Month: <span>October 2007</span>

DISCLAIMER: I was given an O2 Cocoon by a PR firm. I am under no obligation to blog about it at all, nor was I to only mention it if the ‘review’ was favourable. If this post offends you, then feel free to leave. But if you were thinking of buying one… read on.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been playing with the new O2 Cocoon. I’ve been using it as often as I can and ‘living’ with it since then, bar a week away in Spain, and overall I’m reasonably impressed. What a wonderful word “reasonably” is…

It’s not a stunning ‘must have’ gadget, but it does have some nice touches, alongside a few annoying quirks.

The OLED embedded on the ‘outside’ of the phone is a nice idea. Subtle and effective and probably my favourite feature. However it suffers through implementation. There are two possible scenarios, both centred around the use of the display when receiving text messages. One is when an unprompted text message is received, the display lights up and scrolls the name or number, and then the message itself, across the outside of the screen.

Now if I have it in my pocket this is kinda useless. If it is on my desk it is in full view of anyone who looks, again not so good.

However if I’m in ‘text conversation’ mode, sending messages back and forth, then the scrolling is too slow to be useful, and I don’t need the name/number anyway. So, a smart idea that just feels a little like ‘an idea for ideas sake’. But that’s only on the text message front. The other uses – time, alarm, MP3 track details – make more sense.

Hardware-wise it feels nice in your hand, until you open it and answer a call. I’m happy to concede that it might just be that I’ve got a funny shaped face but the phone never felt comfortable when I was on a call. However the call quality was good and clear, as was the signal strength, of course it may just be that I was in particularly good coverage zones for the O2 signal.

As a It has most of the usual features of a mobile phone and, by and large, the software and features are nothing out of the ordinary but, as it’s being sold as a music player/phone/lifestyle gadget I’ve spent more time trying to use it with that in mind and, on that count it’s not too bad.

Having loaded up some MP3s I found the music player software is a little quirky to operate but didn’t take me too long to master. The sound quality through the supplied headphones is good and in a nice touch you also get a headphone splitter in the box, allowing two pairs of headphones to be connected to the phone.

Alas the main navigation button/joystick, used to navigate the onscreen menus and options is hugely frustrating and I still can’t decide if it’s over or under sensitive. Sometimes it reacts on the slightest of touches, other times a furious session of bashing is required to make a selection and too often that would result in the WRONG selection and another session of guessing where or how to push, flick or tickle the control.

One of the advertised uses of the phone is to set an alarm, place it on the charging dock, and use it as an alarm clock. With the soft blue hue of the external OLED perfectly suited to this, the idea falls flat on its face because the only accessible buttons are far too small to find easily in a state of Again, close but no cigar. It is a neat idea though, with a lot of people using their mobile phones as their alarm clocks anyway. The MP3 of your choice is usually a better choice than whatever dross the radio is spewing out of a morning.
I didn’t use the camera much and, in the current climate of 5 and 7 MB models it doesn’t seem a little stingy to only offer 2MB. But for quick snaps and silly video clips it’s fine if not earth shattering.

Overall I whilst there are some faults but then every phone has those and some of the quirks I found won’t affect everyone. In particular the joystick may be fine for others, it is probably just me. However there isn’t that much that stands out other than the OLED display and the provided dock. For me, those don’t make the phone a must-have gadget but if you are in the market for a phone/music player then it’s worth a look. The big question is whether the OLED display and the dock are enough to give it a competitive announcement.

I must admit that initial impressions were good when I got this phone, but over the course of a couple of weeks it fast become just another mobile phone. Given that O2 are the UK network for the Apple iPhone, something that DOES have the ‘wow’ factor that the Cocoon aims for, I think it will take some clever selling strategies to shift many units of this handset.

Finally a word on O2, excellent coverage, and their customer support handled my one and only query efficiently and friendly and it’s more than likely that I’ll switch my main phone contract to them as soon as I can. Orange should take a leaf from their book if you ask me.


Another week, another quick set of links. I really should start using one of these new fangled “social bookmarking” sites for this, shouldn’t I. Problem is I already have a account for personal use, and I like being able to add some thoughts about the links but it limits that slightly.

In saying that, it does mean I give each link proper consideration, rather than just bookmarking them in passing. With that in mind, I thought I’d change the format of this post a little and offer a little more thought on each. Hopefully the links remain interesting and useful to others.

In a (short) post entitled Identical vs derivative reuse Ann Rockley suggests that

“one thing is certain, that companies can reuse more content then they think”

If you are currently investigating reuse opportunities within your company then you should find this interesting. Understanding the potential is a key part to forming your single sourcing business case, and if nothing else it offers some handy reminders of places to look.

Anne Zelenka wonders why companies are moving away from cubicles to open plan spaces to aid communication, and proffers some suggestions in her post titled Mold the virtual space, not the office space

“Lots of web workers are traditional employees and go to an office every day. But they can still take advantage of the web to reach out inside and outside their company.”

In my personal experience, open plan offices are a boon to the technical author in many ways. Physically locating a technical author with the development team that they are working with ensures that they catch all those snippets of information that typically disappear into the ether.

However, the downside is the constant distractions and background noise. As such I tend to spend a few days a month working at home, setting work aside for those days as I know I can tackle larger chunks of work with little to no distraction or interruption.

The first of two links to the ever thought provoking Ann Gentle. Her article The “Quick Web” for Technical Documentation, which discusses using wikis for technical documentation. is available as a downloadable PDF. The article was recently published in the STC magazine Intercom and others sage advice (as ever).

Keeping on the wiki theme, I came across a summary report from an MBA student that covers Managing Wikis in Business:

“indicates that wikis have provided platforms for collaborative and emergent behaviour, enabling people to work/communicate more efficiently and effectively, learn from past experience and share knowledge/ideas in organisational contexts that are not averse to collaboration”

I’ve not read the full report yet, but looks very interesting.

Are you involved with the UI design of your application? Joshua Porter makes the case that you should be as interfaces need editors:

Editing is mostly about clarity and making the interface concise. It’s a lot of copy-writing, and only a little rounding corners.

With a task view of how an application is used, there is an easy ‘in’ to this area for most technical writers.

Sticking with UI design, if you are interested in this area have a look at these articles from Apple Insider. Whilst they are focussed on new elements of the “soon to be released” Apple OS, they start back in the days of early GUI. Fascinating stuff, or maybe just a nice bit of nostalgia. The articles cover the new Dock, Spaces, and Finder.

Finally a doozy of a post from Ann Gentle. It’s the type of thing that makes my head spin and sort of, maybe, ties in with my own thoughts on structured authoring within an Agile development environment. Single sourcing documentation, following a structure such as DITA, matches the fast pace of Agile development, to improve collaboration and make the sharing of discrete chunks of information more open a Wiki makes sense. So, in my mind there is a match, or at the very least a correlation between structured authoring (DITA) and Wikis. However Ann, in discussion with Chris Almond and Don Day, comes to get:

“a sense that there are two camps in technical documentation. There’s the “quick web” folks who connect easily and author easily, and then there’s the “structured quality” camp that requires more thoughtful testing and time spent on task analysis and information architecture. Also, the types of information that these authors are trying to capture are opposed in some senses.”

It’s a fascinating post and has certainly got “ideas popping and synapses firing” in my brain. Are structured authoring and wiki opposing forces? is a question which is going to keep me occupied for a while.

That’s all for now. Next week I’m going to try and NOT feature a post (or two) from Ann Gentle but we do seem to share a lot of similar ideas. Don’t worry, I’ll “spread the love” as they say.

Right I’ve got a presentation on Using Wikis for Collaboration to finish. Pass the caffeine please.


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Upgrade complete – sidebar borked.

Apparently the introduction of the new tagging doo dah means a table is now no longer valid, the table that quite a few plugins were using, one of which was powering my miniblog posts.

Hence why they’ve all, suddenly, appeared here.

So, until I get some free time to get the code sorted out myself, this is how it’s gonna be… mind you, maybe a switch to single column…

Apple Insider is doing a set of posts, in the lead up to the new version of OSX (Leopard), entitled “Road to Mac OS X Leopard”. So far they’ve covered the history of the Dock and the Finder. Despite the titles, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour do not appear.


Needless to say, portions of the internet are abuzz, discussing the ins, outs and possible impact of the way Radiohead have handled their recent album sales (they are allowing the buyer to set the price when downloading the MP3s, and yes, you can set the price to zero – more on that here).

Having heard on the radio that the band won’t be releasing (at least not in the short term) the sales figures, I am starting to wonder why they did it. Aside from the obvious “all the money goes to us and not a record label” reason of course. Protecting their artistic investment is fairly valid, rather than having earlier versions and whatnot floating around the internet, and it is pretty obvious that the band don’t place value on chart positions and so on.

However they must have known that releasing their album, without a record label, through their own website, would be looked on as a test case for a way forward in the industry. There seems to be the view that all record labels are evil, and the people that work for them are idiots. That is patently not true, yet they do seem to be slow to react, and let’s face it, there is hardly a lack of opinion in this area…

So, if Radiohead aren’t going to release figures then the record labels won’t find out if it was a success or, and you never know, if it failed. More importantly the same holds true for other bands.

But, on the flip side of this, the way people are dealing with this neatly focusses attention back on the consumer. By allowing you to set the price of purchase, the price of your integrity, then perhaps this is a (rather bizarre) yardstick of how humanity is fairing.

When it comes to digital content, it’s not that hard to find out where to go to be able to steal it. It’s a little like entering a new neighbourhood and learning which bars to hang out in to get the best score… umm… allegedly. However many people, myself included, argue that what we are really doing is previewing the content first, before purchasing it later on.

As an aside: TV shows are an odd one. I downloaded the entire first series of Heroes from the internet, but as I pay my license fee (and it’s shown on BBC2, yes?) then surely I’ve already paid for it?? Ditto for 24 and Smallville which I pay for with my Sky package and by being blasted with adverts. No?

Music wise, this kind of ‘preview downloading’ is akin to the days when you could stand in your local record store and ask to listen to the latest Adam Ant album. However as no-one shops in stores these days, and typically most online music stores only offer a 30sec snippet from which you can preview a track (completely useless for a lot of Pink Floyd tracks, many of which seem to just be starting around the 25sec mark), then currently this is the only way to replicate such a service.

Except it’s not, is it. Services like Pandora, and allow you to search for, and listen to, entire tracks and albums. So why do people still download them?

Because it’s free.

It doesn’t cost anything (internet access prices aside), and you have no emotional buy in when you download music tracks from the internet. You only have your guilt to deal with and the price that you pay for that varies from person to person.

The question then becomes, how many people will suffer the guilt, and how many will “do the right thing”?


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.


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man vs cursor. A silly little animation. Me loves t’internets.


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