In my last post, I left off with my description of the two major continents in the World of Content:

  • The Archipelago of Internet Marketing
  • The Land of TechComms (and a bit of Training)

Today there’s a gap between them, but the two continents are starting to collide and create some topographical ruffles in the process. Here we look a bit more at some names and faces from the populations and why this is an issue for the enterprise.
This was all born of my thinking when coming up with the theme for the Congility 2011 Conference in the UK this May.

The Lay of the Land And The Cloud

Wherever you picture yourself on this Communications landscape, the word wide web flows around and between us all like water. As they say, “location, location, location”. Everyone – inside and outside any organisation – can see the web and (theoretically) find the information on it.
On the web you can even package up bits of content and ship them stuck to other bits (related items, banner ads, pop-ups), to make them even more “findable”. Now in the age of social media, every single man, woman, and especially child is throwing their work into the growth of web’s wealth of information and the findability of that information.
This creates a friction along the coast as the Archipelago of Internet Marketing and Land of TechComms start to merge, pushed on, inexorably, by the underlying market forces.
Take for example some other posts from both sides of Web Content / Technical Content fence:
Kristina Havlorson’s posted “Why I Wrote Content Strategy FOR THE WEB” recently regarding her book and why the title and examples therein focussed on the web. On that post she’s provided further contextual links, and calls it a source of “serious frustration”. In the end, I’d say she’s not as webby as you might think, and she and her book are not to be dismissed by any content professional.
Kristina links her post to one by Rahel Bailie. Several conversations with Rahel and Rahel’s blogs regarding Content Strategy were further dominos leading up to this article.
There was also some feather ruffling in the blogosphere (see 18:19 18/05/2011 Update below for new information and correction on this) caused by notable blogger and Content Professional Julie Norris announcing she was leaving technical communications and transitioning into something more in the UX and social-media related fields (Here’s a post where TechComms blogger Tom Johnson then reacted to that). Almost as an aside in her announcement she was leaving TechComms, she dropped, grenade-like, the comment that TechComms was ‘mired in the past’.
Bam!
I, unfortunately, can’t quote directly or even link to it because the original post, its update notes, and even a follow-up post, have all been (tragically) removed from Julie’s blog. The evidence can be now most easily found via Tom Johnson’s blog “Technical Communication Stuck in the Past?”

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So – we can see the wrinkles forming the landscape already. Let’s hope that like when real tectonic plates crash, it forces the horizon skyward, and everyone’s game will be raised. But why is this happening, and possibly more importantly, what is impact?

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UPDATE (18:19 18/05/2011):

Julie has commented on this post and part 5 to point out an error. Because I was not able to access her blog directly, I was left with the misinterpretation that she had in fact ‘left’ TechComms for pastures new. The truth was that was refocusing her blog away from TechComms, but she is today and will continue to be a Technical Communications practitioner. I have left the rest of the blog as was, because the key point is the reaction that the mere idea caused. At Julie’s request I have included this point of fact that she has NOT ‘left’ at all. Any words not quoted directly from her blog were my interpretation based on Tom Johnson’s post and the contents are not to be attributed to Julie herself.

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The Point of Impact – The Customer’s Doorstep

I’m very interested in the rift* between those in the content industry who are generally taking a holistic approach, integrating across the borders, and those who keep to their ‘nationalities’.
* For more on TechComms rift see Sarah O’Keefe’s blog on 2011 predictions: http://www.scriptorium.com/2011/01/2011-predictions-for-technical-communication/
This second rift is more important because of the victims: the customers. Oh please, won’t someone think of the customers! My most popular blog post to date was all about how fragmentation and division inside the organisation create fragmentation in our content and our communications. The result: customer experience suffers.

I recently had calls with three companies (in one week!) who had:

  • unified their writing style, structural and metadata guidelines
  • implemented a content management system
  • set up standards and collaboration across business units
  • moved to a modular XML-based standard (DITA, for their technical content)

And by doing so had realised all sorts of great benefits. What were we talking about on the call? The fact that in the end, what they had done was set up a very efficient, collaborative silo of technical content that was isolated from the rest of the content in training, engineering, presales and marketing. Terminology, Language, Labelling/Taxonomy, Metadata, even things as important as product names, were not supported with the solutions implemented.
Many of the software vendors and even many consultants and experts only make this worse. Each of these organisations had Web CMS systems in place, but they weren’t integrated neither in process nor in software. Software vendors know that trying to bridge a departmental gap is only going to complicate and therefore lengthen their sales cycle. That ain’t gonna happen. So they “give the people what they want”.
However, it’s the customers who have navigate through all our output, regardless of source department, so the more rifts there are in our thinking and processes the more rifts they’ll have to traverse to get what they want. That’s annoying!
Today, the customer wants us to integrate. They want us to work together to deliver the value-added, clear, CONCISE*, factual information about products and services. Most marketers already know that today the more you appear to be trying to sell, the less affective, but haven’t got a plan yet as to how they’re realistically going to keep product information fresh, available and digestible.
Check out The (ever-brilliant) Oatmeal:
http://theoatmeal.com/comics/sell_generation
There you have it.
In Part 3 we deep-dive into why we can’t get along. Why does the rift persist?
*Unlike my blog posts…