Tag: RSS

Being Social

I’ve written about social media before, and given presentations on Blogging and the wider use of social media as part of our professional toolbox. But that was mostly with a view to how these new technologies could be used to provide a better service to our customers.

So what does social media mean to me, as a professional?

Personally, away from Technical Communications, I’ve been involved and actively using various forms of social media for over a decade. It’s very much something I take for granted and expect to be able to communicate with people in a variety of ways. However, because I’ve been using this stuff for so long, I tend to fall prey to the curse of knowledge and forget that I’ve been through all of the decision points that many people are still approaching for the first time.

An example, which prompted this blog post, came via Twitter today when Marian Routledge asked “Social networking a valuable tool for keeping pace with developments in the world of tech comms or just another time filler?”.

My initial response was “‘another’? Social networking has been about in various forms for 10 years. If you aren’t using it, how else do you keep pace?” as, for me, use of social media is one of the most efficient ways of keeping up with all of the conversations and ideas that bloom and grow in these spaces. If I wasn’t on Twitter, if I didn’t read blogs, if I didn’t monitor RSS feeds from vendors and thought leaders, if I wasn’t on various mailing lists, then I’d have to rely on far more direct and expensive means of getting at that information.

Don’t get me wrong, social media is not a replacement for face-to-face communication, never will be, and so conferences and meetings are still required, but I’d argue that those activities are enhanced through attendee use of social media.

One thing which many people have suggested is that, as accessing information online is so easy, we in danger of filling our time with all this extra information. I’d suggest not, but I know there is a chance that you could, very quickly, become overwhelmed by the amount of data pouring your way.

However, i tend to think of all the RSS feeds I monitor, the people I follow on Twitter, and the numerous blog discussions that I participate in, as one big stream of information. I can dip in and out, safe in the knowledge that if something important passes by unseen, it’ll no doubt come floating past again when someone else mentions it.

Does that stream of information make me better at my job? I think it does. In a way it’s like an extended conference, that buzz, the sharing of common ideas, the conversations between sessions. Being involved in any aspect of social media is exactly that, an extended conversation. There are some key words in that last sentence, and this, if anything, is the take home advice from this blog post.

“Being involved” in social media is a lot different from letting it flow into your inbox and swamping you. If you are involved you will know what conversations you can ignore, and what trends/people you should be following. To be involved you need to remember that social media is, and always has been, a conversation. It’s a two way thing, and the more you contribute to that conversation, the more you’ll get out of it. Comment on blogs, reply to updates on Twitter, publish your own ideas and respond to those who show an interest and you’ll soon find yourself part of the community. It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort, at most it may take 15 minutes a day if you are diligent, but the more you get involved, the faster you’ll be able to process the information coming your way.

At this point I’ll stop waffling and point you towards the latest addition to the growing set of social media resources for Technical Communication professionals. It’s called Technical Writing World and is already shaping up to become a useful place to discuss ideas, share problems and get solutions to the everyday issues we all face.

If you are a technical communications professional, and have still to get involved with social media, then Technical Writing World is a great place to start. It’s small enough to be easily managed, and interactive enough that you’ll be able to converse with technical communicators from all over the globe.

Go on, sign up, say hi and get involved. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

Content Aggregation

I have an admission. I’m lazy. I work hard to get around that basic character trait but it remains there in the background, nagging away at me. Professional pride stops it influencing my work (I manage a lean, mean to-do list to keep me on track), but when it comes to things on the periphery I happily admit I’ll look for an easy, hassle-free solution if I can find one.

This has lead to me develop some little working habits which help me keep on top of the mass of information which I divert my way, largely through RSS feeds. I monitor many different feeds as I like to keep up with latest developments and discussions about our profession, it also makes it easier for me to write my monthly column – Blog News – for the ISTC Newsletter.

The workflow includes monitoring RSS feeds in Google Reader, and a web application called Instapaper which, with one click, bookmarks posts I want to read later. I then have another web application called Twitter Feed which monitors the RSS feed from Instapaper, and sends the links to my Twitter account as “retweets”. One click, gives me collation and sharing of articles and posts. Quite powerful.

Of course, at some point, there needs to be time to digest all this information and when it comes to that there have been a few interesting ideas appearing recently. These services will aggregate content by monitoring various places, and displaying the articles (links) they find in a more readable format.

In a way, Instapaper will do this, allowing you to read the text of an article without having to visit the website (a bit like Google Reader), but other services are starting to offer more graphical views, such as that provided by Paper.li.

The idea behind Paper.li is to create a ‘newspaper’ built from focussed articles. You tell it where to look for links and it does some nifty processing. Here’s one based on my Twitter account. It’s a bit basic at the moment, but has a lot of potential. I can see me using a few of these as ‘starting pages’, fire them up, get some coffee and spend a few minutes looking at intelligently collated content.

How rude

There is one thing I haven’t done here for quite a while. It’s rather remiss of me so please accept my apologies.

Quite simply, I wanted to say thank you. To you. Yes YOU.

Thank you for visiting this blog, and more importantly, thank you for coming back and visiting again. A lot of the ideas I talk about here are made better by your comments, and I continue to find blogging to be a useful way to work through some of the thoughts and random ponderings that float around in my head.

I tend, like many, to do most of my blog reading through RSS and I know that making the effort to comment on a blog is something that not everyone will do, and which some blogs can struggle with. It continues to amaze and delight me that anyone reads this blog, let alone takes the time to share their own hard-earned thoughts.

So, sincerely, thank you.

Twitter is useful

At the Technical Communications conference last year, I had a couple of discussions with people about Twitter. I was mostly trying to convince them of why I found it valuable, they were mostly of the opinion it was noise about what people had for lunch.

I’ve recently been reminded of the value Twitter can have, and again it’s thanks to a conference, specifically a conference I DIDN’T attend.

Like most people, budgets are limited when it comes to training and conferences, so there are limits to those I and the rest of my team can attend. The value gained from attending conferences is something we’ve proven in the past, but it doesn’t quite stretch to flying across the pond to conferences like WritersUA (yet).

Previously that would mean relying on, perhaps, someone writing up their thoughts and posting them to a mailing list, maybe the conference website would have some useful information, or maybe you’d happen to know someone who had attended and they’d share their findings with you.

Blogs came along and changed that, making it much easier for anyone to post their thoughts and for anyone to read them.

But the real value is starting to be realised through Twitter. The “back-channel” chatter is becoming a key part of technical conferences, allowing attendees to share their views in real-time (or very shortly after the fact) and those instant discussions and sharing of ideas gives a good indication of the mood of the attendees of the conference at the time. These can then be complimented by extended ‘thought-pieces’ on blogs and suchlike, whilst retaining a bit of the buzz of the conference in real-time.

There are downsides to this (a recent conference displayed the Twitter hashtag feed behind the presenter which was a bad idea) but they aren’t the fault of Twitter.

Beyond conferences, Twitter continues to be useful to me, largely through people sharing links to useful websites, resources and articles*, as well as the more direct interactions, Q&A style.

It’s a brave new world, this social media lark but it really is making a difference. Why not join in?

* I use a service called ReadTwit which monitors my Twitter account for any posted links, I can monitor this service via RSS so I never miss a link (warning, if you follow hundreds of people, you will be overwhelmed by the number of links!)

Being offline

Things I didn’t do yesterday.

1. Check my email.
2. Check Twitter.
3. Check RSS feeds for updates.
4. Look at any websites, whatsoever.

And, you know what, nothing broke, the world is still spinning. Just a wee note to you all, sitting there reading this (yes, all 6 of you), now and again trying just turning everything off.

Access is good

Access

Yesterday we launched a new version of our developer community website. It doesn’t have many ‘community’ features as yet but that’s all to come. One thing it does now have is an HTML version of all of our product documentation, in an easily searchable format.

It’s no coincidence that it looks very much like the Author-it Knowledge Center as it too was built using Author-it (alas I can’t show you our website as it requires a login).

This new format of the product documentation is largely to move us away from PDF only documentation. At present we still have a set of PDFs but they aren’t particularly usable.

We ran a few quiet trials of the knowledge centre format and everyone who saw it liked it, particularly the fact you can search across every piece of information offered.

So I was definitely pleased when, after sending out a company-wide announcement about the new version of the website, highlighting some of the new features, one of the first pieces of feedback I received was about the knowledge centre and how good it was. For the, as the kids say, win!

The knowledge centre will be updated on a regular basis, so my next challenge is to figure out a way to embed RSS notifications for new/updated topics. But so far so good, and with Google Analytics in place in the knowledge centre, we can continue to make improvements to both the information itself and in making sure it is accessible.

It’ll be interesting to see how the knowledge centre is used, particularly if we manage to track it against the number of incoming support calls as the main reason we are adopting this format of information is because, many times, the answers are there, they just weren’t that easy to find.

All is not me

Having my iPhone not quite working properly over the past few days made me realise just how hooked into the ‘online world’ I am. I think I have a good balance though, it’s not like I spend all day staring at screens of information, cherry-picking things I’m interested in, things I might find useful in the future, or things that I think others might want to read.

Because if I did that, then I’d probably (knowing myself as well as I do) have to have a system or two in place to cope with that “information overload”.

So, for example, I might use Instapaper to track blog posts that I want to read later (either from the website or using the iPhone app), or articles that might feature in the ISTC newsletter column I write. I would probably be monitoring RSS feeds to find the articles or blog posts, checking for things for either personal perusal or professional pondering, or perhaps I’d be using a Twitter client on my iPhone that supported Instapaper to capture some of the links that people post there.

I could use del.icio.us to store links to useful bits and bobs that I might want to refer to later on, and I may even use Tumblr (which I could also use on my iPhone) as a means to capture those items of digital detritus that zip past me every day.

Of course it wouldn’t ALL be about consuming information, I do produce some things myself and if I wanted I could use Flickr to host my photos (and maybe use the excellent Flickit app for my iPhone to upload photos as well), not mention the not inconsiderable amount of waffle I’ve posted to a couple of the blogs I’ve setup over the years (I don’t just blog, I write, and tell tales).

Speaking of waffle, if I really wanted to have an outlet for the randomness that all of this information prompts in my head, I guess Twitter would be the place for that, and just because I like to be organised I’d probably set up a separate Twitter account for my professional ramblings as well.

And to make sure I’m properly organised I would need a calendar and a way to track my tasks (both at work and at home).

I’d probably use Google Calendar for appointments and as Remember the Milk have an excellent iPhone app, I guess it would make sense to use that service to track my tasks. Similarly I’d probably look to Simplenote to provide a central place to store snippets of useful information, and they too have an excellent iPhone app which, considering I have my iPhone on me at all times, would be very useful.

Of course that would all be just too much hassle to deal with and make me look like I’m some kind of geek that spends his life connected to the internet, whereas I actually spend most of my time sleeping, eating, reading books and partying.

Honest.

Funny's Cousin*

I am hilarious. I frequently crack myself up, and the bemused looks of co-workers and general passers-by only add to the hilarity.

My humour is largely sarcasm based, with a tag of “friendly banter” and I can be fairly merciless when it comes to teasing people but hey, it’s all (hilarious) good fun, right?

A small example from this evening may help you better understand the depths of my witty reparte; my sister, upon arriving home during a complete downpour, remarked that her legs were wet. To which my instant, and hilariously witty, retort was to imply that she needed to improve her bladder control! HA haaaa!!

Maybe you had to be there. I thought it was very funny.

Mind you, no-one else laughed….

That said, I did manage to illicit a piece of pure comedy genius this evening, all thanks to a man in a fancy dress costume and an inanimate set of sprinting hurdles. If you were watching the BBC coverage of the World Athletics Championship this evening you may have caught this but, unfortunately for you, you weren’t in the presence of my comedic genius.

Let me set the scene.

Melaine Walker had just won the gold medal in the 400m hurdles and the mascot helped her celebrate, offering her a piggyback for her lap of honour. This, in itself is a little funny, but not as hilarious as what happened. As she mounted him (oooer!! see, I can do smutty humour too) and they set off I quipped, blimey, he’s lucky if he can see where he is going!! Ohh, the hilarity that ensued when seconds later he ran into a pile of hurdles.

Maybe you had to be there.

Oh wait, you can be! Sort of…

OK, this won’t be perfect as I very much doubt you’ll nail the sardonic delivery nor be able to provide an accurate replica of my nasal whin dulcet tones but feel free to give it a shot.

Watch this video and around the 17-18 second mark just say the words, with the hint of a smile as you begin to imagine the worst, “Hey, he’s lucky if he can see where he’s going!”

See! Comic genius in action!

TOLD you I was hilarious…

* Yes, I know it should be “Funny’s Cousin”. The font replacement thing on the blog that isn’t displaying the apostrophe, alright? Can’t be bothered thinking up a new post title. RSS feed readers, you can ignore this.

Day in the life

Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head;

If only the second line were true.

My day has a routine, I doubt very much that this is an usual fact. I mean I’d imagine most people do pretty much what I do every day. Actually that’s probably not true. Most people in the western world perhaps and at this point I’ll pause to consider how lucky I am and how much I take my comfortable life for granted.

*pauses*

The alarm clicks and the radio wakens me from my slumber. I still use an alarm clock beside my bed as I like to see the time. I have tried using my phone in the past and if could find an iPhone app that disabled email notifications whilst the clock was showing that I’d probably switch back to that.

I swing my legs out of bed and pad to the bathroom, stepping over the cat who will be lying on the landing waiting for someone to go downstairs and feed him. I pee, weigh myself, and shower. I don’t shave everyday as my skin can be a bit temperamental. I then wander back across the landing to the part of my office that holds my daily accoutrements, apply some deodorant, a dab of aftershave then back into the bedroom to get dressed.

Once clothed, back to the office where I’ll put on my shoes, lift my phone from the charger, put my wallet in my back pocket and dip into the small wooden tub in which I keep my spare change. I usually make sure I’ve got at least a couple of pounds in my pocket, with at least £10 in my wallet.

Downstairs now. Whoever is first will feed the cat, a treacherous exercise as he winds himself round your feet, mewing and pleading to be fed. Then it’s a small glass of fruit juice to wash down my pills (2 a day), a quick check to ensure there aren’t any dead animals (mice usually) in the living room and I grab the car keys, unlock the front door and drive to work.

Once at work, a quick skim of any new emails (subject lines only at this point) and if nothing is urgent then I’ll grab a bowl of cereal and sit at my desk and read and respond as required. By the time 8.30am rolls around I’m usually done with that, have had a quick check on Twitter and a quick flick through some RSS feeds.

Then it’s coffee and the working day begins.

I’ve had the same routine, give or take travel differences, for quite a while. It works for me. Although I will admit that some days I do mix it up a little… instead of cereal I’ll have a roll and sausage (of the square variety). Dangerous I know but hey, what’s life without a little bit of chaos!