relatively related to, technical communications then I’d urge you to consider coming along next year. For me the best thing I’ll take away from the conference is the continuing conversation that is happening about our profession.

* #tcuk09 was the hashtag for the conference

Fatefully conspired against

I have returned from my time in Derby. It has been an eventful and exciting week in many ways and yet, despite my best laid plans, fate decided to remind me of my position in the universe.

As I mentioned previously I was travelling down to Derby (Mickleover to be precise) where I was attending a conference at which I was delivering a presentation entitled “Why Blog?” (you can see my slides and notes on my other blog. I’ve presented at something similar once, and considering the topic I was reasonably comfortable with my knowledge of the subject matter. I’ll be writing more about the conference on my other blog, although some of the cognitive psychology stuff will probably fall here too, it’s fascinating!

As I was in the area, it transpired that, after many years of reading him and recently delighting at watching him dance on the plinth in Trafalgar Square, I would finally meet the Troubled Diva (aka mike) himself. All good. THEN he said that I’d also be able to shake hands with, and congratulate on his recent half-marathon (for which he helped raise over £3k!) the only and only SwissToni well I was delighted. THEN he mentioned that Sarah would there as well, and as she was one of many Tweeps that shared the delight of the pointy fingered dancing on the plinth that evening well it was looking like a nice evening.

THEN they mentioned we’d be seeing a gig by a Norwegian band named Ungdomskulen and… yeah.. I wasn’t sure. As it turns out they were good, big and noisy and a little “prog”, although the CD that I purchased after the gig is a lot … hmmm … more indie sounding than the live act.

Anyway my over-elaborated point is that I had several reasons to be excited about my trip.

The journey down on Tuesday evening was uneventful and very short, flying from Glasgow to East Midlands airport (the cheapest option!) was all of 40 minutes, and the first day of the conference nicely played out along the theme I was using as part of my presentation on blogging first thing on the second day (the whole “be part of the conversation” thing, you know).

Roll on Thursday morning, the second day of the conference and at 9am I stepped up and 35 minutes later I finished, took 5 minutes for a few questions and ended bang on time. I missed one or two little things but hey ho, it went very well from my side and a few people spoke to me afterwards saying they had enjoyed it so it seems to have been well received. The video of the presentation will never ever see the light of day. I had to kill the A/V guy after my session to make sure, so apologies to any dog-walkers in Mickleover who stumble over the body of a young man, strangled by several microphone cords.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur and all of a sudden I’m in Derby and heading towards the building where all the noise was coming from, and next thing I’m shaking hands with three people who I don’t know but have known (collectively) for many many years. Fab! It also whittles down my list of “bloggers to meet” to around 4 or 5 (no, no names). I originally thought the number lower but well you lot are just too fab.

Alas the excitement had to end so this very morning at something around 4.50am I woke up and not being able to get back to sleep got up and started the last of the packing. I jumped in the taxi when it arrived (late) and by the time I got to the airport (including 2 trips round one roundabout!) I was a little tight for time.

I grabbed a paper (The Guardian in which Mike had an article), a coffee and hustled to Gate 23.

Sidenote: There is a sign in Derby airport that states how far gates 18-23 are, 180m from the sign apparently. Now, whilst I can, now, figure out roughly how long that may take me to walk, does anyone else think it odd they didn’t at least have a diagram, or indicate how long it might take someone to walk (1-2 minutes)?? Just me, ok as you were.

At the top of a metal escalator as I reached down to grab my bag, my foot caught the edge of a step and next thing I know I’ve fallen forward, banging my injured knee (long term, tendinitis), my shin and my arm as I try and keep hold of my coffee, the paper and my luggage. It hurt.

I was very tired, mainly because whilst conferences are great they are intense, as there is a LOT of thinking that goes on both in the sessions and in the chats afterwards, and because I’d spent the previous (very enjoyable!) evening on my feet. I hadn’t had breakfast, and it REALLY fucking hurt. I think it’s the closest I’ve been to crying about falling over since I was a child.

Needless to say the escalator was still moving and a split second later I realised I would have to get up or try and negotiate the end of the stairs and I painfully managed to get to my feet just in time to stagger forward and fall down again.

I’m rather thankful there wasn’t anyone else in sight.

Looking back it seems a bit silly but given that I spent the first 20 minutes of the flight pale, sweating and shaking so much the stewardess stopped to ask if I was ok I guess the adrenaline rush was a little too much for my tired and aching body to cope with.

All that at the end of a wonderful week, meeting interesting people, making new friends, learning new things, enjoying new music and meeting someone I’ve ‘known’ for longer than anyone outside my immediate circle of “real life” friends (they don’t blog, I can call them that). Regardless of all the good things that happened this week, the shock of that simple little trip will be what I recall when I mention the conference or “when I met Mike”, and that, my friends is why I’m feeling mostly conspired against.

So, I’m going to focus on the positives and, as I limp home, remind myself that this was just a little bit of balance, that’s all. Both reminding me that while life can be fantastically good, it can also tip you over. Literally. On a metal escalator in an airport near Derby.

At the conference

Morning, in a short while I’ll be delivering my presentation, trying to keep everyone awake whilst I waffle on about why blogging is the best thing ever and WHY AREN’T YOU DOING IT?? Or words to that effect…

Don’t worry though, dear reader, you can view the presentation and read through some of my notes although without my dulcet tones you’ll only be getting half the ‘experience’ (the best half, granted).

Although there is a small chance my session will be recorded so you may yet be able to get the full experience, I’ll confirm that later though (and depends on whether it can be edited as well!).

Wish me luck!

I am excited!

This evening I’m flying down to East Midlands airport and from there I’ll be making my way to Mickelover Hotel (near Derby) where I’m attending, and speaking at, the Technical Communications conference.

I’ve not done much public speaking with my last outing being a couple of years ago at a similar, smaller, conference and that seemed to go quite well so I’m fairly confident that I’ll be able to deliver a reasonably good presentation on my topic of choice which is, as it happens, about blogging.

I think I’ll be able to handle that, eh?

My slot is first thing on Thursday morning of the second day of the conference (graveyard slot much?) so I’ve time to run through it a couple of times yet but, overall, I think it’ll be alright. I’ll be posting it on my other blog on Thursday morning.

One added bonus to being in that part of the woods is that I’ll finally get to meet the Troubled Diva himself as well as SwissToni and Sarah, and to be honest I’m not sure which I’m more excited about, presenting at the conference or meeting Mike. Yay.

Conference Connections

I’m still tweaking my presentation for the Technical Communications UK conference, Thursday morning is looming larger and larger in my view so I’m distracting myself with considering the other good things that happen at conferences.

For me people are the primary reason for attending a conference. Don’t get me wrong, the value can be measured by the quality of the speakers and the information provided, but that tends to be transitory, so it’s the connections you make that count in the longer term.

I’m lucky that I’ve met some of the people I know through this blog, and I’m hoping to add to that tally this week. Part of me did consider trying to organise a little “meetup” of bloggers in attendance but I think I’ll leave it down to fate, I’d hate to NOT meet someone because I was concentrating on one small part of the crowd.

At times attending industry conferences can be a bit of a guilty pleasure, it’s only after the first hour or so you realise that yes, you CAN make jokes about the kerning on the dinner menu, or laugh at yet another example of Microsoft Word being helpful. It’s also acceptable to spend your entire lunch discussing whether audience surveys are a good thing, and whether you actually need to learn XML or not.

Obviously the presentations will drive some of the topics of discussion, but (and admittedly this is usual over dinner and a small beverage or two) conversation with your peers can lead to all sorts of other things. Chess boxing being one memorable conversation from a couple of years ago at TICAD.

So, despite still not being quite sure what the final form my presentation will take (I may also adapt it on Wednesday evening to reflect back on the speakers of the day) and not being 100% sure how I’ll get from the airport to the hotel (bus? taxi?), I’m starting to get a bit excited.

There will be a blog post published here on Thursday morning to coincide with my presentation, and I’ve no doubt I, and several others, will Twitter our way through the conference.

If you see me at the conference (I’m kinda hoping at least one or two people turn up for my presentation!) then rest assured, as long as you have either a coffee or a Guinness in your hand for me, I’m very likely to welcome you with a big smile.

Musings on Manchester

So, that was Manchester eh? I’m just processing some of the photos I took and thinking back over the past couple of days. What sort of impression did Manchester make on me?

Hmmmm.

Let’s start with the good stuff. The main reason I was there to see Elbow in their last gig for a wee while. Apparently since releasing The Seldom Seen Kid, they’ve played 144 shows so I guess they are due a wee bit of time off.

The gig was ace, the M.E.N. Arena was a pretty good venue (unlike the Glasgow equivalent which I despise, the S.E.C.C.) and the band were on top form. As ever Guy Garvey had a good line in banter, and they played a couple of tracks that I’ve not heard them play live, with Bitten by the Tailfly being a bemusing but welcomed choice. They are such a good live band and the songs play a large part in that, as they have a good mix of uptempo tracks to get people out of their seats, quieter numbers that are delivered with passion, and what might just be the best closing number of any band (On A Day Like This). I was also pretty impressed that the crowd managed to sing All You Need Is Love by The Beatles whilst waiting for an encore (all part of the Elbow gigging ritual).

So the gig was excellent.

The people of Manchester are a friendly bunch, possibly because I was a “tourist” in their city, particularly those working in the shops and cafes and bars. I wasn’t sure what the ‘tone’ of the city would be like but it’s quite a friendly feeling place.

That said the city of Manchester could well be any big European city. It’s probably because I didn’t have the time to head anywhere else out of the confines of the centre of the city but by and large it was the usual mix of ancient buildings sitting alongside large slab sided office blocks.

I had hoped to jump on one of those tour buses but they finished their season last week (a bit premature, surely?) and I’m guessing I missed a lot. But then, even now I’m struggling to think of what else I’d have wanted to see.

Ohh yes, and the Arndale shopping centre is huge.

So, that was Manchester. An OK city.

And, alas, it’s the last we’ll hear from Elbow for a while as I’d imagine they will be off for a holiday and to start on the next album.