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February 27, 2012

Intelligent Content conference thoughts

Palm Springs provides a spectacular setting for the Intelligent Content conference. But despite the beautiful scenery (and outside temperature!), conference-goers were more likely to be found in the chilly, windowless meeting rooms.

I’m overwhelmed by all the great information, but I think there are a few key points that already stand out:
Morning in Palm Springs

Technical communication (techcomm) and marketing communication (marcomm) need to start talking to each other. Techcomm has information that marcomm needs and vice versa.

Digital publishing and intelligent content are going to allow for interesting new information products. Nobody quite knows what they will be, but expect something that goes beyond ebooks. (Basic ebooks are really just books rendered in a new medium. The question is what will an information product look like that really takes advantage of what we can do in a digital context.)

Some books are not really books. I saw a presentation from Erin McKean a few years back in which she talked about how a dictionary is really not a book. It’s not narrative. It’s a collection of reference items, and those items can be presented in lots of different ways, many of which are better than the “book” paradigm.

Similarly, a data sheet should not really be presented as a multipage document with lists of specifications. A data sheet is reference information and the purpose of the datasheet is just to provide the user with those specifications. What if you can present them in a better way?

Here’s a five-minute mockup that shows how you could use data sheet information to filter what is presented to the end user:

Mockup of product selector that could replace a data sheet. Faceted search narrows down the product list, then click to see more about that product.

I have to acknowledge the power of personal interactions once again. In-person conversations over meals or drinks and in random hallway interactions are powerful. In our daily work, we are usually busy trying to get information out the door, so big thoughts and extended conversations are rare. We need conferences to give us a space where we can step away from deadlines and gain perspective.

Many thanks to the conference organizers, Scott Abel and Ann Rockley, and their dedicated support staff. I don’t think they slept during the event.