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Author: Sarah O'Keefe


Friends in new places

We’re pleased to announce that we have joined XMetaL’s Partner Program as a Certified Service Provider.

We will not be reselling XMetaL software, but we will begin offering XMetaL classes this summer.

This is really a customer-driven decision — we have clients asking us to develop XML and DITA implementations with XMetaL as the core authoring tool.

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WritersUA: My sessions

I delivered a session on Coping with the XML Paradigm Shift, in which I introduced my Taxonomy of Problem Writers for the first time. The slides are available in PDF format, and I welcome any and all comments. You probably won’t be surprised that the presentation is slightly over the top. It has, however, already served as a great conversation starter —
I heard people talking about Technosaurs and One-Trick Ponies.

On Tuesday afternoon, I did a double-length, hands-on Introduction to DITA session. (Many thanks to XMetaL for providing attendees with evaluation copies to use during the session.)

I arrived in the room about half an hour before the session and found a few people already moved in. (Always a good sign.) Trying to install and configure software just minutes before a session like this is a truly terrifying undertaking. And as we got closer to the session time, more
and more (and MORE) people kept coming. By my count, we had at least 35 people with laptops and five more without. (That’s about triple the number I’d normally allow in a hands-on training session.)

There were a few kinks, but we managed to get everyone up and running*, and I think the session was valuable. At the end, I polled the room on whether they were more or less likely to implement DITA and got an even split. Perfect!

We will be extending this three-hour session into a two-day Introduction to DITA class, which we expect to begin offering in mid-summer. Watch this space for more details.

* One person had a Mac, which I hadn’t anticipated. Sorry! The two people running Vista also had some issues. There were a few installation errors, but their software seemed to run OK.

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WritersUA: Pundit panel

The opening session with the ever-popular pundit panel was interesting. Bernard Ashwanden of Bright Path stole the show with a strip routine. Perhaps I should explain.

Bernard pointed out that life was about content, and the tools were just layers on top of the content. To illustrate the point, he took off his vendor shirt, revealing another vendor’s shirt. Then, he took off the second shirt to reveal yet another vendor’s shirt. After five shirts, he ended up with a MadCap T-shirt. I’m going to assume that this was related to shirt size and not some sort of message about who is closest to his heart. I should stress that Bernard did keep his last shirt on.

Although predictions were created independently by the various pundits, they were in substantive agreement in many cases. Everyone felt that the cliched web 2.0 will have a significant effect on technical writers. In a world where end users contribute to product information on wikis, user forums, podcasts, or videos, what is the role of the “corporate” technical writer?

Several people predicted a demise for traditional help authoring tools. They said that tools must evolve to support new media and community publishing models. I agree in part, but I don’t think this will happen in the next three years, as at least one panelist predicted.

As consultants, it’s our job to understand new technology and to be ready to implement it for our customers. But our customers are at different points on the technology adoption curve. We have:

  • Early adopters, who want the latest and greatest technology.
  • Cautious middle adopters, who want to implement proven technology.
  • Late adopters, who are the last ones to move into a new workflow.

As a result, at any given point, our active customers are:

  • Implementing the latest thing
  • Implementing the low-risk thing (which was likely the Next Big Thing five years ago)
  • Implementing the industry standard (which is robust, but not very cutting edge)

The web 2.0 technologies are still on the extreme bleeding edge. A few companies are implementing them (the Quadralay wiki comes to mind), but corporate adoption is going to take years. Furthermore, user-generated content presents enormous logistical, legal, and corporate positioning challenges, which will slow adoption for risk-averse companies (which is most of them).

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WritersUA: Overview

Attendance seemed to be up a little from last year with approximately 450 people at the show.

Great energy as usual, people were excited to be at the venue.

I got a chance to catch up with many of the Usual Suspects including Char James-Tanny, Alan Houser, Neil Perlin, Paul O’Rear, Dave Gash, Brian Walker, Tony Self, and many others. (If I left you out, it’s because my brain has turned to mush.)

Our booth was extremely busy, and we had great conversations with many attendees. In past years, we would tell people what we do (“XML blah blah structured authoring blah blah FrameMaker blah blah training consulting blah blah”), and some percentage would respond with, “Oh, I use [some help authoring tool] and I don’t need that stuff.” This year, there were two types of responses:

  • “We’re working on an XML implementation.”
  • “We’re thinking about XML.”

The percentage of attendees who do not need to care about XML was extremely low.

Our “Yellow Thingies” were very popular — in addition to chocolate (of course), we were giving away a printed, bound version of three of our white papers (with a yellow cover). You can get the white papers through our online store (free with registration), but attendees really seemed to appreciate the printed version.

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WritersUA: Rumors

From Char James-Tanny’s helpstuff blog:

Speaking of new features…RoboHelp will support both Windows Vista and Office 2007 in their next release, due out before the end of the year. I also heard today that Frame 8 will go to beta sometime in the next several months, and that a new product (kinda-sorta similar to RoboHelp for Frame) is under development. No news yet on the feature set, but that’s OK…I can wait until it’s released. (Given that I don’t use Frame, I obviously won’t be a beta tester!)

As you probably know, Scriptorium has a long-standing relationship with Adobe. We are an Adobe Authorized Training Center and have also done work for Adobe as a vendor (writing white papers and the like). As a result, we often have pre-release access to software under non-disclosure agreements.

This can make life quite difficult when people ask us about Adobe’s future plans. We aren’t allowed to say anything! You’ll notice, however, that it is possible to get information. My advice? If you want to know about upcoming features, corner the right Adobe person (don’t bug the RoboHelp guy about FrameMaker and vice versa), in private, and ask nicely.

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XML Trials and Tribulations

Last week, the STC San Diego chapter hosted Walter Hanig and myself presenting on XML Trials and Tribulations. This was a case study of the implementation at Walter’s company, which Scriptorium was involved in several years ago.

If you’re looking for a rah-rah XML presentation, this isn’t it. But if you’re interested in seeing what conditions make for a very, um, challenging implementation, take a look at the slides (PDF, 500K).

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“Perception is reality”

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a wise manager told me this in response to some whining from me. Things were happening, life was unfair, and I couldn’t understand why my wonderful contributions weren’t being appreciated.

“Perception is reality.”

The perception was wrong, and reality was irrelevant. Never mind whether I was doing a fantastic job — upper management didn’t see it that way, and their evaluations are based on their perception.

It seems that RoboHelp has a similar problem. Ellis Pratt writes on the Cherryleaf Technical Authors’ Blog: “The challenge for Adobe, I believe, is to develop a better product and to try and rebuild relationships that haven’t been nurtured properly for the past four or five years. Maybe it’s time they read ‘The Tipping Point’.”

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