Author Archives: b0bryan
Do you remember this band from the 80’s? There’s no real relation between this and the article, “Privacy, Trust and Disclosure Online” by Schofield and Johnson. but they included the following quote, so I couldn’t resist:
At no time have privacy issues taken on greater significance than in recent years, as technological developments have led to the emvergence of an “information society” capable of gathering, storing and disseminating increasing amounts of data about individuals. (p.16)
The focus of the article is on personal privacy and all the various aspects of that, such as psychological, physical, and interactional (p. 14), but one area that really impacts us is organizational privacy. By that I mean, the ability of the employees of our customers to retrie ve and share information without exposing it to our other customers (their competitors). We would love to implement the kind of communication that social media provides, but our customers are very concerned about keeping their proprietary information away from their competitors. Even just letting other customers see the kinds of questions they are asking could give away some key competitive details.
It is hard enough to really understand the difference between your actual privacy and perceived privacy as an individual, but I think it is probably even harder for people to make decisions in this area when they are making them on behalf of their employer. This might be the single biggest obstacle to implementing social media in business to business (B2B) communication.
We are the Borg. Resistance as you know it is over. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.
– The Borg
At work my employee computer ID is QA4268. If someone logs into our CMS and wants to search for something that I have created, they can’t use my name, they have to know that QA4268 is me–or that I’m QA4268. Hmmm . . . now that I think about it, that is a teeny bit disturbing, which brings me to the article, Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations, by Steven Katz and Vicki Rhodes. In it they state, “Have you ever noticed how some systems or procedures at work–say, a time tracking system, registration process, or evaluation procedure–are more adapted to themselves, more focused on their own efficiency and operation, than on the human being who is the ostensible object or user?” (p. 235)
They even follow this quote up with a specific mention to most CMSs and how they are often guilty of this–the one where I work is no exception. The software has all the technical capability that we require and is capable of fully delivering on everything we ask of it, but in many ways it ignores the requirements and limitations of the people that need to use it. For example, almost all the information about how information is related to each other is presented in lists or tabular reports. While this does provide all the detail, people are visual beings that work best when they can visualize relationships. The CMS asks us to bend people to the machine rather than bending the machine to the people.
The problem, as Katz and Rhodes, describe it is that you can’t separate people and technology when defining processes, procedures and tools. More and more we are merging with our technology (both literally and figuratively) to become some sort of hybrid. Katz and Rhodes point to examples like automatic spell-checkers and Bluetooth headsets as examples (p. 240). The point, as I see it, is that we need to view the relationship between people and technology more holistically. When we say that we want to implement a CMS, we can’t just select a tool and then throw people at it. Instead of a CMS we should be implementing a CME (Content Management Ecosystem). To get the most out of these technical relations, we need to make sure that the technology complements our people and that our human skills fully exploit the capabilities of our technology.
Once you have fully investigated your audience and considered their various cultural needs and preferences, you can fully comprehend how screwed you are and how utterly futile your attempts to please them will be. Given that most if not all technical information is delivered via the internet now, you just can’t presume to know where your audience is coming from–literally or figuratively (Blakeslee, p. 2o1). And, even if you could narrow down the geographic location, your quest could be further hampered by differences in gender or the device used to retrieve your content, as Kenichi Ishii describes in his article, Implications of Mobility: The uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life.
All the authors that we read this week–Blakeslee, Ishii, and Thatcher–talk about how important it is it understand the differences between your audience segments, but unless you have a lot of time or a lot of writers, you have to make compromises. In fact, unless you know for sure that your audience is from a Particularist or a Universalist culture (Thatcher, p. 177) you are going to make some people unhappy.
According to Thatcher, a universalist approach, “. . . the default approach is to establish rule that define what is good and right regardless of the social standing of the individual” (p. 176). While in a particularist approach, “. . . the default approach is to apply rule and decisions depending on relations and context” (p. 177). So, as a technical communicator I can either choose an approach that treats everyone with respect regardless of their standing in society or a company, or I can try to write 12 versions of the content to reflect where each individual sits in the pecking order. Thank you very much, but I’m writing it once.
I like the idea of respecting cultural differences, but the internet is dominated by the universalist, western cultures that created it. The world understand the voice of the internet and has come to accept it. I would even venture to guess that that universalist voice has started to change the cultures of the people that use it. Perhaps that is why some governments (China, Iran, (formerly) Egypt) fear it so much and seek to control it. Maybe people that are addressed with respect regardless of their standing start to demand that from others within their society.
Here’s another problem I have with the idea of bending our writing style to suit the expected audience:
- We don’t often know the audience for certain.
- The audience often exists in many countries.
- What if we add another customer later that comes from another culture?
- If we use different styles for what we write, how do we reuse content to single-source new deliverables?
It surprises me that some of the articles mention that more and more content is delivered on the internet which means that we have no idea how or where it will be used, but they still advocate spending a lot of time investigating the audience. How are we supposed to do this exactly? The internet may not be a culture in and of itself, but it does have a voice and set expectations. How about we just go with that and spend more time creating better content.
I liked how Blakeslee described looking at the roles the audience members play to ensure that content meets the needs of that ROLE. I am 100% behind performing task analysis to create role-based content. I think that makes way more sense than trying to figure out how you should write a procedure differently for someone in Mexico as opposed to someone in Germany. If we can’t understand the user, we should focus on the use.
I’m currently (informally) leading a team of people that reside in: England, Germany, Italy, China, Brazil, America, and Finland. None of the typical communication tools (email, webex, IM) could do what I needed them to do. So, I set up a SharePoint community site for the team that has a blog. I wanted to create a less formal environment for people to get comfortable with each other and loosen up.
The project that we’re working on requires people to be creative and take risks and that just doesn’t happen unless people feel safe. Sharing new ideas–especially in a corporate environment with many cultures–is scary. And, while all the corporate messages say that we need to be more innovative, we don’t really reward people for taking chances or slowing down to think about the future. I guess it is one thing to say you value creativity and another thing to demonstrate that.
It reminds me of the Ken Robinson TED video that Alex Reid referred to in his article, Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web. Robinson believes that while our schools are trying to maximize students’ potential, they are really killing creativity and valuing the wrong things.
I know that he is talking about schools, but I think it’s true in companies too. It is in mine. Maybe our schools have been so successful in quashing the creativity out of us that we can’t innovate to save our lives.
My hope was that blogging would help foster the right environment and rekindle that creativity, but I think I’m just doing it wrong. I want to keep it loose, but somehow my posts end up reading like legal disclaimers. I just don’t know what will fly. Blogs are informal, but companies are not. What is the right tone?