2010 predictions for technical communication

Sarah O'Keefe / Opinion8 Comments

It’s time for my (apparently biennial) predictions post. For those of you keeping score at home, you can see the last round of predictions here. Executive summary: no clear leader for DITA editing, reuse analyzers, Web 2.0 integration, global business, Flash. In retrospect, I didn’t exactly stick my neck out on any of those. Let’s see if I can do better this year.

Desktop authoring begins to fade

Everyone else is talking about the cloud, but what about tech comm? Many content creation efforts will shift into the cloud and away from desktop applications and their monstrous footprints (I’m looking at you, Adobe). When your content lives in the cloud, you can edit from anywhere and be much less dependent on a specific computer loaded with specific applications.

I expect to see much more content creation migrate into web applications, such as wiki software and blogging software. I do not, at this point, see much potential for the various “online word processors,” such as Buzzword or Zoho Writer, for tech comm. Creating documents longer than four or five pages in these environments is painful.

In the ideal universe, I’d like to see more support for DITA and/or XML in these tools, but I’m not holding my breath for this in 2010.

The ends justify the means

From what we are seeing, the rate of XML adoption is steady or even accelerating. But the rationale for XML is shifting. In the past, the benefits of structured authoring—consistency, template enforcement, and content reuse—have been the primary drivers. But in several newer projects, XML is a means to an end rather than a goal—our customers want to extract information from databases, or transfer information between two otherwise incompatible applications. The project justifications reach beyond the issues of content quality and instead focus on integrating content from multiple information sources.

Social-ism

Is the hype about social media overblown? Actually, I don’t think so. I did a webcast (YouTube link) on this topic in December 2009. The short version: Technical communicators must now compete with information being generated by the user community. This requires greater transparency and better content.

My prediction is that a strategy for integrating social media and official tech comm will be critical in 2010 and beyond.

Collaboration

The days of the hermit tech writer are numbered. Close collaboration with product experts, the user community, and others will become the norm. This requires tools that are accessible to non-specialists and that offer easy ways to manage input from collaborators.

Language shifts

There are a couple of interesting changes in language:

  • Content strategy rather than documentation plan
  • Decision engine (such as Hunch, Wolfram Alpha, and Aardvark) rather than search engine

What are your predictions for 2010?

Other interesting prediction posts:

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe

Twitter

Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

8 Comments on “2010 predictions for technical communication”

  1. Hi, Sarah. Happy New Year! I don’t often agree on predictions like this out of the gate, but I have to say, I generally agree. Thanks for articulating the topics so well!

    That said, I’m not sure they’re predictions, as I’ve seen evidence to all of these in the past five months in my work.

    I think the strength of the technical communicator in the future will be to be able to move seemlessly around an organization and address “any” communication need. We’ll work with the other communications orgs, but we’ll know how to communicate as well as deliever what’s needed (e.g., proposing the right tool or process).

    There’s a lot of overlap with what “technical communicators” do and what other internal organizations are doing these days. Social media is being led by internal communications and Marketing. Process work is being done by business analysts and organizational excellence leaders. Intranets (tool selection and content development) are being done be various departments who think they own it.

    When noticed, the work and skills of technical communicators are valued. But the context for their work is disappearing or gone.

  2. @Vici: There were already a couple of “trends” posts, so I picked “predictions” instead. But yes, this stuff is definitely starting to happen…

    @Karen: Thanks!

  3. I think the first two items on your list belong somewhat together. When using an online authoring solution it is vital to keep the worst case in mind: What will happen if the provider of the solution, for what ever reason, ceases operations? While you can continue to use a desktop application for years, you must be able to switch to a different online tool much faster – which is only possible if the source files (backup files) are based on open standards such as XML and DITA.

  4. Hi Sarah,

    I think you’re right on the money, and in my mind, all of these issues overlap. The potential of XML stored in an XML aware database provides us an opportunity to exploit our content, in the same way relational database technology has allowed us to exploit our raw data over the past 20 years. I’ve been touting this message to my organization for the last year and a half. We just need the right tools to get at it – i.e. web based, accessible to everyone in the organization, not just the tech writers, and in an easy to use format that won’t hinder their involvement.

    I too am hoping for DITA support, to leverage the vast amount of content we already have in that format. Unfortunately, I’m also am not confident this will all be delivered in 2010. There are products out there but they lack maturity, not to mention the ability to articulate what they do and how they differentiate from one another. There will be a number of us doing the exciting but painful, bleeding edge projects with these products to bring us into the next generation of technical writing. My enthusiasm for the technology is somewhat dampened by the very long way we have yet to go.

  5. “Is the hype about social media overblown? Actually, I don’t think so. I did a webcast (YouTube link) on this topic in December 2009. The short version: Technical communicators must now compete with information being generated by the user community. This requires greater transparency and better content.” It also requires better tools. Technical Communicators should be curating the community content generated on their company’s site as well as offline. If you;re interested, I’ve covered this extensively on Cloudave.com http://www.cloudave.com/link/why-technical-communicators-will-need-a-enterprise-2-0-content-curation-strategy

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