Tag: Tom Johnson

Podcasts

No, don’t worry, I’m not going to subject you all to my dulcet tones but I would like to mention two sets of podcasts which are well worth monitoring.

Not normally something I make time for, I’ve recently started going to the gym and it’s an ideal time to zone out and catch up on these. For those of you using iTunes, you can subscribe to RSS Feeds for both and they’ll be downloaded whenever they are published.

First up a fellow Scot (even if he is from the ‘wrong’ side of the country 🙂 ) Alistair Christie produces a regular podcast on a variety of technical communication related topics. He’s been at it for a few years now and has some excellent interviews which you can find in his archives. Well worth subscribing to this one.

Also worthy of a listen is the Tech Writer Voices sessions by Tom Johnson. He has interviewed many well know names in our field of interest and, like Alistair, has been publishing podcasts for a while now. His archives are chock full of fascinating interviews, and of course you can subscribe to his podcast series as well (via iTunes too).

Any other podcasts I should be listening to?

Writer River

I try and follow as many technical writing blogs as I can but beyond the dedicated blogs there are other good sources of information and ideas out there. Finding these additional articles can be tricky as they can be found in a huge number of different sources.

To help with this Tom Johnson set up Writer River as a way to allow anyone (with an account) to post links to interesting blog posts and articles. The website has been running for a whlie now and continues to provide links to useful and topical articles.

I monitor an RSS feed of the website and whilst that is adequate it does mean that I can go a week or more without checking which can lead to a build of too many links to check. That usually means I skim the link titles rather than click through them all and the likelihood is that I’ve missed something that may have been useful.

So I’m delighted to hear that Writer River now has an auto-updating Twitter feed. Every link posted on Writer River will be pinged over to Twitter, and as I’m following Writer River on Twitter, I’ll see the links as they are added, increasing the chances of me taking a few minutes to click through to the linked website.

Time will tell but this is either a great use of social networking tools, allowing me to keep bang up to date and probably meaning I won’t skip any links, or another challenge to my time keeping, a quick check of Twitter during a context-switch* moment at work may lead to a longer break than I had intended?

We’ll see but, as ever, Tom continues to push his ideas forward to the benefit of us all.

Thoughts on HATT Survey thoughts

Tom Johnson has had a look at the survey recently published by the HATT matrix website on help authoring and, by pulling in the results of some other surveys in the same area, has extrapolated some good conclusions from them.

He rightly points out that surveys need to be taken with a pinch of salt (he goes into the detail of why this is so), and that whilst the numbers involved would seem to be high enough it’s likely that the questions themselves need further consideration in future.

That said, there are two things I took from his post.

1. Know the problem before picking the tool
You may not be in the position to switch authoring tools, but if you are and you have investigated the market then please make sure that you are buying a tool that addresses the problems you have.

The presumption here is that if you have a legacy tool (like we currently do, FrameMaker 7.1) and it still works and meets your requirements then there is no good reason to upgrade. I’ve been victim of buying into the ‘keeping up’ frenzy that software manufacturers like to generate but once a product is reasonably mature it is likely it has most of the features you need already.

I’d offer Microsoft Word as an example here, I could probably still use Word 2.0 for the few documents I maintain in that format as the newer versions add functionality I don’t need (and which has ended up intruding on my workflow at times!).

The X-Pubs conference a couple of years ago had a common, if not publicised theme. Almost all of the presentations included the advice to figure out what problems you had, before deciding IF single sourcing (using XML as the base format) will help and that’s even before you consider the tools themselves.

2. DITA is still a theory
Whilst it is true that the number of people leveraging DITA for their content is rising, the numbers remain low.

Partly that will be due to the fact that few organisations/teams/people are in a position to quickly switch just because a new technology has come along, but and I’ve said this before (in fact I’ve said that I’ve said this before!) rollout of DITA remains harder than rolling out a bespoke authoring tool.

When costing an implementation of a new tool there are various factors and it’s very easy to see that you can get MadCap Flare up and running quickly, where as a DITA based solution takes investment in developing the environment. This is beginning to change but, as yet, the phrase ‘DITA support’ really only means that you can output to a DITA formatted XML file. The tools aren’t constructed around the DITA concepts, so you immediately lose a lot of the benefits that DITA can bring.

Until there is a tool that fully leverages DITA, building it into the workflow of using the tool, and helping the concepts become part of your daily working practice then it will continue to be a marginal player.

Which, in a way, is how it should be. DITA is not a tool, it is a technology and methodology. It is there to support the toolset and the writer. It’s just a shame that tool vendors continue to believe that THEIR format is best, refusing to budge from that position and shoe-horning ‘DITA-esque’ features into their software.

Anyway, the rest of the survey write up is interesting and worth a read but, as Tom says:

“I do love these surveys, though; if for no other reason than they give us something to talk about”