Changes in an evergrowing sea of information
Spilka describes the change in the role of Technical Communicators from the 1970’s to the 1980’s. They originally created complex technical manuals for trained professionals, but their role changed to creating less complex documentation for novice users who less likely to develop strong computer skills. The technical writing designation also changed to Information Developer. These developers brought about more user-centered communication as well as increased system testing and design to reduce or eliminate experience level issues. This greater focus on system usability, design, and function made it much easier for users and reduced some of the need for complex documentation. The role of Technical Communicators changed again in the 1990’s. They continued to work in groups to develop documentation for users, but they also worked at the client’s location to document the specific hardware and system needs of the client. These role changes were essential due to the changing technology and information climate, but I think the increased focus toward usability testing was very important to the development of technical communication as a career and a discipline.
There were two major changes that occurred between the technical writers of the 1970’s and the 1990’s. The first involved an increase in the use of computers involved in the technical writing process. Early writers to create their drafts, but the final content would be entered into the printing software by designated people. Writers began to use computers more and more over time in the creation of technical documentation. The second change was a shift from print media to digital published media. Previously, most technical documentation was created for a printed paper format. Over time, documentation has shifted to digital based, either in PDF form, or in an HTML based format.
Qualman’s quote contrasting traditional broadcast with the internet was very interesting to me. He is quite correct with his statement. Millions of viewers tune in every Monday and Tuesday to watch The Voice, and each viewer receives the same show at the same time. Broadcast provides a blanket experience for viewers and hopes that the majority of viewers enjoy the experience.
The internet is very different from that. Millions of individuals go on the internet to a site like Facebook, but they each have a slightly different experience, based on their friends and the content they have liked in the past. Even the ads on the side of the page are different based on their current or previous browsing history. After they leave Facebook, there are a near limitless number of other sites they can visit and explore. Often times, a person can flip through the channels and find “nothing on”, but no one can make the same claim about the internet. There is always something to read or watch, but the user has to search for it.
Search engines are great for searching far and wide for information, but sometimes it is difficult to cast a broad enough net to catch what you are looking for without bringing in a lot of things you don’t want. The evolution of language can actually make things more difficult to find, because slang terminology can result in a word meaning two very different things. It also helps to know the correct name for what you are searching for. Is some cases, you may need both to locate what you are actually looking for. I’ve recently started considering building a small boat. There are an absurd amount of boat plans and pictures of homemade wooden boats on the internet, but finding just the right one has proven to be somewhat frustrating. I know what I want to find, I believe it is an Asian inspired small fishing boat, but I’m having trouble finding out what that type of boat would be named or where to find the plans for it. So far my results have yielded a lot of the same types, so I know that I will need to try a different approach. I may get to the point where I take what I know and use social media to try to fill in the rest. I have a couple friends that have also done boat building research, a few that have traveled to and lived in Korea, China, and Japan, and others that just seem to know a lot of random things. If I can’t find it on my own, I may need to post my question on Facebook and poll the audience.
Qualman also mentions that Google has implemented more interactive tools to use when searching that allow users to vote up or down search results. I was unaware of this feature, but I plan to use it in the future when I am presented with a link to something that makes no sense based on my search terms. I will also use it if I finally find what I am looking for on search page 3.