Ignorance as an asset?

Sarah O'Keefe / Opinion1 Comment

There’s a recurring debate over how technical a technical writer should be. One faction argues that ignorance of the technology being documented forces the technical writer to think at the same level as the target audience — the end user.

The other faction argues that the ability to pretend ignorance may be valuable, but that the more the writer knows, the better.

I definitely fall into the latter camp, but I do recognize that being able to empathize (or maybe commiserate) with the end user is useful. I suggest that you periodically take up a new craft, like woodworking or crochet. This allows you to relive the experience of being adrift in ignorance, with little or no help available. Or try home remodeling (preferably on nothing of structural importance).

Corel, ArborText, Interleaf, plus Adobe and Macromedia

Sarah O'Keefe / News1 Comment

What do they have in common?

Back in 2003, Corel was acquired by Vector Capital.

In July 2005, PTC announced it was acquiring ArborText.

Adobe and Macromedia are working on a merger.

And now, BroadVision (which makes Interleaf) has announced that it is going private (it’s the opposite of an IPO) and being purchased by Vector Capital.

I think it adds up to a trend.

What does consolidation in this industry mean for us?

A different perspective on digital rights

Sarah O'Keefe / OpinionLeave a Comment

This week is apparently DRM Week here at Palimpsest…

Neil McAllister writes in InfoWorld:

[E]very business, and indeed every consumer, has information they want protected. Trade secrets are the obvious example. But closer to home, think of your employee records, your personal health care history, or the estimated 40 million credit card numbers that were exposed in the CardSystems Solutions security breach in June.

The thing about these kinds of records is that, in fact, they need to be shared, albeit in a controlled way. Your insurance information should be available to some parties, for example, but not to others. You don’t want to give it out willy-nilly. You want to license it. All that’s missing is a software infrastructure that would let you do that in a way that’s explicit, granular, and secure. DRM would provide such an infrastructure.

In praise of Digital Rights Management

He argues that the DRM vendors are barking up the wrong tree. Instead of locking up music and videos (which makes consumers unhappy), they should focus on managing rights to enforce privacy (which makes consumers happy).

Summer is a lovely time for….

Sarah O'Keefe / NewsLeave a Comment

The Alfresco Manifesto

Officially, it’s “Alfresco: Why Open Source?” The article describes the company’s approach to open-source content management.

Alfresco is interesting for several reasons, not least of which is that the founder, John Newton, was the founder of Documentum.

Read his manifesto. If you need content management, it’s entertaining. If you create commercial content management systems, it must be deeply frightening.

Trouble at STC

Sarah O'Keefe / NewsLeave a Comment

There is now a Yahoo group dedicated to “returning the Society for Technical Communication to an organization that is more OPEN and truly RESPONSIVE to the needs of its members.”

It’s not a good sign when a mailing list with this purpose attracts nearly 100 participants. (97 as I write this)

Reform STC Yahoo Group

Really. I just needed a conference this fall.

Sarah O'Keefe / ConferencesLeave a Comment

In reviewing our conference schedule for this year, we noticed that conference events were front-loaded in the spring: WinWriters in March, TriDoc in April, and STC in May.

I decided we needed to find another conference this fall. Conferences are an important marketing and networking opportunity for us. Some large percentage of our clients first met us because they attended a conference presentation.

I found the following without too much difficulty (this was back in April or so):

  • tekom and the concurrent European Information Development Conference, Wiesbaden, Germany, November
  • STC Region 5 Conference, Arizona, November
  • LavaCon, Hawaii, September

I’ll give you one second to figure out which one I picked. And then I’ll provide some additional justification for my junket to Hawaiichoice of LavaCon.

  1. tekom requires presenters to submit papers for the conference proceedings. tekom takes the copyright to those materials. (This is similar to STC’s policy, but the papers are optional for the STC proceedings. This, by the way, is why so many presenters do not provide materials to STC.) It’s expensive to fly to Germany and, in November, it’s going to be COLD.
  2. STC Region 5. More appealing than Germany on the weather front. But again, we have the presenter policies. This time, presenters are not required to register for the conference in order to present. If they do, though, they receive a 20 percent discount off the cost of admission. A 20 percent discount is really not enough to get me on a plane. I suppose it might cover airport parking.
  3. LavaCon has a trade show component. tekom does as well, but was ruled out due to item #1 above.
  4. LavaCon is primarily targeted at managers, and managers are usually the people who hire us. Also, any manager who can get approval for a trip to Hawaii is clearly someone who knows how to get things done.

Here are some things that I would like to see more conference organizers do:

  • Provide clear information about proposals, proposal deadlines, and proposal criteria. Tell us what you are looking for.
  • Keep the proposal submission deadline as close as possible to the conference. (The proposal deadline for the May 2006 STC conference is August 2005. No wonder it’s hard to find cutting-edge presentations.)
  • Be reasonable about speaking compensation. I prefer conferences at which I get paid to speak (or at least get travel reimbursement), but I will certainly consider others. Understand that increased speaker compensation results in better proposals and more speakers to choose from.
  • Be reasonable about materials and copyrights. We’re in the publishing industry and should understand that content has value. Asking me to give up the copyright to a presentation or proceedings paper–without compensation–is a deal-breaker.
  • Don’t schedule conferences on weekends. A Friday-Saturday conference says that the conference content isn’t compelling enough for attendees to justify two days away from work. I consider conference presentations work–difficult work–and I really don’t like working on Saturdays.

I should mention that two professional conference organizers–Joe Welinske of WinWriters and Jack Molisani of LavaCon–are great to work with and really understand the concerns of their speakers.

Well. I feel better. See you in Hawaii…