Month: September 2010

Svetlana

Svetlana

She can’t remember much of her childhood, a life spent travelling from town to provincial town, her parents picking up jobs where they could until something, as it inevitably did, went wrong. She tries not to remember the shouting and yelling, the men fighting, the women cursing, the pointing, the stares, the hasty packing of meagre belongings and the jolt of yet another train carriage.

She has always been looked at, glances becoming stares. She is used to it now but it wasn’t always this way, she remembers moments of peace, childhood memories of dolls and quiet places.

She knows she was loved, that her parents understood her life and how she was seen by others, she knew why they looked on her so, a girl who didn’t belong, who didn’t fit. She was an outsider, accepted by some who understood that the world will always turn, shunned by others who thought it flat.

But all that is in her past, she keeps it close to her heart, refuses to deny it and uses it to drive herself forwards, day follows day, and her life will be her own, she will be happy. She is determined. Driven. Passionate. She knows her faults and lies, and holds her head high despite them.

As a teenager she took the time to learn of her ancestory, enveloping herself in the clothes and traditions of her mother’s homeland. The stories of the tribes and dynasties, passed down from generation to generation, are found in the soft curve of her dark eyes and the kindness of her nature. Her pale skin she inherits from her Scandinavian father, a gentle sheen that shimmers and glows, pulsing sunlight. She knows she is an odd mix from distant lands, she revels in exotic.

She is proud that she retains only the happy memories, taking comfort that she still prefers the solitude of the single child. She remembers days spent running through fields, dancing her way through stalks of wheat, swaying in time with the breeze, their feathery tops tickling her face as she spins and spins, dancing and falling to ground. Laughing, panting, happy to be in her moment, free from life, exploring her own being. The pattern was set back then, those moments of elation, the joy of letting go and the release of embracing her longings.

The final move was the hardest on them all. The cold winters of Sweden were. all too soon,  too much for her parents to bear. Alone she continued, happy to live under the gothic ancestry, adding yet another culture to her makeup, another twist to an already unique perspective. She was a definition only of herself, teasing what she wanted from her heritage, ignoring the rest and filling the gaps with anything she pleased.

She always knew she was different and her inner confidence, inherited from her mother, found her curious of everything in life, fascinated by cultures and religions alike, eager to experiment and understand.

Eventually, after many years of travelling, she found her way to Varmland, met the musicians and artists that congregate there and soon realised she had found her way home. All she had to do was follow her own desires.

She was in control, she was grace and beauty in her own eye, and soon everyone would see this to be true. She spent her days wandering the countryside, blissfully unaware of the world around her, lost in her thoughts, the memories of her childhood and the dances she led.

She remembers all of this, each glorious moment pinsharp in her mind. As she sits in the changing area backstage, quietly she closes her eyes and she is that beautiful child again, the soft eyes, and pale skin aglow, porcelain pure. As the languorous thump of the music echoes down the corridors, she stands and checks her appearance in the mirror, scantily clad, she runs her hand down and over the curve of her hips, she smiles. She is different. She is beautiful.

She pulls her gown over her shoulders, turns on a statuesque heel and makes her way to the stage.

As she pirouettes, fluid and sensuous in her movement, she forgets herself. The leering spotlight and shadowy faces disappear. Beyond the stage the room turns to her and once again, they stare.

TCUK10 – Social Media Models

As my slides are usually fairly sparse, I’ve written up some notes/transcript of my presentation. Probably best read in conjunction with the slides.

Slides 1 to 4

This presentation is about models. By and large it came about after several conversations at TCUK09 and I found myself trying to explain why you’d want to blog, or use Twitter, or why Wikis can be useful. The thing is, there are so many tools available you can’t cover them all so, in the months after the conference, and in continued discussions by email and on Twitter, I realised there was a different way to discuss social media and how it could fit into the technical communications world.

The kitten picture is simply because I included one last year and it was probably the most commented aspect of my presentation, “ohhh the one with the kitten!”.

Slides 5 & 6

So why am I qualified to talk about social media? Well, because I’m a self-confessed social media addict. I’ve been using it, in various forms, for over 10 years and still sign up to the last, greatest application just to see what it does. I am not an expert. Just a passionate user.

Slides 7 & 8

The company I work for is starting to embrace social media, both at a company level (we now have a company blog, to which I contribute), and a product level. Our newest product, Ciboodle Crowd, gives our customers the ability to have a social media aspect to the customer relationship management offering. This is in recognition that, increasingly, people use forums, and blog s and other such things to talk about products, both in terms of usage and troubleshooting, and general gripes.

Slide 9

Why do we need to bother about social media?

I read a blog post recently that nicely encapsulated my thoughts on the matter. In his post “A new minimalist principle that John M Carroll didn’t think of“, Shannon Greywalker posits that the main reason is

*Increase acquisition speed* – most of us long-experienced technical communicators come from a generation that was trained to be comfortable with absorbing information at a much slower pace, and in a much more passive format, than people even one decade younger than us would tolerate. And the folks in their 20s and younger now? Forget it. The typical “best practices” that most technical writers still adhere to are completely out of touch with the sheer speed at which 20-somethings and younger expect to be able to absorb information.

Which, if we distil the message down to the basics, suggests that there are only two things that matter, the content and the people who use it (and how they want to use that content).

Slide 10

First things first, like any new project, or product, you will need to do figure out what you and your audience wants. The best way to frame this in terms of social media is to try and understand which model of interaction is best. This makes it easier for your audience to understand both what, and why, you are proposing to do something new.

With that in mind, I’m proposing that, broadly speaking, you can break down most types of social media interaction into four models of behaviour.

Slides 11 to 14 – Publish & Respond

This model is the closest to the traditional technical writing format. You create some information and publish it. Add in the ability for your audience to comment on, or discuss, the content and you have a simple, open-ended conversation.

Regardless of the output format you currently produce, be it the written word, graphics, or videos, this model is easily adopted into your current production processes. There is an initial overhead in setting up the location (which can be from minutes to weeks, depending on whether you use a hosted, or self-built solution) and you need to plan in time to respond to, and join in with, any discussions. That will help keep things active and keep your audience coming back for more. You also need to plan to publish regularly to make sure your audience has a reason to visit.

With your audience able to discuss what you publish, you’ll soon be able to hone in on the information they really need, allowing you to tailor your production (and planning) to best suit your audience. The initial overhead of this part of the publish/respond model starts to diminish the more feedback you get as you are better equipped to plan and prioritise the information you produce.

Advantages
Quick feedback loop – no waiting for the next software cycle to issue updates
Direct access to audience – conversations with the people who use the content
Easy fit to traditional publishing model.- provide a different output and enable some way of commenting

Disadvantages
Initial overhead of maintaining output
Being part of the conversations (drops over time as you better focus your content)

Technology
WordPress, Blogger, YouTube, Flickr, Forums, mailing lists (either traditional or online Groups such as those by Yahoo or Google), Slideshare.

All the solutions listed above have similar constituent parts. They contain posts or uploads, each of which can be considered an individual topic. Each topic has a title and will know the author, the date it was published and is published to a specific category, allowing a level of taxonomy.

Slides 15 to 18 – Publish & Collaborate

The ability to collaborate on content is a major benefit of this model, and with the right consideration and demarcation of “community produced content”, you can bolster and enhance the information you supply with corrections, amendments and even new topics written by your audience.

Publishing with a view that your content will be open to edits by the userbase opens new opportunities and several challenges.

It shortens the lifespan of content, anything that is wrong or out of date will be corrected by users much faster than you may be able to manage. Specific scenarios may also be documented which you may not normally have done.

Advantages
Ability to host and deliver user-generated content (real-life usage)
Increases the reach of your content (expands on the verified content technical writers provided)
A level of control (either through moderation or community self-correcting edits)

Disadvantages
Non-validated information – Potential for misinterpreting information written by another user
Who owns the information? User generated content needs to be clearly marked, cannot be supported as part of the product. Can it?

Technology
Two types of Wiki – traditional, markup driven, open structured like MediaWiki, or more structured, more content centric and aimed at content production like Atlassian Confluence

A Wiki is a publish/edit style format, allowing many people to collaborate on content (see Wikipedia)

Slides 19 to 22 – Collate and Share

One new area which social media has relies heavily on, the collation of content from numerous sources, presenting them as a collection of useful information for your users.

Increasingly, offering a collated set of information alongside formal documentation will be deemed to be a must have, pointers out to other content which may be of use. For many software products this is an easy extension, with a lot of useful information available by simply pointing to underlying platform documentation/topics or useful articles on usage and configuration, for example.

Advantages
Simple to set up and use
Spreads the reach of the content

Disadvantages
Non-validated information – Potential for misinterpreting information written by another user
No control over externally linked content – may change or disappear

Technology
There are many social bookmarking services, such as del.icio.us, and increasingly the sharing of collated content is available through RSS readers such as Google Reader. I’ve discussed this area in a little more detail already.

Slides 23 to 26 – Broadcast

The simplest of the models and very much “does exactly what it says on the tin”. You can use social media to broadcast updates and announcements to your users, and provide those snippets of content in ways that they want them.

Advantages
Simple to set up
Easily distributed by others (“Hey, have you seen this?”)

Disadvantages
Challenging to write (need to be as short as possible)
Can be seen as noise by some, so allowing opt-in to these messages is key

Technology
Twitter is main application in this area.
Twitter is a special case here, it is a specific tool built with broadcast in mind but which could be used in both Publish/Respond models, as well.

Slides 27 to 29 – Mashup

And now we get to the truth of the matter, there aren’t four models at all. There aren’t 10, or 10,000. This is a key point.

The manual is dead, and the future is flows of related content where the central commonality is the user. Not the product. After all, no-one uses just one product, there are a myriad of other sources of information that people want and need. The 20-somethings of today are growing up with this model, this open system of mashed up content, and will increasingly shun any company who don’t help them access content in the way they want it.

An example would be Tumblr. It’s a mix of blog, collation and broadcast tool. With a simple click I can add content (text, image, or video) to a stream of information that I, and only I, am interested in. I can share that stream if I choose, and other people can repost the content that I’ve added (with attribution to the original source). Whilst I’ve not yet seen a professional application that mimics Tumblr, it does speak to this future view of how people want to access and manipulate content.

There are many many tools available and the landscape is still changing, still evolving. Of all the applications shown in slide 29, around 20% of them didn’t exist last year, and 20% of them won’t exist in a few years time. As people develop how they USE content, so the tools are still being developed.

Slide 30 – The important bit.

There are only two things we are concerned about, content and the users of that content. Social media has given people the tools to take the content, and use it, strip it apart, and re-use it in whatever manner they want. The key thing here is that we need to provide the provision for this kind of re-use, even though we don’t actually know what it may be when we create the content.

The manual is dead, and the future is flows of related content where the central commonality is the user. Not the product. After all, no-one uses just one product, there are a myriad of other sources of information that people want and need. The 20-somethings of today are growing up with this model, this open system of mashed up content, and will increasingly shun any company who don’t help them access content in the way they want it.

Questions

How do you get this going? How do I get buy-in from management?
It’s always tricky to get these things going, and I was asked how to get management buy-in for this type of thing. My usual response is “if you don’t do this, and your users are passionate enough (and it only takes a smaller number of them) they’ll start using your information in these ways regardless of what you do. They’ll setup their own forums and communities to discuss, not always in glowing terms, your product. It’s better for you to be involved in those things, and if setup and promoted correctly they could become valuable assets to your company.

But what if these things are already in place and your company still doesn’t see the value? This was the case in hand, the users had already setup an online community of their own but still the management team didn’t see the need to be involved. In that situation, all I can suggest is that you contact whoever has organised it and politely ask if you can join. State that it’s a personal interest in your product, and could you get involved. You’d need to state that you work for the company, obviously, but if done in a ‘quiet’ manner you could at least have a view of what is being said, and with that insight.

In a seperate discussion the next day, I was asked a similar question and suggested that it may be best, when starting out, to start small. Pull out topics of information and ‘promote’ them to a blog. You don’t need to open up all of your content at the outset, test the water with a pilot, get some enthusiasm going within your organisation and if possible your customer base.

Thoughts on TCUK10

Flying back on Thursday evening I pondered the sessions I’d attended, the things I’d learned and the lessons and ideas I was taking home with me and one thing was missing. A central theme.

Now, admittedly by accident, the 2009 conference appeared to be centred around “conversation”. Whether it was a direct with the users, our part in the wider conversation happening in the emerging space of social media, or in rethinking the traditional role in terms of how users were expecting to access information.

I’d love to say that content strategy was the major theme but it didn’t seem to be, although I did attend two excellent presentations on that topic (thank you Roger and David), and as ever at this conference there were many presentations aimed at ideas and theories than tool based demonstrations. Well, that’s the impression I got from the sessions I attended.

And that’s one reason I like this conference. If you want, you can immerse yourself in some “BIG TOPIC” thinking, or learn more about a particular application you already use. Add in the conversations with fellow professionals, and the chance to talk directly to most of the main vendors in our industry, and there really is no good reason why you WOULDN’T want to attend the conference.

I especially like the fact that this year the format was a little different (nice idea on the “on the hour” starting times!) and that it has retained it’s friendly and open feeling. It’s not a dreary, dull, formal industry event, it’s a vibrant, energetic, well organised and thought provoking few days.

There was even a magician!

It’s hard to say what my main take home lesson was, other than that our profession continues to straddle many disciplines and that if you want to get to the cutting edge in terms of both technology and thought, then there are many many ways you can do so.

It’s a great conference, and it was interesting to see a higher number of people commenting about it on Twitter this year.

I’m still writing up my notes from my presentation, but should have them ready soon. I will post them along with a copy of the slides for those that are interested. I’ll also cover off a question that was asked at the end that I didn’t answer very well at the time but which I have a more considered response to now.

See you all next year, right?

Principles, Schminciples

I’ve never been the type of person who sticks hard and true to a set of internal, moral and ethically drive, rules. I don’t believe the world works that way, there is no black and white, only various shades of grey.

Unless, of course, I decide that something is black, or white. Then it is, of course, a matter of life altering discourse (some of which I have covered here in the past and a particular instance has reared its head again in the form of personal mugs at work and the ‘stealing’ thereof).

Over the past couple of years I’ve been rediscovering my love of live music and, whilst it’s mostly been somewhat commercial bands (as in, those that have a level of awareness in the greater public, I am NOT a cool music hipster, and no, I don’t care) I do find myself gravitating towards bands playing in smaller venues. Without getting all arsey about it, it just sounds and feels better to hear and see a band in a smaller venue. I’m not talking about The Beatles at The Cavern or anything, I’ll happily be part of a few thousand strong crowd, but once that crowd gets to about the 2500 mark (which as it happens is about the capacity of the O2 Academy in Glasgow) I start to lose that connection you can get in a smaller, more intimate setting.

That is the main reason I dislike larger venues, well that and the acoustics are usually crap as they weren’t designed for music but for exhibitions and trade shows. I speak, as I’m sure most of you have already realised, about the S.E.C.C.

Actually that’s not what I’m talking about at all, is it. No, what I really, in my usual long winded fashion, am trying to say is that I’m breaking a principle. One I’ve held for several years now, namely that I’ll be attending a gig in the S.E.C.C. despite vowing not to do so.

In my excuse, it’s to see a gig by a rather marvellous band called Elbow. I’m hoping their next step up the fame ladder takes them onto a different venue next time but, for now, I find myself in the position of “can’t not” see them.

For every rule…

Cardboard box

I have run out of cardboard boxes.

Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that everything is packed, nor does it mean I have to stop moving things around and contemplating how best to pack the big ornamental candle, several bottles of various types of booze and three tea towels.

But it does mean that the house is starting to look like it’s being moved out of.

Which is just as well as on the 5th of October I get the keys to my new flat, and by the 11th of October everything that is left will be loaded into a van (not by me, I hasten to add) and taken to said new flat. There, some of it will form my new ‘home’ and some of it will be stacked in the spare room until such times as Louise gets herself somewhere to live (she has somewhere, but it’s not very big and is only temporary).

Then the usual round of final payments, settling of debts, and a sudden and brief rise in the balance of my bank account which will, all to prematurely, ejaculate itself to various other recipients. A financial bukkake if you will (Mother, do NOT Google that word, and if you do I think it was Keith that told me it, or Stuart.. ).

The 15th of October is the agreed date, but of course it’ll be a few days after that, once my solicitor has finished her faffing around, that I’ll get the remnants of profit from the sale of the house. That goes to some shared debts and a little bit is left over for Louise and I.

And then, that’s it. Separated. And in one calendar year from then (from the 16th of October) we will be divorced. Not quite the type of thing one expects for their birthday but needs must.

Anyway.

I’ll leave you with this, it’s been in my head all day and I thought it only fair that I’d share the joy. Yes it is a YouTube link, no, it’s not Rick Astley (I’ve done that to too many people already, I would like to retain the few friends I have).

Conference bound

There are three of us travelling down to the Technical Communications conference in Oxford. We fly down tonight, back on Thursday evening and I must admit I’m really looking forward to it.

And yes, I’ve still to finish my presentation (just a couple of rehearsals left though).

For those of you who can’t make it, but want a quick view of what’s going on, keep an eye on Twitter. Specifically the #TCUK10 hashtag.

And for those of you who CAN make it, I’ll see you there (I’ll be the loud Scottish bloke near the bar).

Style by list

I’ve never been to Moscow, but we talk about it all the time at work and, cos I like to plan things and use lists to help me cope with stressful times, like moving from a house to a flat and the splitting up of 14 years accumulated crap, well the topic of Moscow has reared in my brain.

For the most part, the furniture is the main thing that we’ll need to split up or, as is most likely, give away to charity. That’s the thing about co-owning things, they end up being to the taste of neither of you so when it comes down to it we are both of a mind to replace items so we get things that we like.

Over the past few months I’ve visited a few antique and thrift style stores, missing out on a fantastic lamp base made from wooden letterpress blocks, and I’ll do the same once I’ve got somewhere to live sorted out. Understandably this is the top item on my list and it is titled “Get roof over head”. Alongside this item is the letter M.

Which brings us back to Moscow. Or, as some of you will already have figured out, to categorising list items into the Must haves, Should haves, Could haves and Would like to haves.

This way I can make a big list of things that I want to buy and ordered them such that I don’t end up, for example, buying a Mac Mini instead of a bed, or a new set of kitchen knives instead of food.

It’s exciting, making lists. I’ve always enjoyed it but this list has much more gravitas to it, this list is all about me and it’s been a long time since I’ve both taken that view, let alone been able to. So there are such items on the list as a pair of Grado headphones, an M-Audio keyboard, an Eames armchair, as well as a bed, a mattress, a new sofa and a smattering of smaller items (lamps and whatnot).

Not everything is needed, nor will be bought. And everything that is needed won’t be bought immediately either. I’m happy to take my time, and buy items I like and which offer good value (I really don’t want to be buy these things again any time in the next 20 years or more). It’ll also be a challenge, a fun one, to find my own style.

A closing example then. Here is an item that is a Could have on the list. It is a rug that I quite like, and somehow it will have to play alongside something I’ve already purchased. A giant Lego head.

Hmmm, this style thing might take a while to crack.

Maybe I need to start a new list…

In Space

Tentatively he walks forward, through the rolling mist that envelopes him. Here and there sparks flash, pockets of light float past, a million different shades of sparkle and dark. Unsure of where he is going he continues to move forward, an outstretched hand reaching for something he can’t see, a presence he can’t touch.

She is beside him, quietly, patiently. She makes no sound and as soon as he turns she is gone, but never far.

The light shifts and blooms, bubbles and swirls form in the cloud, streaks of shimmering brilliance merge into the thick mire. It is eerily beautiful, completely still and constantly churning. The colour remains but everything else shifts in regular rhythm, smooth and soft. He is floating. Flying.

And he knows she is there. Beside him. Somewhere. Comfort. Safety. Peace. He doesn’t want to leave.

All too soon, even though he has no sense of time, harsh reality floods his view. Bold colours and noise, and his senses return slowly.

Pressure

Pushing down on me, pushing down on you, no man ask for..

Top tune that. Greatest band in the world, don’t ya know.

So, how’s yer bum for lovebites? As an Irish friend was wont to say.

Remember how I said about the possibility of things getting a little mental and how the next few weeks would just be perfect if we managed to sell the house? How I’m away at a conference for three days, have one website design to finish, and two other clients asking for some new work, not to mention the usual commitments at work (although they can take a hike) and birthdays to remember (I might have to apologise right now Dad, I know you’ll understand), etcetera etcetera etcetera…

Guess what.

A young couple viewed the house, and after a double check of a couple of things and a second viewing they made an offer and, in the style of a certain latin american fruit tycoon, we said YES!

They are first time buyers, already had a sale in place but the seller pulled out earlier this week. Bonus points to us for not having a chain, and having a house that is in ‘walk in’ condition.

Moving date to be agreed but aiming for early October.

So, anyone got any spare boxes? Or wanna come help pack? Or help me find somewhere to live?

Now, if you’ll excuse me for a moment..

YESYESFUCKYESOHFUCKOHGODYESWOOHOOOOOYESFUCKINGETINYES!!!

Ahem. I’m “quite pleased”.

Maybe

There might be news tomorrow. Good news that is.

I am NOT counting any chickens though.

I am NOT crossing everything that can be crossed.

I am NOT praying to a deity I don’t believe in.

I am NOT going to follow the viewers round (on their ‘final look before deciding’) muttering “please, please, please, please, please, please, please”.

So.

Yeah.

There might be news tomorrow.