content and writing
October 9, 2004
Preview the new IDJ
Ah, now how's this for interesting promotion. To launch the newly merged Information Design Journal with Document Design, the publisher has made issue 12.1 available online to the public.
In case you aren't aware, IDJ has a very long and prestigious history (the first issue was published in 1979 after the 1978 NATO Conference on Visual Presentation of Information, which was held in the Netherlands). Document Design is much more recent, but for reasons of journal publishing (read: business), merging the two at this time was the way to continue with the spirit of IDJ, if not the title.
If you'are at all interested in this field, do consider subscribing. Yes, the publisher has you jump thru a little hoop for a personal subscription, but I've found them to be very accommodating...just go ahead and email 'em!
Finally, the journal is always looking for good articles, whether they be research reports, case studies, or practical theories. Drop me a line if you have something to add. /p>
September 21, 2004
I don't know if it was my biorhythms or what, but Sunday was a terrible day. I now have a nice pea-sized crater in my windshield courtesy of a drive on I395 in the Washington area, and worse yet, it seems like the hard drive in my TiVo melted down. I've ordered a replacement hard drive, so hopefully tomorrow I'll be back to normal (I'm having to actually record a program on VHS tonight--yikes!).
When you order a WeaKnees.com TiVo upgrade, we will send instructions specifically written for your TiVo. These instructions have been created and improved over the years to insure that your upgrade experience is simple and straightforward.
I realize they aren't the first (I've downloaded manuals for cell phones and PDAs before too), but it occurred to me today what a useful practice this was for smaller companies too.
My primary motivation in deciding "TiVo hard disk replacement?" or "new TiVo unit?" was cost. But I'm feeling warm fuzzies now because the docs make it look pretty straightforward, even for someone like me, who doesn't normally go into the guts of my electronics.
August 25, 2004
Survey on white papers
Posted by request:
If you regularly work as a practitioner (in addition to any educational or professorial duties you have), I would appreciate your participation in my survey on white papers in technical communication.
Please send any questions or comments to Russell directly.
July 28, 2004
Who signed off on this copy :)
Well, perhaps it's not as bad as the Washington Post handing out
"10,000 copies of a special convention issue of the daily, complete with the dated banner headline 'Election 2000'" (ouch!), but I was amused to see this typo splashed up on yesterday's ultramercial on Salon:
July 27, 2004
CFP: STC Annual Conference, Seattle, May 8-11, 2005
Do you have something to share about information architecture, usability, or information design? Then STC, the Society for Technical Communication, would like to hear from you! We're currently accepting proposals for our next annual conference.
"That's a tech writers conference." you say. Well, yes, there are many tech writers who attend. But STC is home to several thousand members who belong to its usability, information design, online, and indexing special interest groups, and our conferences attract many outside the "traditional" realm of writing and editing.
Here's just a sampling from last year's conference in Baltimore:
You can also see more sessions from last year.
Speakers receive a discount on an otherwise value-priced conference. We also welcome speakers from all levels, as our conference attracts those who are new to the field as well as those who have been in the field for decades. And Seattle is a *wonderful* conference city, with the conference is located in the heart of downtown.
To see the full Call or to submit a proposal, please visit the STC CFP site soon.
The deadline for proposals is 12 noon ET, August 12, 2004.
July 12, 2004
A blog version of show 'n tell
Into photography? Like stories? Then you'd probably enjoy A Picture's Worth. Here's some info:
Officially launched on the 1st of August 2003, A Picture's Worth is a personal project that aims to highlight the inspiration that can arise from a photograph and to capture it in the form of words which in turn can reveal the true beauty of a photograph. Ultimately, the project seeks to inspire and enhance captivating story writing and beautiful photography.
Some of the photos are really amazing, and ya just gotta love how the whole "word of mouth" thing works. Now to find a photo with a good story...
July 2, 2004
Academic publishing web-style
Here are some links related to the publishing of research and other academic works that I've culled off some lists recently:
June 2, 2004
Karen Schriver on document design
Karen Schriver was across the pond recently, where she presented a session on The Changing Face of Document Design and Technical Communication at the STIC symposium in the Netherlands. I'd love a more annotated PowerPoint, but I found some of the slides interesting nonetheless...it's worth the ~1Mb download to review her trends and implications. One slide that caught my eye was her trends in professional development, which she mapped as follows:
Those of you who hate the what's in a name kind of discussions may not be interested, but I certainly appreciate the effort. I'd love to quibble with Karen over the doc design/info design/info architecture borders, but hey, I love to quibble :).
Thanks to InfoDesign for the pointer.
May 23, 2004
Historical Event Markup and Linking Project
Hmmm, this one's for the archives--it's the Historical Event Markup and Linking project. It's a bit XML-heavy for me to grok completely, but the concept seems really interesting. Here's Loren Needle's recent description on the InfoD-Cafe list:
A hallmark of the Internet is the opportunity it affords scholars and researchers to present information in novel and interactive ways. One such application that operates in this vein is the Historical Event Markup and Linking Project. The Project allows users to coordinate and navigate through historical materials on the Internet by giving them the ability to create animated maps, interactive timelines or event tables that combine a number of web-based or static resources. The project's homepage contains sample ideas for general perusal, and a developer's guide for interested parties.
Those who are into this history and the Internet phenomenon may be interested in the history dept at George Mason. A PhD that lets you look at new media and IT? How cool is that!
May 17, 2004
STC conference post mortem
Okay, I know I get a big F minus for my near total lack of conference blog entries last week. I will try and find some time to put down some thoughts later this week. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out the session materials page.
I'd check back occasionally, as I'm sure some slackers (like me) will be posting materials throughout the month. In the meantime, here are some that you may find interesting (most are PDFs or other downloadable files):
More as they are posted!
April 15, 2004
Reminder: STC Baltimore in May
Wow...how time flies. Just a month ago, I mentioned some of the UX highlights of the upcoming STC conference in Baltimore's fabulous Inner Harbor area (May 9-12). I said I'd be doing more stumping for it as we got closer...well, it's time!
First of all, just a reminder. If you thought STC was just for tech writers, think again! Non-members pay just $650 for a three-day conference featuring over 200 sessions in topics that include usability and information design, tools and technology, theory and research, and management. Early registration is slated to end next Friday, April 23rd. There's a chance they'll extend it through the weekend, but why wait?
UX speakers include Ben Shneiderman (keynote), Steve Krug, Ginny Redish, Whitney Quesenbery, Karen Schriver, Ann Rockley, Bill Killam, Thom Haller, Carol Barnum, Caroline Jarrett, Mike Lee and many more!
Don't miss our tutorials!
If you're planning to attend the conference, or if you're relatively local to Baltimore, I'd also like to encourage you to consider one or more of STC's post-conference tutorial workshops on UX-related topics (you do not have to attend the conference to attend a tutorial workshop). At $100 for a half-day or $200 for a full-day session, these sessions are an excellent value featuring leading speakers in their fields.
Brand Experience and Technical Communication - AM
Using the Latest Research to Make Effective Web Design
and Usability Decisions - AM
Understanding Visual Communication - AM
Designing Effective Visuals for Presentations - PM
Managing User-Centered Design Projects - PM
Crafting Personas to Guide Design
Note that if you do not attend one or more days of the conference, there will be a $50 surcharge to sign up for a tutorial...but $250 (or $150) is still a great rate! Visit the STC conference site for more info and to register.
Hope to see you there!
March 29, 2004
Spare the rhetoric and spoil the reader?
I don't know if it's just the biz of trying to become a media darling, or something in the water, or what, but it's curious to me the extent to which spin is becoming part and parcel of some UX gurus' toolkits.
Earlier this month, Andrei called Jakob to task for this (essentially), and a week or two before, I'd commented about some language difficulties with an issue of Mark Hurst's Good Experience newsletter.
Not to be left behind, Gerry McGovern jumps on the spin wagon (again). It's not the first time I've found something he's written that I've disagreed with. There's the time a year ago he dissed IA and also the time he called for Jakob-like page weights.
But in his latest issue of new Thinking, Gerry warns readers about giving IT too much of a role in choosing a CMS. What I found to be off the spin-meter was that he could accuse CIO magazine of making a "ridiculous, surreal recommendation" while at the same time apparently having no problem with making a statement that is likewise (IMO) ridiculous:
Remember, the better the writer, the more techno phobic they are.
Uh, how about all generalizations are false?
Having been a victim of some CMS bloatware, I don't disagree with some of his other points about making sure whose needs are being met with a CMS package. Yes, our site is a busy site with lots of content being published. But I think that even small sites can benefit from a CMS package--and there are some great options out there. If we're lucky, maybe Gerry will focus on this in future newsletters.
March 16, 2004
Looking for a great conference to go to that's value-priced? Then I'd check out STC's annual conference in Baltimore. I'll stump more for this in the future (closer to the early registration date in late April), but here's are some highlights for the early birds.
and a whole lot more. Check out the full list of usability and information design sessions. And if you haven't been (or think Baltimore is just what you saw on Homicide), let me assure you that Baltimore is a *fab* conference city. Lots of fun for the whole family, or for the single visitor. (Or for the John Waters fan...one of my fave stops is the Papermoon Diner).
For more info, check out the registration page. Hope to see you there!
March 2, 2004
Severe Weather Alert? Not!
What's up with the National Weather Service? Lately some of their Severe Weather Alerts (which I see on weather.com) have been questionable. I realize I live in DC (where I joke that people start having accidents when the humidity goes above 80%), but last week we got a severe weather alert for light rain, and this week it's for nuisance winds:
Severe Weather Alert from the National Weather Service
Winds that "may be enough to cause nuisance problems...but should not cause any major problems" do not justify a severe weather alert. I think the NWS can use some help from some IAs to deal with categorizing and labeling!
February 4, 2004
No wonder tech writers are insecure
Here's a snippet from a solicitation for a technical writer on a local list:
This person will be developing a template or boilerplate of an Operations Manual for the IT Department. And the individual IT managers will be filling it with the content.
Alas, it was posted by a recruiter, so I don't know what fabulous company this is for. What's that Virginia Slims tagline?
You've come a long way, baby.
Making a living writing doing tech writing can be a tough sell, considering that your average person (or organization) may not value something we all learned to do when we were in first grade. Of course, I don't need to tell you that good writing--like good design--is both an art and a science.
Here's hoping the transformation work is successful!
January 5, 2004
Fun with linguistics and rhetoric
Want to know the difference between metonymy and metaphor? Then you might enjoy this glossary of linguistics and rhetoric.
Interestingly enough, this glossary is brought to you from the folks at RinkWorks, who provide an "expansive collection of entertainment-related features" that include Don't Throw a Brick Straight Up and Pea Soup for the Cynic's Soul.
There are some other glossaries for the word oriented. There's this one of fun words (who knew 'anthropophagy' meant cannibalism?) and this one of commonly looked up words. Thanks to Ken and Matthew for the pointers.
December 22, 2003
Al Gore and the Internet
Speaking of things I didn't know, I only recently came across the backstory for "Al Gore invented the Internet" (where Gore was basically raked over the coals for what he didn't say).
Seth Finkelstein has a comprehensive resource page on the matter. Two articles that I spent some time with were Phil Agre's analysis and Richard Wiggins' piece for First Monday. Not a flattering picture of both the media -- and our -- fascination with the quick sound bite, particularly if it is at someone else's expense.
November 11, 2003
CFP: IPCC 2004
November 3, 2003
Tech writer resources
I was poking around IDblog's activity log, and noticed someone searching first for medical examiner wages (seriously?) and then tech writers wages. So, while the person searching may not come back, I figured it couldn't hurt to point to STC (the Society for Technical Communication) for all things related to technical writers and technical communication and their salary surveys (sorry, members only) in particular.
Skiing? I think not...
If I were HCI queen, here are a few things I would change:
They do provide me with a link that shows snow quality (hey, let's hop on a plane...there's poweder in North Dakota!). But still...I think that dropping the "and ski" from the subject might make sense when it's only the Rockefellers or the Vanderbilts who may be jetting off thousands of miles to find off-season snow.
October 13, 2003
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde...
If you enjoyed the "According to a Cambridge researcher..." parlor trick that went around a while ago, you may also enjoy this page, which has a lot more useful stuff. Matt Davis provides some very interesting info about what's true and what's not necessarily true, and also a summary of what may have been the source of the theory. You can also find the same text in a whole bunch of different languages.
October 9, 2003
Too little time, too much to read
Livia Labate emailed AIfIA folks today about a cool service by Emerald Publishing. It's their Journals of the Week feature, where they give people free access to full-text versions of two different journals each week.
For next week, the interesting looking journal is The Electronic Library, which "aims to be the definitive source of information for the application of technology in information environments." The week of the 26th, one of the featured journals is foresight, which "provides an effective forum for debate on the important social, economic, political and technological issues, which are shaping all our futures."
You can also sign up for a twice-a-month email to get notified about future journals of the week. Slick!
September 25, 2003
To caption or not to caption?
This recent First Monday article on the writing photo captions for the web is an interesting counterpoint to nowords.org, a photo gallery of satellite images and illustrations (the latter almost look like they could have been microscopic images). At least in the case of the satellite imagery, I would have loved to have known what I was looking at. Alas, no clue, not even ALT text.
September 22, 2003
Writing first for the web
We're fortunate to have Ginny Redish as a usability consultant (ah, one of the perks of living where we do :). I was poking around her website this morning and noticed that she had a handout online (PDF) that was a slightly updated version of her popular "Writing for the Web" presentation.
I must admit to having a bit of an "a ha" when I came across a point I think was relatively new. She wrote:
In the future, organize and write for the web first. If it is easy to use on the web, it will almost certainly make a great paper document.
In retrospect, it's kind of a "why didn't I think of that?" But if organizations could put it in place as a process, I think it might well improve both our online and print documents!
September 19, 2003
Linguistics parlor trick
Well, we managed thru the storm fairly well, tho my sister is still without water. Gee, with all the TV coverage, too bad no one reminded us to fill up a bathtup (to take care of potty needs).
Anyways, here's an entry befitting the out-of-the-norm circumstances. You've probably seen this email at least once...it's in the vein of "if u cn rd ths, u cn gt a gd jb" ad. It goes:
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.
The folks at Snopes have determined that the status of this potential urban legend is undetermined. I've read that this paper may be the origin, though a quick read doesn't suggest obvious connections. Here's the languagehat post that supposedly kicked off the whole thing.
Bglegos the mnid?
September 12, 2003
BBC Creative Archive
Speaking of a great resource, the BBC has announced it will make the BBC Creative Archive available to the public for non-commercial use. This archive will include Internet access to all of the BBC's radio and television programs.
On the other side of the Atlantic there is little evidence of similarly creative thought. Instead, the US government remains captured by the extremists. The very same week that the Creative Archive was born in Britain, it was exercising its power to kill a planned meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), the United Nations' intellectual property agency, to consider "open and collaborative projects to create public goods."
Check out the latter if you're into the various arguments about copyright, open source, and intellectual property.
September 10, 2003
Bye bye e-books?
August 19, 2003
I shouldn't feel so pleased with myself (this wasn't exactly hard), but just a bit of URL hacking has yielded the second of Wired's two articles on PowerPoint (from their September issue).
The first, posted today, is by David Byrne: Learning to Love PowerPoint:
Although I began by making fun of the medium, I soon realized I could actually create things that were beautiful. I could bend the program to my own whim and use it as an artistic agent.
The second, which will be officially posted tomorrow, is by Edward Tufte: PowerPoint is Evil:
At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm. Yet the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play -very loud, very slow, and very simple.
I've gotten Byrne's book (see last week). I've still not played the DVD, but the book left me less than wowed. The Wired article shows a few of the better pieces. There are many in the book where Byrne seems to have been "making fun of the medium" ... or something.
August 3, 2003
The emergence of New Media has stimulated debate about the power of the visual to dethrone the cultural prominence of textuality and print. Some scholars celebrate the proliferation of digital images, arguing that it suggests a return to a pictorial age when knowledge was communicated through images as well as through words. Others argue that the inherent conflict between texts and images creates a battleground between the feminized, seductive power of images and the masculine rationality of the printed word. Eloquent Images suggests that these debates misunderstand the dynamic interplay that has always existed between word and image.
Thanks to MGK for the pointer.
August 1, 2003
I hope Mike's comment bodes well and that we'll be getting all sorts of great proposals! But for all us procrastinators out there, here is a copy of the call with application form. All the directions are there.
July 30, 2003
Last call for STC proposals
Proposals for STC's 51st annual conference need to be postmarked by August 1st (Friday). If you're the procrastinating sort (guilty), and were thinking about submitting something, now's the time!
July 24, 2003
This 'n that
In the spirit of Kottke's remaindered links, here are a few that struck my fancy recently.
July 18, 2003
Reissue of Orality & Literacy
I've been working like a bunny on a project that goes live Monday, so I've gotten a bit behind on IDblog. I hope to catch up on a few tonight. For example, Roy Johnson of Mantex Information Design just sent out his July newsletter, and in it, he mentioned that Walter Ong's classic, Orality & Literacy, has been reissued. Looks like it was really reissued nearly a year ago, but that is some 4 years after I read it for my masters program. I definitely recommend it; here's a review from Roy that may help you decide if it's for you.
July 14, 2003
Tick tick tick
Just a quick reminder. Proposals for next year's STC conference, May 9-12, in Baltimore are due to the STC office in a bit over two weeks (Friday, August 1st). Caroline Jarrett, who was on the initial Nielsen/Norman World Tour, is the manager for the Usability & Information Design stem. If some of the folks who've emailed me actually submit a proposal, I think we'll have some very interesting sessions. And Baltimore is a very cool city for a conference. (Just ask Mike Lee :)
If you're interested, please see the call for proposals!
Four truths from Southwest Airlines
Over the four-day weekend I just had, I did some late spring cleaning. One of the items I discovered in a pile was a handout from Southwest Airline's session at the STC conference this past May. First of all, I have to say that theirs was one of the best sessions from an experience design standpoint. Because of the location (in Dallas), they were able to have their entire "Technology Information Design" team there. Not everyone was speaking, so those that weren't greeted session attendees (who, in typical conference fashion entered at the back of the room and walked up to the front via a long center aisle). And when I say greeted attendees, I meant they were at the front of the room with baskets, handing out goodies, the very impressive (and bound) handouts, and of course, airline peanuts!
Very nice! Alas, I had other conference duties, so I couldn't stay for the session, but I made sure to grab one of their handouts. So just about two months later, I got a chance to review it. Alas, while you can't get the pen or the peanuts, you can get the handout: it's on STC's conference site: Meeting User Information Needs.
What's nice about this is that they included a copy of their proceedings paper in this handout, which describes a case study describing their efforts to revise the online help for one of their cargo tracking systems. In it, the authors describe four truths that helped them get to the point where they could know that their information products made a difference to the people who used them. They are:
Success is the result of achieving a measurable goal--before we begin, we must have a goal in mind, and we must have a way to measure if we've achieved that goal.
How very UCD! And of course, not exactly new truths. But what's nice is to read about these in the context of a real project. I suspect this is what motivated the AIGA Advance folks to focus so strongly on case studies at the recent DUX conference. Speaking of which, their case studies archive is launched! Looks like there's some great docs there.
June 23, 2003
It ain't easy being a manual
Over on Usable Help, Gordon Meyer has found a couple of ads that are of the good news and bad news variety. The good news is that product designers are getting more interested in making their products easy to use. The bad news is that they are showing this by dissing manuals!
One ad shows cute little pudgy baby legs with the superimposed tag line "Because you cherish memories, not instruction manuals" (see ad). The other suggests that you make a pillow out of your manual. One's for a digital video cam, the other a digital camera. Hmmm. I sure would like to see one of those that doesn't require a manual!
June 17, 2003
Rolling a certification
I'm not really a big advocate for certification in the UX/ID/IA/ED/TW fields. Certification may be helpful if you want to learn CPR or Novell's LAN technology, but I just don't know how valuable it is for writers or IAs or web designers.
So, as most of us know by now, Tufte is extremely dismayed by the "trillions of slides" being turned out by presentation tools like PowerPoint. So much so, he wrote an essay on the subject, which he'll happily sell you for just a few bucks. If you'd like to get a preview before you consider plunking down your cash, I'd check out Aaron Swartz's funny (well, I thought it funny) PowerPoint Remix, Tufte's essay presented in essentially PowerPoint form.
But here are a few presentations I've come across recently whose slides really make me wish I'd been at the events. But the actual artifacts are pretty nice, and while I'd love more context, I found all of these interesting and informative.
Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? (PDF) by Jean-luc Doumont, at the inaugural meeting of STC's chapter in Eindhoven, the Netherlands (8 Mar 2001). I was lucky to get the opportunity to meet Jean-luc this past May at STC's conference in Dallas, where he presented a very popular workshop (twice, per my request) on understanding visual communication.
Sharing Knowledge is Better than Having It (PPT) by Peter Bogaards at STC Belgium's chapter meeting (23 May 2003). The sub-title is "Structure, Content, and Form in the Information Design/Architecture of Information Artifacts" and leads off by introducing what's in a name? What more could you ask for :)
IA as Conversation: It's Not Just What You Say but How You Say it (PDF) by George Olsen at the IA Summit in Portland (23 Mar 2003). George looks at how the metaphor of conversation can be used to do better designs.
The subjects are all interesting and relevant, but what is particularly nice is to see what happens when someone with good graphic/visual/comm design sense approaches their slides. BTW, Marc Rettig's interaction design history in a teeny little nut shell (presented at CMU in February 2003) is in this category too; I mentioned it back in March.
May 19, 2003
NYTimes on wikis
Rats. Just a couple of hours after I finished a session at the STC conference called "Wikis and Weblogs: Tools You Can Use", I check my email to find all sorts of pointers to a NY Times article called Business Is Toying With a Web Tool on wikis (free, registration required).
The most distinctive characteristic of a wiki is that anyone in the group (or for public wiki sites on the Internet, anyone who visits) can edit, modify or even delete material on the pages. ... The creative anarchy of the wiki is the philosophical inverse of conventional corporate groupware software. Groupware's highly structured rules and processes do not always reflect the way people really work. Employees often ignore costly corporate-sanctioned software and revert to informal social networks whether simply e-mail or impromptu water-cooler discussions. ... While wikis can be helpful for project managers and employees in charge of small teams, corporate managers who favor greater control are more likely to be wary. That is why various entrepreneurs are beginning to tailor wiki software to corporate use.
It would have been nice to share this with folks, as this was the point I tried to make for my audience--while these are certainly interesting as personal tools, the reason to pay attention to them is for their business applications.
It was nice to meet fellow STC blogger Fred Sampson today, who shared his perspective of these tools as well (and who beat me by one day for the earliest weblog entry from Dallas :).
May 15, 2003
CFP: Into the blogosphere
Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs
Abstracts are due June 30th and need to be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Journals in mass communication
Here's an interesting resource that appeared on the air-l list (internet research) yesterday. It's the THE IOWA GUIDE: Scholarly Journals in Mass Communication and Related Fields. Use this link for their splash page (nice photo, no useful content) or this one for their index page.
The Iowa Guide:
catalogs the manuscript requirements and review processes of more than 125 English-language scholarly journals published in the United States and countries spanning the globe. Some of the journals focus on journalism, mass communication or communication as their primary concerns. Others address communication in the context of another discipline, such as law or sociology, or they include communication under an interdisciplinary umbrella such as popular culture or womens studies.
There's also a guide for those new to scholarly publishing. Look like it's worth a bookmark if you're at all into communication research, whether reading or writing!
May 9, 2003
The lament of the tech writer is that no one reads the products they create. Over on Usable Help, Gordon talks about one vendor's "approach to exhorting users to read the documentation" (on the left).
To see these in context, check out Warning! Read the manual!
April 30, 2003
STC's annual conferences
Tomorrow is the last day to sign up for STC's 50th annual conference, which is being held May 18th to 21st in Dallas. If you've been meaning to register and are a procrastinator like me, then hurry up and register!
But if Dallas isn't your thing, by all means do consider submitting a proposal to present at next year's conference in fabulous Baltimore, Maryland, May 9-12, 2004. The stem manager for the usability and design stem is Caroline Jarrett, who some of you may know from her stint on the first NNgroup world tour. Yours truly is going to be managing the post-conference stem. The PC sessions are half- or full-day tutorials for which a moderate stipend is paid (assuming registrations warrant).
April 29, 2003
I'm not sure what to make about vogging, or video blogging. Adrian Miles writes about this on vog blog. On the one hand, I'm very interested in the application of multimedia to information design products. But...cool tools like iMovie aside, there seems to be a gap between benefit and cost of use that is related to what Nielson wrote about last week on Useit.
I dunno, but I found the instructions provided for the desktop vogging demo to be way more than I wanted to go thru (never mind the first was buying QuickTime Pro 6).
I think there's absolutely a place for media-rich weblogs. I regularly check out Mike Lee's moblog (more on moblogs) because even cruddy little low-res Sidekick photos can be compelling in the hands of someone who's got an eye for interesting visuals.
But I guess what Sidekick does is make the cost low. It's relatively painless for Mike to create and for me to read. It seems we've got a ways to go to get there for video blogging!
April 28, 2003
As a relatively recent RSS fan, I found this entry by Dave Winer somewhat curious:
Aggregators should not organize news by where items came from, just present the news in reverse chronologic order.
(Emphasis his; picture here.) I use AmphetaDesk simply to make it easy to see when weblogs have been updated; I do all my reading on the weblog itself. This way I get the benefit of both worlds...the nice layout and design that most weblog owners work on with the efficiency of only going when there's new stuff.
Because of that, frankly it doesn't matter to me whether or not the feed is in chronological order or not; I'm simply scrolling thru the list to see what's new since the last time I checked news. I can see why showing this by time might be useful (get the freshest stuff first?), but maybe I'm weird...I'm just using aggregators to be the equivalent of the defunct SpyOnIt (or the variants).
BTW, if you're wondering what all the fuss about RSS is about, check out this article, which provides a pretty good consumer viewpoint and link to the best free readers. There may be better resources out there (feel free to add them via a comment!), but searching for RSS leads to far more resources for creating RSS files than reading 'em!
April 25, 2003
A quick log on blogs
I've got some stuff to log later once I'm home, but just had to get a quick lunch-time blog in. While doing some weblog surfing, I came across Megnut's From the Margins of the Writable Web powerpoint for her presentation at ETCon. These handouts obviously pale in comparison to the presentation (look like they were more speaker aids than audience), but there were a few meaty bits in there.
In particular, I'm intrigued by the World as a Blog, which provides a nearly real-time display of geo-coded weblogs. Wow! I've got IDblog geourl-enabled, so I'm going to submit this and see how long it take me to pop up :).
BTW, this other entry from Meg, Searching the BlogSphere, looks pretty interesting too.
April 16, 2003
Having a Tina moment
Since it has been many years since I've formally done technical writing, I tend to not get involved in "we don't get no respect" conversations (which seem as common in the IA, graphic design, and usability communities as they are in the tech writing community). This often leads to calls for certification as a panacea...which I'm not fond of either (and is something that neither STC nor UPA are actively pursuing). But I digress.
After having been very encouraged by outreach to the STC community (particularly from the ASIS&T and DUX2003 communities) it was a bit depressing to twice this week have a Tina (see right) moment. Once was on a list whose privacy is extremely valued, so I'll say no more (and may have been an over-reaction on my part). The other was in the weblog space. The fine folk of Tomalak's Realm have apparently decided that STC's annual conference is not worthy of their conference listing. Bummer.
That's unfortunate, as STC is not just a conference for tech writers anymore. Technical communicators are very interested in issues related to online design, usability, and content management, among others. And at $560 for three days, it's also a pretty good buy. So...it'd be great to see you there! And boy, the airfares aren't bad (I got $244 round-trip from National today).
If Dallas this May isn't your thing, then perhaps you might be interested in next year's conference, which will be held May 9-12, 2004 in the very fun city of Baltimore, Maryland. The call for proposals has gone out, and speaking as a member of next year's program committee, I'd love to see some more proposals in the IA, interaction design, and user experience space (we're doing well with usability, so they don't need the nudge :).
As the locals say, c'mon hon! We'd love to see you there!
Update: 4/18. We've been listed! Not sure what happened. It probably has something to do with the difference between being a hub or a node.
April 8, 2003
London does information literacy
Conrad Taylor just let ID-Cafe list members know about a report he's published related to a discussion of information literacy. The participants included a dozen or so of interesting folks, many from the British Computer Society, who were interested in the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in December.
Conrad is my go-to ID guy in the UK. He was very helpful in late 1996 when I was trying to get the ID SIG off the ground. He also gave me invaluable feedback back in when I was drafting my chapter for our book. Having seen Conrad in action at the Vision Plus 4 conference (with recording equipment), I have no doubt that this report will be a great read. And since he's a hard-core information designer, it will also be a nice read.
In his email to the list, he noted that:
One of the interesting tensions in the meeting was between the people (such as librarians and "information scientists") whose major concern is how "users" can be better trained to access and use sources of information, and those other folks (such as information designers and publishers) who are concerned with trying to make information products as easy to understand as possible.
IA versus ID? Where have I heard that before :).
March 29, 2003
I meant to log this one a while back, but Jenny at the Creative Tech Writer had this link to The Importance Of Interface Text. There aren't many tech writing weblogs (Jenny, Fred, and Guy are the ones I know about), so it's great to see these links that are appropriate. This one bridges the tech writing/interaction design area. How nice to read this:
The only thing that can bridge the gap between what they know and what they see is familiarity, and the easiest medium to make them familiar with the application is via the words they see on the application's user interface. Interface text, in other words.
I'm somewhat embarassed to admit it, but I've goofed twice in the last week because I've (go figure) misread the label "payee" to mean me when setting up online bill paying with my bank. When asked for the payee zip, I've entered mine (this is a screen after I've selected the vendor who'll get the check). Yeah. I know I selected Verizon as a payee, but when I'm asked for payee zip right after *my* account number, excuse me for being confused!!!
Trends in information formats
A work colleague sent the pointer to this one: Five-Year Information Format Trends , a report from the Online Computer Learning Center. At nearly a meg, it's a hefty PDF download, and it's also geared towards libraries, but I suspect that many IAs, IDs, etc., might find some of their stats and analysis interesting. The report is chunked into four sections: popular materials, scholarly materials, digitization projects, and web resources.
BTW, kudos to OCLC for giving visitors the option to register or not. Nice choice!
March 26, 2003
I've gone ahead and added some conference links at the bottom of the right-nav column. Enjoy!
March 25, 2003
E-publish and perish?
Ouch! That's what you can get for being nice. A free PDF download and if you're not so lucky, a bandwidth bill from your WSP for $15K :(. See "Publish (Electronically) and Perish?" from TidBITS.
More importantly, if you are doing PDF publishing, you may want to check out PDF Enhancer, which apparently does for PDFs what DeBabelizer does for graphics.
Thanks to Gordon Meyer of Usable Help for the pointer (and nice weblog).
March 16, 2003
I'm a hippie?
I logged on this AM to get the map to Jeepers (gotta love the web), and found out from Gerry McGovern's latest that not only am I a hippie, but that "the hippie period of the web is over." That's one thing. But this is another:
Consultants try to make content and information architecture
complicated. That helps them feel special and charge more. I
hear talk that because information architecture is so difficult,
it's almost an art form. There is a view that no two information
architects can have the same opinion on any given problem.
Ouch! This one ought to get folks going on the SIGIA list. Or perhaps maybe they'll disregard it as an example of the (in)famous Nielsen-style hyperbole that seems to have inspired it. (Hey, it worked for Nielsen.)
As a programmer turned tech writer turned web developer, I'm certainly happy that there is someone out there who is raising some visibility about the importance of content. This is not something that is top-of-mind for my IA or graphic design friends. But there are some of us content folks who have been around since the mid-90s who actually want to work with our IA and graphic design peers. Criticizing their efforts (while acknowledging the immaturity of the discipline) wouldn't be my choice for how to do this.
March 3, 2003
Car seats and ID
Here's one off today's wires: Child car seat instructions too difficult. According to the study, instructions for using child car seats are written at a level that is higher than the reading level for half of those who use them. And then there's this:
For liability reasons, lawyers usually are involved in writing installation instructions, and legal jargon might make instructions sound confusing ...
Where have we heard this before?
February 23, 2003
Trends in online assistance
It's always nice to come across something for the tech writers in the audience. (I hope there are some tech writers in the audience! As others have noticed, the tech comm folk don't exactly seem to be taking the blog world by storm.)
Anyways, I was emailed the link to this piece titled The future of Help? Nine trends in online user assistance. As someone who did WinHelp in the 3.1 days, these are welcome trends. It's the idea of moving help into the interface (just-in-time assistance) and it's one of the reasons that sessions such as this one (on moving into UID from technical writing) are becoming more and more popular at STC conferences.
January 21, 2003
Kiss bad ads goodbye
Gunnar Swanson seems to be saying useful things on nearly every list I'm on (and that's a lot of lists). Today on the citizendesign list, he pointed out Andy Goodman's Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes:
Whether your work involves creating print ads from scratch or reviewing finished products, Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes can help you work smarter. Based on an unprecedented 10-year study of public interest advertising, and incorporating interviews with leading practitioners in the field, this book will help you understand once and for all what readers are looking for and whether or not your ad is giving it to them.
I haven't had a chance to give this a really solid look-through, but I won't be surprised if some of this is valuable to designers of information products other than ads. There's a free download, so I'd be sure to take a look!
STC's 50th Annual Conference
The conference will be May 18-21, in Dallas, Texas. More as we get closer!
December 28, 2002
TSI has announced the winners in their 2002 Worst Manual Contest. Yikes! I think the directions for solving what looked to be a Rubik's Cube are my fave.
December 18, 2002
Computers and common sense
Courtesy of my day job, I got a chance to talk with Walter Bender today. He's the executive director of the MIT Media Lab, and one of the projects he talked to us about was something called OpenMind, which is:
an attempt to make computers smarter by making it easy and fun for people all over the world to work together to give computers the millions of pieces of ordinary knowledge that constitute "common-sense", all those aspects of the world that we all understand so well we take them for granted.
All I want to know is how did it know how to ask such a relevant question when I gave it so little information :). My first teaching opportunity:
November 27, 2002
Tufte and IA
Dan Brown has done a nice article over on Boxes and Arrows titled Three Lessons from Tufte. Because he's talking about documentation (specifically IA deliverables), this is a good read for tech writers and info designers as well.
November 26, 2002
Sean's comment (on Monday...can't link to the entry itself) about the high cost of entry to AIGA got me to 1) comment and then 2) update the following list, which was originally posted to the old IDblog a year or so ago.
This new version adds in AIfIA and updates each listing with the association's student membership rate and policy.
November 25, 2002
Content and style
I very much like Hedley's response about it being like a three-legged stool:
I find discussions about which is most important, content, layout, or navigation rather pointless. Why propose useless either-or competitions? Ask yourself 'Which is the most important leg on a three-legged stool?'. ... As my dear old mother was wont to tell me at her knee, 'The most important aspect of documentation is completeness, accuracy, understandability, accessibility, and attractiveness.'
And seconded! Given that it's been two weeks, excuse me for offering another gratuitous plug for our forthcoming book and in particularly, Whitney Quesenbery's chapter on the "5 E's of Usability." Her model is based upon the ISO 9241 standard which describes usability as:
The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
Whitney takes this definition and expands upon it, and comes up with her list for the five characteristics of usability:
Now here's the trick. Any given product is very unlikely to be completely successful in all five of these characteristics. (Remember the adage: "Cheap, fast, good: pick two."). This is how business and technical constraints are worked into the user-centered design process. See Whitney's Using the 5 E's and her What does usability mean? for more.
My point for sharing this is that it this is how you get from something like a blanket (and hardly useful) "content is king" statement to a concept that is actually practical in the real world.
November 18, 2002
IDblog beats Useit.com
I found this link about Holovaty's GetContentSize application from iaslash. I don't know how Michael did it, but he was able to restrain himself from comparing sites using this tool. I was not so strong :). But hey, the good news is that, whatever the heck it means, you can count on IDblog for more content per K downloaded than all sorts of other sites, including Jakob Nielsen's useit.com! My quickie results:
Ok, I'll grant you that the home page may not be the place for lots and lots of content, but hey, I beat Jakob Nielsen. Clearly this is a very useful and important stat :).
November 11, 2002
M$ Style Manual
This link is making its appearance on some blogs and e-lists: Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications (I saw the first one on Peter's site). NB: If you don't have Windows, don't bother. The manual is a self-extracting compiled help (.CHM) doc. But if you do have Windows, the only two reasons I can think of for downloading it are 1) you need to write manuals to M$ specifications, or 2) you'll use it as source material for some research project.
I suspect that people who have need of it for reason #2 will be more successful. Maybe it's just my knee-jerk M$ bias, but I found myself wondering how useful 1Mb worth of index entries really is as a style guide. I'm happy to hear that M$ prefers "e-mail" so that it is consistent with "e-commerce" and retains the "electronic mail" origin (no, not really, I'm being sarcastic...I like "email" thank you). But can you imagine being a new tech writer in Redmond? Sure the campus is nice (and the store discounts are great), but good luck doing a compliant manual!
November 6, 2002
Surely they jest?
I just bought a new car this past weekend. Sometime after I got home, maybe the next day, I picked up my owner's manual and started to skim. How's this for amusing...on page 4 of a 320-page manual, you find the instructions:
Before you start to drive this vehicle, read this manual.
Umm, yeah sure. This would make perfect fodder for a Dilbert comic featuring Tina the Tech Writer. "You can't be serious." "No, the lawyers say this covers our butts."
Speaking of tech writers, there's been a furious discussion going on on TECHWR-L. It started innocently enough about the possible parallels of figure skating judging to technical communication judging (talking about technical vs artistic scores), and wound up being a flame fest about the importance of content compared to design...with just a little bit of signal and a whole lot of noise. IMO, some of the signal came from Michael Shea and Eric Dunn. Sigh, the truth is obviously in the middle ground. Both accuracy and presentation are important, but I guess that's no fun, huh?
Meanwhile, over in the IA world, there's been a far less heated conversation between fans of the new AIfIA (like me) and those in the IT and design communities who are wondering what the fuss is all about. One of the interesting comments is from Rory Ewins, who distilled AIfIA's 25 theses into 10...saving about 500 words in the process:
Ah, does a tech writer's heart good :). Thanks to Peter for the pointer.
October 28, 2002
Links and content
There's been an interesting discussion on the SIGCHI mailing list recently about putting hyperlinks in body text. In it, Steve paraphrased Gerry McGovern (author of Content Critical) as saying "If you put hypertext links in the body text, it disrupts readability."
Gee, if that's a problem, some of us webloggers are in deep doo-doo!
Based on the responses it sure seems it ultimately boils down to: it depends! Speaking of which, there's a history (and debate around origin) to the phrase it depends, but methinks it can apply here. If "readability" is really one's goal, then yes, sticking blue underlined text in the middle of a paragraph could well affect how readable something is. I.e, it's probably not the best thing to do in the middle of articles or longer paragraphs meant to be read and digested. But I'm not aware of anything that discounts Nielsen's 1997 finding: people scan web pages.
Now the percentages may have changed. I know that I have, on occasion, actually read an article on the web. But...then again, I'm probably conditioned enough to the crappy experience (low-res monitors, questionable design practices re tiny type,e tc) of reading on the web that a blue underline in the middle is the least of my problems.
October 19, 2002
Well, Guy's been online since before IDblog was resurrected, but still, I'm pleased to welcome Guy's Some Thoughts on Communication (get it? STC?) to the wonderful world of weblogging. It's nice to see another tick mark in the tech writing category to help balance all the weblogs (see right nav column) that are focusing on IA and design.
October 18, 2002
It's the apostrophe!
It's Friday, so maybe there's time for a little humor. Courtesy of Stewart on the ID-Cafe mailing list, here's a cartoon for the writers out there: it's Bob [the Angry Flower]'s Quick Guide to the Apostrophe, You Idiots. I don't know how Bob managed to avoid the apostrophe in its/it's, as its use is the one that it's abused the most, or so it seems to me :).
October 7, 2002
Get yer Natty Bo's here!
I've been a member of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) since 1995. I've been very happy there, particularly after founding the Information Design SIG in 1997. One of my more favorite volunteer jobs has been to be on the program committee for STC's annual conference. I've had this position for both Orlando (2000) and Nashville (2002). There's a lot of work, but the rewards are definitely proportional!
Thus I am tickled pink to have been asked to be program manager for the 2005 conference, which will be held in Seattle. And what's really nice is that this means that I'll also be on the 2004 program committee, which is being held in Baltimore, Maryland. The graphic design/IA community is very active there, so I think this is going to be a fabulous location for us. The call for proposals will go out in February 2003, due by August 1. Feel free to email me if you are at all interested in doing either a regular or post-conference session!
September 29, 2002
Jumping the shark?
It's been disappointing to me that there are so few weblogs that focus on content as a meta subject. One of the few that did exist is now wondering whether online content has jumped the shark. (If you've not come across the term before, see jump the shark.)
Is it just me, or is content the George Bailey of the whole user experience space? You know, the hard-working, underappreciated, taken-for-granted part of a whole lot of disciplines?
September 14, 2002
ID in the sky
I like Salon's Ask the pilot column because I have a fascination with flying, and particularly with large airplanes. How interesting that this week, columnist Patrick Smith turns out a treatise on usable design:
"With a pair of shears and common sense, a typical [preflight safety] briefing can be trimmed to about half its length with no sacrifice of information. The result is a cleaner oration that people will actually listen to."
I like the concept ... now if only the airlines would apply the same concept to their seats!
IDblog is Beth Mazur tilting at power law windmills. A little bit Internet, a little bit technology, a little bit society, and a lot about designing useful information products. Send your cards and letters to email@example.com.
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