Monthly Archives: November 2014
I enjoyed Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s (BLC) article immensely because it directly ties into my post from last week that discussed the value of a writer.
In one section of their study, BLC display a graph that shows the most often produced written materials as well as the most valued written materials. The first four items in each graph (email, websites, instructions/manuals, presentations) are the same, which did not surprise me because these seem to be the standard documents any tech writer is responsible for in a modern workplace.
However, a trend began to emerge after the first four. I noticed that it seemed as if the writings that had more value were written the least often. This appears to be true, save for the top four items, which may require further exploration and research to find out why these four things are mirrored on both lists.
For example, press releases are not highly-valued yet they are written quite frequently. Research papers on the other hand are written less frequently, but have a high value. The most interesting aspect of this article was the inclusion of fiction, which I found odd for an article regarding tech writing. What is even more interesting is that fiction is listed as being valuable, but it is nowhere to be found on the most often written chart.
These graphs and discussion of the value and frequency of different writing types was a small section in this paper, but a very important one that I think has the potential to be explored in more detail in future research studies. BLC may be well on their way to pinpointing exactly why writers are often undervalued and understand what makes other types of writing more or less valuable than others, even if it is written at high frequencies.
Ishii’s article is somewhat dated, as the statistics for mobile telephone conversations have probably increased sine 2006 when the article “Implications of Mobility” was published. However, Ishii’s implications have merit eight years after publication. I was particularly struck with the three types of mobility (spatial, temporal, and contextual) outlined (p. 347).
Contextual mobility, while potentially liberating for users–as they can turn off their phone if they wanted–is a double edged sword. In the workplace, with mobile phones, the expectation is for all employees to be “on” at all times, no matter the hour. I have gotten emails from work at 9:30 at night. This mobility and the implications of so much mobility and accessibility is something that we must be aware of, and intentional about creating boundaries.
I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but after reading Turkle’s Alone Together, I’ve been reading all our assignments through the lens of whether or not we’re allowing the technology to dictate our attention spans and stress levels. Perhaps I should get a landline and an answering machine to cut down on my accessibility. But then again, how could I read that 9:30 pm email from my coworker right when she sent it if I didn’t have my cell phone near me (and synced with my email account)?
While reading “Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work”, I began to realize how essential social networking has become in the workplace during these past few years. It is true that many of these once “personal” forms of communication and entertainment have recently become the primary method of communication in many workplaces. Most employers are now looking for experience with social networking when hiring new employees, so I was motivated to research the pros and cons of this trend. I ran into an article on CeraIt.com titled “5 Problems with Social Networking in the Workplace”, and found these points highlighted:
Expanding Market Research
Social networking sites give businesses a fantastic opportunity to widen their circle of contacts. Using Facebook, for example, a small business can target an audience of thousands without much effort or advertising. With a good company profile and little in terms of costs, a new market opens up, as do the opportunities to do business.
Social networks allow organizations to reach out to select groups or individuals and to target them personally. Businesses can encourage their customers to become connections or friends, offering special discounts that would be exclusive to online contacts. This personal touch is not only appreciated but may give the business access to that customer’s own network of contacts.
Improve Your Reputation
Building strong social networks can help a business to improve its reputation with as little advertising as possible. Social networks can boost your image as thought leaders in the field and customers/contacts start to acknowledge your business as reliable and an excellent source of information/products that suit their requirements.
Once social networks have become established and people become familiar with the brand, businesses can use the sites or applications to implement marketing campaigns, announce special offers, make important announcements and direct interested people to the specific Web sites. It is mostly free advertising, and the only cost to the business is the time and effort required to maintain the network and the official Web site.
Social networking sites are applications and, as such, are generally not a problem for organizations. It is the people who use them that are a cause for concern. Social networkers, if one can call them so, are the root of five problems for an organization that allows social networking at work.
One reason why organizations on social networking in the workplace is the fact that employees spend a great deal of time updating their profiles and sites throughout the day. If every employee in a 50-strong workforce spent 30 minutes on a social networking site every day, that would work out to a loss of 6,500 hours of productivity in one year! Although this may be a generalization, organizations look very carefully at productivity issues, and 25 hours of non-productive work per day does not go over well with management. When you factor in the average wage per hour you get a better (and decisive) picture.
There is also an effect on company morale. Employees do not appreciate colleagues spending hours on social networking sites (and others) while they are functioning to cover the workload. The impact is more pronounced if no action is taken against the abusers.
Although updates from sites like Facebook or LinkedIn may not take up huge amounts of bandwidth, the availability of (bandwidth-hungry) video links posted on these sites creates problems for IT administrators. There is a cost to Internet browsing, especially when high levels of bandwidth are required.
Viruses and Malware
This threat is often overlooked by organizations. Hackers are attracted to social networking sites because they see the potential to commit fraud and launch spam and malware attacks. There are more than 50,000 applications available for Facebook (according to the company) and while FaceBook may make every effort to provide protection against malware, these third-party applications may not all be safe. Some have the potential to be used to infect computers with malicious code, which in turn can be used to collect data from that user’s site. Messaging on social networking sites is also a concern, and the Koobface worm is just one example of how messages are used to spread malicious code and worms.
Social engineering is becoming a fine art and more and more people are falling victim to online scams that seem genuine. This can result in data or identity theft. Users may be convinced to give personal details such as Social Security numbers, employment details and so on. By collecting such information, data theft becomes a serious risk. On the other hand, people have a habit of posting details in their social networking profiles. While they would never disclose certain information when meeting someone for the first time, they see nothing wrong with posting it online for all to see on their profile, personal blog or other social networking site account. This data can often be mined by cybercriminals.
Employers must be on the lookout for information that their employees may post, as this may have an impact on the company. People often post messages without thinking through what they’ve have written. A seemingly innocuous message such as “I’m working this weekend because we’ve found a problem in our front-end product” may be a spur-of-the-moment comment but could raise concern among customers who may use that system, especially if the company handles confidential or financial detail.
Reputation and Legal Liability
At then time of authorship, there have been no major corporate lawsuits involving evidence from social networking sites. However, organizations need to watch for employees who may be commenting publicly about their employer. For example, one young employee wrote on her profile that her job was boring and soon received her marching orders from her boss. What if a disgruntled employee decided to complain about a product or the company’s inefficiencies in his or her profile? There are also serious legal consequences if employees use these sites and click on links to view objectionable, illicit or offensive content. An employer could be held liable for failing to protect employees from viewing such material. The legal costs, fines and damage to the organization’s reputation could be substantial.
Do you guys think this trend is a beneficial one that should be continued considering the pros and cons?
Kelleher, D. (n.d.). 5 Problems with Social Networking in the Workplace. Retrieved November 16, 2014, from http://www.cerait.com/5-problems-social-networking-workplace
Imagine this: You are at a dinner with friends, either out at a restaurant or in someone’s home, and know only one or two people in the room. Although you’ve had a lovely conversation with one young woman, she has excused herself to the restroom and you are no longer tethered to a conversation. What is your first reaction?
More than likely, you turn to your phone either to check the time or fill time.
Welcome to the world of contextual mobility 2.0.
While reading “Implications of Mobility” by author Kenichi Ishii (2006), I could not help but trace the eight-year-ago paper’s summary to new examination of mobility, as described by Turkle (2012) and Rheigngold (2014). The author’s work seems almost a forshadowing of current social forms of communication. The idea of contextualized communication has, since the paper’s publication, become a norm. For example, the author gives an overview of young people using mobile phones to maintain social networks beyond parental grasp, and that mobile phones “…[are] used to obtain freedom from family grip” (Ishii, 2006, p. 348).
With the decline of landline usage, the contextualization for youth using mobile phones has shifted to a norm of communication, leading to Turkle’s (2012) point that humans expect more from technology and less from each other. This, perhaps, rising from the idea that contextual mobility has “….enable[d] mobile phones users to communicate more freely from an existing social context” (Ishii, 2006, p. 350). Published shortly after the birth of Facebook, I see the author’s paper as forbearance of future events.
Perhaps most prophetical is the author’s illumination between low social skills and mobile use. Today, millennials hate getting voicemail, and prefer text over actual phone conversations. This hyper-contextualization of communication is pointed out in the author’s note that “…it is hypothesized that people with low social skills prefer mobile mail to mobile voice phone as compared to people with higher social skills” (Ishii, 2006, p. 351). Taken in context of Turkle’s point that “…Some of the things we do now with our devices, only a few years ago we would have found odd. We would have found disturbing” (Turkle, TEDtalk, February 2012), such as prefering text over voicemail
What do you think? Is Ishii’s (2006) work a foreshadowing of contextual communication mentioned by Turkle (2012)?
Zachry and Ferro’s article, Technical Communication Unbound, helped me organize my thoughts on a topic that has been circulating in my mind for some time: the value of a writer.
This particular part of their article was the source of inspiration for the topic of this post:
“..it now appears that the tasks of those working in the profession are necessarily expanding to include such concerns as real-time monitoring of texts and other communicative performances that circulate in the network of social media.”
Since the responsibilities of a writer are evolving and expanding, I would hope that this means that the respect and appreciation for tech writers is increasing with it.
In my own personal experience, this is not so. At my place of employment, more importance is placed on skills such as design or coding, which has been made completely clear to me from recent conversations with my boss. In fact, I’ve been told that my position as a content writer, “requires no real skills.”
With the emergence of social media and its emphasis on shorthand writing forms, it is easy for one to think less of writing or not even think of it as a useful skill at all.
I suppose that I worry that, with the increase of responsibilities, tech writers will be thought of more as an administrative assistant with a laundry lists of tasks to accomplish and less like a professional with useful skills.
While reading Ferro and Zachry’s “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge Making”, I ran across the statement that:
Technology ranks high on the worldwide list of tools promising to foster economic growth, social well-being, and environmental sustainability, especially in the global south.
I began thinking of my personal “northern” view of social media and technology, and I personally view it as essential part of my lifestyle. Although I’m sure technology plays it’s part in the economy, I see it on a more personal level. I did some research to see how people in other countries viewed the social media and technology, and ran across this article titled “Around the World, Net Neutrality Is Not a Reality”. The article examined the general view of technology and social media in developing countries, and mentioned that in Kenya:
In the United States it’s practically free for you to get on Google and Facebook, as Wi-Fi is almost everywhere or cheap relative to income. Here, that’s not the case, It’s a different relationship to the Internet when you only get it on your phone, and you don’t have a traditional Internet connection at home or work.
For poorer people, Internet access will equal Facebook. That’s not the Internet—that’s being fodder for someone else’s ad-targeting business. That’s entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination—a crucial limitation on human life.
I found this article incredibly interesting and was wondering what technology and social media meant to you all?
Talbot, D. (2014, January 20). In Developing Countries, Google and Facebook Already Defy Net Neutrality | MIT Technology Review. Retrieved November 10, 2014.
I was interested in the global aspect of Longo’s article and colloquium and the desire to bring the cultural implications of the internet and social networking to the fore. It was important to me that the needs and considerations of the globally disenfranchised were so strongly considered. Truthfully, I find myself often forgetting that so much of the world is generally without the networked capabilities I take for granted.
Longo had a point that spoke to me especially as a designer interested in the best communication practices between all types of people, across cultures:
However, as we embrace and use these tools to open communication and design processes, we need to look at cultural assumptions underpinning the design of these tools and how we envision people using them. Through this mutual analysis of our audience, our tools, and ourselves, we are able to devise technology design and diffusion practices that profoundly include the perspectives and feedback of people whose lives are affected by those technologies. (pg. 26)
Especially in a hyper-connected world where the latest designed artifacts are largely of the digital, interactive variety, there are incredible opportunities to design interaction in the most inclusive and universal ways possible. Designers and writers today should assume that their works can be accessed and used by people in widely differing cultures and create with the goal to successfully reach as many people as possible. This is such a challenging aspect of design today. It is challenging to design for the entire range of participants in our own culture, much less cultures we are wholly unfamiliar with. The desire to create universal works needs to be accompanied by a drive for intense research and an abstract way of thinking that can allow the creator to place themselves in another’s shoes. It is a balancing act between clearly communicated content and accessible design.
Think about your own favorite social media technology, and think of yourself as someone from the Global South. How does the technology translate? Is the technology primarily word-based? This clearly creates limitations. Maybe there’s extensive use of icons, some of which have come to represent technology in a universal way (think of a “settings” icon, often represented by a gear shape, or a “location” or “GPS” icon, wholly derived from graphic interface of the technology itself). Some social media tools are very minimal in prompts design, relying on swipes and taps to function.
As we begin to collaborate and seek feedback from across cultures and continents, we may find ourselves thinking in terms of the most basic forms of communications. The universal solution might rely on a design of simplicity to facilitate and negotiate the complexity of the inner workings.
I have been actively seeking employment since early this year and have tried all of the job boards (Monster, Indeed, Career Builder), numerous temp agencies (KForce, Robert Half, Jaci Carroll), and have been visiting company websites for open positions with no luck. A good friend of mine who is an aspiring career coach always tells me to try LinkedIn, but never gave me any solid instruction. I created a profile a few years ago, but deleted it when I realized my cell phone number and address were showing up in Google searches along with my picture. I definitely need a new approach, but I was very uncertain of how LinkedIn may help.
One day while researching the benefits of LinkedIn vs. Indeed, I ran across this wonderfully titled article on ZipRecruiter called “LinkedIn vs. Indeed: The Apply Button Smackdown!” The article recounted how ZipRecruiter added both “apply buttons” for Indeed and LinkedIn and tracked the number of applicants that used each. The monthly results:
Indeed Apply: 6.9% (12,564)
LinkedIn Apply: 6.4% (11,599)
ZipRecruiter Apply: 86.7% (157,589)
Indeed Apply: 10.1% (22,003)
LinkedIn Apply: 6.6% (14,377)
ZipRecruiter Apply: 83.3% (180,616)
Indeed Apply: 16.0% (38,610)
LinkedIn Apply: 5.4% (13,017)
ZipRecruiter Apply: 78.6% (188,747)
The article went on to ask why the Indeed apply button outperformed the LinkedIn button, and came to the conclusions that:
- When someone gives their resume to Indeed, they do so with the explicit intent of finding a job or changing jobs. Even though LinkedIn has a multi-year head start collecting resumes, the majority of their users are not engaged in an active job search.
- Indeed is RAPIDLY building the size of their resume database. We asked Indeed for a run-rate and they told us they are adding more than 1 million new resumes a month. That’s a staggering volume of active job seekers set up to use the Indeed Apply button.
I found this article interesting as it seems more serious applicants are using Indeed and probably similar search engines. I have gotten most of my job interviews off Indeed.com and I truthfully think it’s an excellent resource. Rich Maggiani and Ed Marshall’s article seemed like a how-to for LinkedIn, and I appreciate the concept of connections. However I wonder how far connections of connections who are virtually strangers would go to act as a job reference for you. It seems very abstract and absurd, but it is worth a try.
Have any of you had any luck with finding work on LinkedIn?
Siegel, I. (2012, July 18). LinkedIn vs. Indeed: The Apply Button Smackdown! – ZipRecruiter. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/2012/07/18/linkedin-vs-indeed-the-apply-button-smackdown/
(2011, 10 02). Job Search [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://mbahighway.com/2011/10/top-10-mba-job-search-websites/
Barry Thatcher’s article, Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures, brings up one of the most important, but rarely discussed aspect of digital communication: cultural differences. No matter where we are in the world, we can access the Internet from the same types of devices, but not always the same websites. Or, sometimes one website is adapted to display differently according to region and native language. We are using the same Internet, but not always viewing, absorbing and processing the same things.
I work for an ecommerce web design company that is based in the US but works with several contractors in Pakistan and India. Aside from working with people overseas on a regular basis, we get clients from all over the world. Lately, I have been noticing that a lot of our clients want bi or multilingual websites, which, from a coding and design standpoint, can be complicated and ultimately expensive. Additionally, a lot of the major ecommerce platforms we work with will allow multi-language support, but only with a lot of custom coding, which, again, can be quite expensive.
One of the most complex problems we have yet to find a solution to is the ability to create a bi or multilingual ecommerce store with the checkout process to be in the language of the shoppers’ choosing. Yes, even with custom-coding and advanced functionality, it is incredibly difficult to translate the checkout process in a language other than English with a hosted ecommerce platform.
Thatcher’s article had me thinking of this particular issue because we are able to translate every part of the online shopping experience except for the most important: the checkout. This is where actual money is exchanged and people want this to feel the most comfortable, but we are unable to do that for them. I’ve been doing some research on this for work and I have discovered that many international shoppers simply accept this as the norm, but I feel like it is unfair for this to be so.
Ultimately, cultural differences on the Internet have led me to contemplate the benefits and downfalls of ignoring cultural norms an instead create a universal, digital culture with its own set of beliefs, language and functions. Some may argue that this already exists, but as Thatcher has us realize, we have only been viewing the Internet through a North American lens. The Internet is different everywhere and we need to take that into consideration more often.
Audience analysis is something that I’ve always struggled with in my career. As a technical communicator who has spent more than seven years documenting various software products, I often wonder why it is so difficult to understand the users of a particular product or why it is impossible to have contact with them. Since documentation is so important, why does all customer contact and audience analysis come from product management, marketing, or support? If we are providing information to customers, shouldn’t we as technical communicators be the first line of contact? I understand that the main reason is to respect customers’ privacy and time, but that just seems like an excuse.
Similar to cases three and four in Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age, my company also provides enterprise network security services and products. We produce 500+ page PDFs and HTML help. We want to improve our documentation, but we don’t truly know our reader’s needs. Like most linear-based PDFs, our content is not chunked and some of the important tasks are buried in paragraphs. We are also interested in providing tutorials, but since we have absolutely no contact with our customers, we don’t know if creating these tutorials would be valuable.
Blakeslee explains that there are three things writers need about audiences:
- How readers will read and interact
- What context will readers use the information
- What expectations do the readers have before using the information
The chapter then gives detailed examples in the case studies of the strategies and methods writers use to analyze their audience. Some use bulletin boards, personas, and support call logs. Others use industry conference proceedings, whitepapers, or training materials. At my company, we get some feature request information from product management. We also receive software bugs that are logged if customers or employees find issues in our documentation. While our current methods aren’t the best, I feel encouraged to apply some of the questions listed in Appendix A to improve our documentation and to provide the best user experience possible.
Where do we come off knowing how a user will access the web? With Google, I can find something that’s deep within a site, and avoid all the crumbs to get to the page I wanted. In Spilka’s book, Ann Blakeslee makes the good point that technical communicators need to shift from “developing documentation based on what writers think their readers need,” to how they “will actually use the information to complete a task” (p. 216). Luckily, we expect repetition in both communication and online. So we can have the same information on more than one page on a website to make sure someone sees it, even if they skipped the two pages leading up to the page they sought.
That is the science. The art is how much to say and what to omit so as to keep the added value of visiting the site (so it’s not just ten pages of the same information over and over again). But, I think that’s a secondary concern. The first concern is to have a task-based infrastructure so that the audience can find what they’re looking for, and not have to sift through paragraphs of information. About the ‘how much to add where’ question, I think it’s a constant challenge to keep tweaking. From my personal experience, I’d rather have a straightforward answer to my query, and then I can dive into the hyperlink tunnel to find more answers if I so wish. That way I do get to know what the website has to offer, just not in a linear manner.
So should we change to a task-based communication? Yes. If you think not, I’d love to hear why; I am open to changing my mind on this if I hear a compelling reason.
I was especially interested in the topic of cross-cultural communication in Chapter 7 of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, titled “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures” by Barry Thatcher. I personally have always enjoyed the research portion of communications work, and learning about the audience and applying that knowledge to convey information to a particular demographic is an indispensable part of designing and writing successful communications.
It is because of this research interest, paired with a fascination of world cultures that I found the information in Thatcher’s chapter of particular value. I think it can be easy as an American to feel isolated from international culture, especially for Midwesterners and people who live outside of major metropolitan areas, so this article also serves as a reminder that our communication methods are particular to this culture and not always directly applicable to others.
My favorite part of the article was Thatcher’s research into websites of 27 universities around the world, looking at purpose, audience, information, organization and style in terms of the cultural values of “how a single person relates to others” (pg. 175), universal or particular approach to rules and norms (pg. 176) and the “degree of involvement across different spheres of life” approach of diffuse or specific (pg. 177) as illustrations of these cross-cultural communications considerations. When reading about this research and Thatcher’s case study involving Texas Tech University, I couldn’t help but think of Stout’s website and how, not surprisingly, it embodies many of the same cultural communications values Thatcher describes as particular to Western cultures.
Like the Texas Tech website, the homepage emphasizes cultural values of “individualism, universalism, and specific orientation.” (pg. 190). This is shown by the featured image of a lone, individual student in the header as well as links that are specific to types of users the website aims to serve. The purpose is to give users quick and direct access to whatever information they seek.
The audience for the Stout website is those disparate individuals looking for quick access to specific types of information. Like Texas Tech’s site, it is “designed for the reader’s specific needs at the moment.” (pg. 191)
The information presented is, again, all about the individual user’s needs for specific answers. Collective and historic information about Stout and the Menomonie community is buried within the site. Many photos do include collaborative themes and groups of students, but the relationships are often vague. Language is at a universal level, designed to be easily understood by most potential users.
The organization of the Stout site is based on the specific needs of the audience mentioned above. The site as a whole is “highly templated”, much like Texas Tech’s site (pg. 193). The overall organization follows strict guidelines which dictate menus, headers and hierarchy, dividing information immediately along user types like “Future Students”, “Current Students”, “Parents”, etc.
Looking at these cultural values evident in a familiar website has made me realize how much I am oriented to think along these lines when organizing information in publications and website design without much thought about how else it could be done, certainly not in terms of how international users might prefer to be communicated to. As world cultures become more connected through the network, cross-cultural considerations become increasingly relevant during the design process, and I certainly plan on applying the concepts presented in this chapter in my work. Did this article make you think about the cultural assumptions you make in your work?