Month: <span>June 2008</span>

Gosh the football is good, isn’t it. Way better than a World Cup, not as long winded as an entire season and, a few games aside (I’m looking at you France), bloody top quality entertainment.

Apparently there are other things that can be watched on TV at the moment but, seriously, why would you? In saying that there is still plenty of other things currently vying for my attentions.

Friday night we are out for a quiet dinner to lightly celebrate Louise’s birthday.

Saturday morning we’ve both got appointments to see the dental hygienist (the price of paying for your dental care) and then we are off to visit Peggy. Except we aren’t REALLY visiting Peggy, we are all about the ickle fwuffy ducklings!!

Sunday is Louise’s birthday proper and no doubt some people will be popping in to tell her how old she now is and that it’s “all downhill from here”.

Zip through the next week (although there are a few changes happening at work just now, plenty of gossip and rumour, which is always fun) and on Friday I’ll be one of many thousands standing about at Glasgow Green in glorious sunshine listening to the best band in the world (well, they will be that day), and after the Radiohead gig, if I can still walk, I’ll catch up with some people from work to say goodbye to two work colleagues that are leaving.

There are a couple of things occupying my mind at the moment though, namely the fact that our Sky+ box failed to record a few things last week. And by a few games I mean the 4-1 game between Holland and France! It should be fixed now (turn it off and turn it on again) but I swear to god if I miss any more football I’ll… I’LL… well I’ll probably just phone up and order a new Sky HD box.

Life

Recently Scott Abel posted a heartfelt plea to get people all psyched up about how to better promote DITA to the rest of the world. He backs the idea of the DITA Adoption Technical Committee, stating that:

“we need excellent communicators with the gumption, know-how, and network to get the word out about the many ways DITA impacts the world and those who live in it.”

I’m a fan of DITA and as I read his post I could feel myself getting quite excited, he makes some excellent points about finding real world examples of the benefit DITA can bring but something just doesn’t quite fit. It’s taken me a while to get my head around this but, isn’t a standard supposed to be a technical implementation detail, not the main focus of life changing events? Ahhh but wait, Scott agrees:

“DITA cannot be the focus of DITA adoption and publicity efforts.”

OK, so we can’t focus on DITA itself and, as Scott rightly points out, the software vendors will soon turn discussions away from DITA and towards their own feature set, so we can’t look there for an example either. In fact it’s not until the latter half of the post that Scott really hits on what he would like us to do, and in my opinion the following sentence is the key to his entire argument:

“Let’s strip away all the noise that prevents normal humans from understanding what we technology addicts find so wonderful about DITA, XML, content reuse, content management, dynamic content, personalization, and so on. … The focus has to be on the human impact. How does DITA help make the world a better place? How does it make it possible for humans to interact with one another? How will it help everyday humans in their everyday lives? How can it help governments better serve their citizens?”

Big questions.

Whilst Scott is aiming at a top-down view of the world, there are lessons there for those of us who are trying to push these things upwards. Selling DITA as the fundamental part of a single source solution now seems a little odd, particularly when most business cases are focussed on ROI and the whys and wherefores surrounding the choice of tooling, so if you can detach the tool from the business case, and focus thinking on the benefits of DITA (rendering the tooling generic rather than specialised) you can start to really crack the story behind how adopting DITA as a content standard will benefit the customers of your company, THEN you have a much more powerful argument.

So, if anyone has any answers to those big questions, do let me know…

Work

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Despite having been blogging for some years now, I still put myself under some weird pressure to post every day or so and as such I have developed a dance I like to call the “Start Stop two-step”.

It’s quite simple and I’m sure many my fellow bloggers have mastered it already, but if you are new to the world of ballroom dancing then here are some instructions.

Gentlemen, prepare the floor to ensure your partner doesn’t slip or trip. Ladies (or Gentlemen dance partners) whilst you are waiting it is customary to prepare some post-dance refreshments, a stiff gin, a cold beer, or perhaps big mug of tea. Whatever tickles your wotsit.

Floor preparation is crucial, and you really shouldn’t rush this stage, so make sure you have an Idea ready, as well as an empty place into which the Idea will flow as you smoothly spin and twirl across the dancefloor.

OK, we are ready to begin. Please assume the position, elbows slightly bent, fingers hovering over the keyboard. Take a deep breath, don’t rush, and don’t worry if you falter at first, one of the fundamental reasons for this dance is to help you overcome your nerves and focus your brain.

Ready? Start typing, don’t pause if you lose your bearings or your Idea suddenly disappears, it will return eventually. Instead let your fingers alight gently on each key, deftly picking at the threads of your Idea, helping it to spiral across the dancefloor until it lands, sated and breathless on tiptoes.

Or, you know, you could just come up with a really crap metaphor to try and explain why you are struggling to focus on your writing. That may be easier.

(note to self: when choosing a metaphor, pick a subject you know something about… )

A quick welcome to anyone visiting from the ISTC Communicator magazine. I feel a little spoiled getting two mentions in subsequent pages (10 & 12 if you are wondering) but I’m not really complaining.

Over the past year or so I’ve definitely got the feeling that the ISTC is changing, and it certainly feels like a more modern and dynamic organisation than it has seemed to be in the past. Perhaps that’s natural, but it’s amazing how little things like a redesign magazine and newsletter, and hopefully a new design for the website, can refocus the energies of those involved.

Anyway, thanks for dropping by, there are plenty of links and opinions to be found in the archives (scroll down a bit, they are on the right), and here are a few of the more popular posts:

Or perhaps you just want to download the RSS feeds.

Work

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After a rather good Friday night, I spent most of Saturday getting re-acquainted with the sofa whilst Louise was off buying plants for the garden. So, when Sunday rolled around and the weather was fair, we headed out into the garden.

Although to be completely honest Louise headed out into the garden and I delayed the inevitable as much as possible. I did eventually go out and pick up spade and fork to help dig over the neglected sideborder in the back garden. Now our soil sits on clay, and I don’t mean it’s a bit clay-like I mean if you dig down about six inches you can cut out neat blocks of clay from the under the soil. It’s heavy going and of course being largely made of clay our garden develops a solid baked crust that took a pickaxe to get through yesterday.

Turning over that kind of soil is bloody hard work, so why we decided to tackle the much bigger job of digging up one of the old iron clothes poles, I’ll never know.

Alas we failed to dig out the large concrete block as, whilst trying to wiggle it free, the rusted and rotten iron clothes pole started to bend and, very quickly started to break. Thankfully it was at very close to ground level so with a whacks of a sledgehammer the edges were round off, leaving me covered in rusty, watery gunk from inside the broken off stump of the pole. An exotic grass planted next to the stump finishes off the job.

Needless to say that, after some digging, and generally exerting some force on a fairly solid object, I’m a little bit achey in places I’d forgotten I had. Well, at least since the time when… ahhh.. but that’s another story.

Life

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Question: How much investment does Web 2.0 really take?

Answer: A lot.

I’ve seen the same quote repeated in several different locations recently. It was uttered by O’Reilly and has the twin benefits of being short, quantitative, and seemingly true. As I’m in the midst of setting up a new website for our company, focussed on the developer community that already exists (in number if not in action), it was a phrase that made me realise just how much work lay ahead of me.

Part of the work I’m doing is to replace the existing website, rebranding and updating it in one fell swoop. Most of the work is largely concerned with uploading documents and files to make sure that everything that is currently available will be available from the new website, but there are already thoughts around how we can use the website to drive further adoption, innovation and so on.

And, of course, because Web 2.0 is the phrase of the moment there are quite a few eyes waiting to see what will appear.

One thing I have realised, and I’m still winning over minds on this, is that most of what Web 2.0 is about isn’t the technology and, whilst this may seem like an odd statement, it’s not really about the people who use the website, not initially at any rate. No, for me the big issues that surround Web 2.0 adoption by corporations are centred around information and transparency, about being part of the conversation.

That last sentence is important. You cannot drive a conversation on the internet, you can start it, you can contribute to it, but once you’ve set it free you no longer have control over it. All you can do is hang in for the ride, and that’s where transparency kicks in. As the numbers of conversations grow the easier they are to manage if you are open and upfront. For, as Tim O’Reilly said of Web 2.0 (and I’m paraphrasing here):

“The more people that use it, the more uses we’ll find”

So, just as the benefits of having a more connected community of users will increase what they can acheive both individually and collectively, so to do the number of pitfalls awaiting the cumbersome.

What this confirms is that most of the challenges around setting up a community website are largely about the individuals and being able to reach out to them, to be able to consistently engage them and ultimately offer them benefits for their time and input.

Which doesn’t half take a lot of work.

Work

I haz hangover.

Please send jaffa cakes and chocolate milk.

Ta.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck

I can’t recall why I picked up this book, most likely a recommendation from the same sources through which I discovered The Tipping Point (which itself inspired this book), but I’ve been dipping in and out of it for a while and finally finished it this weekend. That’s an indication of my reading habits recently, not any reflection on the quality of this book.

Whilst most would regard this as a business focussed book it, like Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, is more about the ideas than their application. That said there are plenty of concrete examples given to reaffirm the basic premise of the book, that there are six key qualities that make an idea “sticky”:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotion
  6. Stories

It’s a fascinating read, including some well-known ideas (JFK’s “Put a man on the moon in 10 years”), throughout which several thoughts sparked in my brain as I started to connect some of the key qualities in a sticky idea with our profession. After all, what better way to make sure people get the most out of the information you provide than to make it sticky?!

Of course there are some parts of the book which, whilst interesting, can’t really be applied directly but I was amazed that, with a little bit of creative spin, you could probably adapt most of the ideas within to make your content stickier.

Made to Stick is very much one of those books which hold some simple truths which are well stated and analysed. Throughout the book there are many examples, so getting a handle on what each of the six qualities brings to the table is easy, and to be honest a lot of what is said you probably already know you just don’t know how to pull it all together.

There are some excerpts on the book’s website and if you enjoyed The Tipping Point then give it a look.

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