Tag: <span>Matt Haughey</span>

Those of you who have been reading for a while will recognise the title of this post, as it used to be the name of this blog. Then I realised how naff it was and dropped it when the ‘one man’ stuff was borne.

The phrase itself remains particularly apt, probably more so than when I first used it and, with reference to the exponential growth of Twitter, it is coming back into prominence. Social media applications, and the use thereof, shows no sign of slowing. This is a good thing because I firmly believe that social media applications (think Facebook, Twitter and the like) can be useful to many and the basic model of all of these things is based on the premise that “the more people that use them, the more valuable they become”. Which, of course, is (sort of) in direct conflict with those of us fighting information overload.

Of course, we only have ourselves to blame, as the bulk* of the online information we digest is driven by either opt-in or by deliberately choosing to monitor or follow a particular thread of information. This point is crucial. If you feel you are being overloaded by the amount of information you are choosing to receive to parse, be it by RSS feed, email, or directly from a website, then you can choose to reduce that load.

Twitter remains a bit of a mystery mind you, every morning I gain another follower or two, sometimes based on a product name (hello Dyson Airblades) and sometimes on a completely random basis. Or at least I assume they are random because I don’t recognise the person following me, nor do I recognise their website (yes, I do check profiles in case it’s just a username I’m not familiar with) and, as of yet, there is still no easy way to find this out. I’m presuming that this is the same for everyone, and it is just the usual clamouring for ‘Friends’ that so many people seem to think a good thing to do.

Each new social media application brings with it yet another raft of gurus trying to exploit and harness the “wisdom of the crowd” for themselves in a hope of forcing a “Tipping Point” even if their idea isn’t “Made to Stick”. What they don’t get is that this is not just another marketing bandwagon to jump on, not this time. The phenomenon of social media and the way it allows people to connect can be very powerful, but the important piece thing to understand isn’t the fact that people all over the globe are connecting, but because it’s PEOPLE that are making the connections.

The opt-in model is still the most powerful part of all of this, ensuring that those people who are passionate about a product or service can seek each other out and share their thoughts and ideas. Over to Matt Haughey who suggests that companies should:

make awesome stuff that gets people excited about your products, hire people that represent the company well, and when your stuff is so awesome that friends share it with other friends

Twitter continues to be the buzzword of the moment, the numbers rise and more connections are made. I glad to say that I am benefitting from being on Twitter, something I wasn’t sure of even a few months ago. Particularly as some of my peers are now on there, posting ideas and links to articles of interest to my profession. The iPhone is a boon for such things, particularly as Twitterific and InstaPaper to keep a track of “to read” articles and blog posts (Twitterific has built-in Instapaper bookmarking capabilities).

So whilst I’m not blogging here, or on either of my other two blogs, you can find me on Twitter, or read the links I post to my Instapaper account, browse the random things I find and post to my Tumblr account, or keep an eye on the websites I bookmark using del.icio.us. You can see my photos on Flickr, and see what music I’m listening to on Last.fm.

It’s a bit scary seeing all of my online data listed out like that. What’s even worse is that I do have an RSS feed that monitors them all… talk about information overload!

* I’m aware that many social applications (or whatever we are calling them today) generate a lot of email notifications, but again, you can usually either turn them off or, you know, opt out of that application.

Tech Work

Having been ill for a couple of weeks I’m just catching up with my reading list and there have been some fascinating posts and articles to read. Quite a few of them struck a chord and I’ll need to give them some more thought before I tackle them myself but all in all it’s a pleasure to be able to read such insightful posts from some very smart people. Ain’t blogs wonderful.

The agile technical writer
An excellent write up of the typical processes followed by a technical writing team in an Agile environment. It’s good to read this kind of thing, as it matches roughly what we do so… we must be doing it right?

In a similar vein I’ve recently written up an article for the ISTC Communicator magazine which outlines what I consider an average day in my working life. Naturally there is no such thing but the things I do, and the processes I follow match Sarah’s.

Interesting quote from Matt Haughey

My ideal blog engine company would hire some seasoned blogger and technical writer to be a documentation czar, keeping docs up to date when new versions are launched, produce screencasts for introductory users, and provide complete documentation at a stable URL that applies to every version of the product.

Moving legacy documentation to DITA
Scott pointed out this interview with Joann Hackos and, as ever, she offers sensible advice, particularly as I’m in the midst of planning such a move (to AuthorIT, not DITA):

Among your previously existing information, some of it we may call legacy because it documents products that are not changing much. Much of this information isn’t worth changing. There’s low value in converting or updating it.

The History of Visual Communication

Visual communication is the communication of ideas through the visual display of information. Primarily associated with two dimensional images, it includes: art, signs, photography, typography, drawing fundamentals, colour and electronic resources.

I’ve not read more than a couple of pages but this is fascinating and worth a look if you are at all interested in information design of any type.

Developing documentation, the FLOSS way.
Found on the DMN blog, this looks at the creation processes for documenting Open Source Software:

The common challenge is to create useful FLOSS documentation in a timely manner. The documentation must be continually updated as the software and projects evolve. It must be simple to understand yet comprehensive. The documentation must be easily translated into dozens of languages. It must be easily revised and distributed in a variety of display and publishing formats (HTML, PDF, PostScript, etc.).

Some handy tips and thinking points for anyone looking to streamline (and speed up) their content creation processes.

Writing in times of resource constraints
Mike Hughes offers some sage advice with some business perspective applied to the resourcing issue many of us face:

If your resources are tight, ask yourself whether you are writing the essential stuff at a level of quality users will notice

“Good enough” documentation is a reality that many of us don’t like to admit, but there are good reasons to understand when it is applicable to use that benchmark.

Blogging

Matt Haughey is, amongst bloggers, pretty well known and respected. He recently wrote up his thoughts on weblog applications and, as they mirror some of my thinking, I thought I’d expand on this theme here.

The title of the post, Bottom line, all weblog apps suck in some way, was borne of frustration and outlines a few points which, reading between the lines, boil down to the same kind of thing.

Few web applications are at the point they could be considered a product.

Matt talks specifically about weblog applications, one of which I use to power this site (WordPress). I do a little web design in my spare time (there’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one) and have a similar working pattern as Matt; create template then drop in the code required by the weblog application, then tweak, tweak, tweak. I share his bemusement at the way Movable Type is configured, and I definitely agree with him when he says:

My ideal blog engine company would hire some seasoned blogger and technical writer to be a documentation czar, keeping docs up to date when new versions are launched, produce screencasts for introductory users, and provide complete documentation at a stable URL that applies to every version of the product. If an outside site does a better job of collecting and offering templates, a documentation leader should recognize that and link to them in highly visible places. There doesn’t seem to be anyone internal at these companies fighting for the users to make sure they can keep being informed about how to best use the product.

All of my knowledge of WordPress, Blogger and Movable Type (three of the biggest weblog applications) comes from tinkering about in the code, trial and error, and random Google searches. Sometimes those searches will take me to the website of the application, but more often than not they take me elsewhere to someone who has solved my problem already, or has a good solution that could be adapted to meet my requirements.

The information is a far more important to me than the weblog application, particularly as most of those meet my requirements and, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this website, the supporting information becomes the differentiator which will sway me one way or the other.

Let me repeat what I said previously:

Quite simply, products include documentation, support and training, and tell a cohesive story to a potential user. A story that says, yes this product will do X, Y and Z, and if it breaks we’ll do our best to help fix it, and we’ll support you as you learn to use it throughout the lifetime of your relationship with the product (and, therefore, the company).

The really good thing about this situation is that there is an opening here, a wide gaping hole into which a willing technical writer could leap. Most of the weblog applications are open source and would welcome you with open arms. The role Matt outlines is a huge one, but is perfectly within the reach of most technical writers. You know, if I had any spare time I might just try to get involved…

Work

Combine and conquer

It’s been so long since I started this whole ‘oneman’ thing, combining all my online ‘identities’ into one amorphous mass, that it was quite good to take a break, step back and make sure that it’s working for me.

Ultimately the creation of onemanwrites.co.uk was to stop the build up of “work” related thoughts and allow me somewhere to expand my musings on Technical Communications and explore web design theories in a little more depth than I have here.

That leaves Informationally Overloaded as my “pop culture/diary/splurge” site. Simple.

Of course running two personal blogs, maintaining a side job (onemandesigns.co.uk – which started the whole “oneman” thing), and keeping on top of Scottish Blogs means I need to stay pretty well organised and, as I don’t tend to plan my blog posting that far in advance, I have been relying on a pen drive and a scattering of text files to store various drafts of posts for both blogs, as well as other items to be tracked for Scottish Blogs and one man designs.

It’s a clunky system which leaves me completely stuck if I forget my pen drive or, god forbid, it dies on me but it stops me having to login to two different WordPress installs everytime I want to re-visit a draft post before publishing it (ohh yes, and sometimes I edit them too). Admittedly this issue has become more prevalent since starting the new blog (onemanwrites, do keep up) as I’m actually making the effort to edit what I write before posting over there and, as you’ll no doubt have noticed, I tend to just dump stuff on this site without too much editing beforehand… yeah yeah I know, it’s THAT obvious.

My “system” for coping with all this isn’t ideal and largely evolved by accident, it’s quirks are known and unfortunately it’s starting to creak at the edges. I’ve hunted around for a better way, of course, and hadn’t really found one until I stumbled across this post on Matt Haughey’s new blog where he outlines how he is using various Google Apps (and others) along with Google Browser sync to maintain browser sessions across multiple computers allowing him to “work” from anywhere. It was like being slapped around the chops with a damp halibut.

Now I know there are naysayers that say that Google is harvesting our souls and we’ll all end up as slaves to lucifer but, frankly, I stopped listening to them when I purchased www.gordonmclean.co.uk (something else I was advised to be ‘careful’ about). It’s easy to be flippant when nothing has happened to you, but I’m a pretty easy going guy and file most of the frantic rhetoric on this issue in a big folder called “yeah… I guess…”. Don’t get me wrong, I value my privacy as much as the next person but I also quite enjoy living my life and not worrying the stuff like that too much. Shit happens, and gets dealt with as and when.

So, after noodling about a little I now have Google “Docs & Spreadsheets” as a central place to hold draft posts for both my blogs and a simple to do list, Google Calendar which syncs with Outlook at work, Google Mail for.. well.. all my personal email, and Google Reader to check what you lot are posting.

I now have one place for draft posts, one place to maintain simple To do lists (until such times as Thinking Rock goes ‘online’ that is), and one place for my calendar and email. I still ‘backup’ my email to Thunderbird, and I still use Outlook at work as my main desktop calendar app (syncing with Google Calendar) but, in the main, I am now solely using web apps for all of my personal information needs.

The key advantage to drafting posts in Google Docs is that it allows you to publish straight to your blog. It comes with a stack of APIs so most blog platforms are covered and it also handles having more than one blog. I’ve been using it this way for the past few weeks, and it is smooooth. Of course there are some quirks and funnies and I really do wish they had done something smarter with photo handling (in other words I wish Google had bought Flickr rather than Yahoo) but I can’t fault it on many counts.

The major, and obvious, gotcha is that I’m now solely dependant on the internet as part of my “workflow” but that really hasn’t changed. Sure I used to work offline but I still need to be online to post, or send/check email and so on and on.

All in all it’s working for me, and I have to admit that, privacy concerns aside, Google are pretty damn good at creating web apps. Or at the very least, buying the successful ones and adding their own little tweaks.

Blogging Tech Work