Author Archives: Roger Renteria
It has been a wonderful semester learning about emerging technologies and how they relate to technical communication. Below is the abstract for my final paper. Sorry, it’s late to posting.
I enjoyed meeting you and seeing a lot of different ideas and perspectives. It’s been a while since attending classes in academia, so most of my communication with technical communicators have been with practitioners, which is a different conversation than college. Money is a motivating factor with practitioners.
Using Content Management and Social Media for a Unified Content Strategy
Anyone inside of an organization can create content. Many organizations struggle to develop a sustainable and flexible content strategy to meet the needs of all stakeholders. There are many content management and social media tools available to help manage content.
Throughout my research, I found a bunch of resources that were valuable for this paper from the peer-reviewed articles. One of the surprising items was reading Behles’ work in online collaborative writing tools (2013). She discovered some of the tools practitioners in TC use and that related well with Ferro & Zachry’s article we read for class. (To be quite honest, how I found Ferro & Zachry’s article was via research databases and it didn’t occur to me that I was rereading the same article we discussed in class until I put together my bibliography).
I wanted to find out what some of the aspects that my organization is handling content strategy and ways we are identifying it from the perspective I have. I know that I have worked at other parts of the organization, however content strategy is a wide-reaching topic that covers everything from content creation, content management systems, organizational culture, internal politics, and much more. To narrow this down, my paper investigates content strategy as a means to manage content within a workplace environment, current approaches to collaborative and social tools, and trends where technology and business culture can take us to. I related this discussion to include experiences at my workplace and suggest ways to adopt certain aspects of content strategy.
To give you context about content strategy, I looked at Kristina Halvorson’s book, Content Strategy for the Web as a starting point. However, there are many others who have chimed in the matter, such as Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper, who wrote, Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy. However, we don’t necessarily have to look at these two books to set the tone and follow their guidance. There are many more resources to pull from and there is so much more that can be researched. Such as, how social media tools can be used for content strategy besides research gathering, feelings about people using a melding of social media tools within a business environment, and and what kinds of new technologies that haven’t been invented (or reinvented) that can be used.
This paper really kicked me. But I believe that using the blog and writing the annotated bibliography and speaking via Skype helped out. I wished I could have put my work’s project on hold for a bit longer, but as with any higher education institution, the rush time is usually at the end of the semester and especially so before we take off for winter break.
Lastly, I believe content strategy = future job security.
I’d suggest attending the LavaCon Content Strategy Conference, either in Dublin, IE or Portland, OR in 2017. You can see the perspective of technology tools, business process, and technical communication put into practice.
Behles, J. (2013). The use of online collaborative writing tools by technical communication practitioners and students. Technical Communication, 60(1), 28-44.
Ferro, T., & Zachry, M. (2014). Technical communication unbound: Knowledge work, social media, and emergent communicative practices. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(1), 6-21.
Halvorson, K., & Rach, M. (2012). Content strategy for the web. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.
Rockley, A. & Cooper C. (2012). Managing enterprise content : A unified content strategy (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: New Riders.
Apologies on this being late. It’s been a trying week with elections, social media feeling the crush, and mental digital exhaustion.
My thought of Starbucks: meh, but they have two things going great for them:
- Coffee and food to keep you going throughout the day
- Fast internet and a high-paced environment you can drown in to get your work done
I remember for two years, my job was mostly telework. Instead of sitting around inside of my house, I explored the country a little bit because all I needed was an internet connection and a power outlet. Starbucks was a consistent place to work in. One of those years, I spent about three months away from home. I’d hop on a plane, spend about a week somewhere, do work at a coffee shop and move to my next stop.
I became one of those people, a knowledge worker that was “disconnected from desk and office spaces” (Pigg, p. 69) using a technology “outside traditional spaces” (p. 74) such as a coffeehouse. Unfortunately, this teleworking position prohibited the use of social media and as such, I kept a quiet lid on my opinionated social media posts for fear that someone might use it against me. Also my work thought that social networking sites were ‘‘productivity killers’’ (Skeels and Grudin, 2009 in Ferro and Zachry, p. 18) and they blocked those sites on the network.
Fast forward two years later at my current job, I’m encouraged to use social media because I happen to manage the brand of the community college I work at. I think it has been extra special that I have that responsibility as well as being a technical communicator. I agree with Bernadette Longo that as a technical communicator, my “practices for making and sharing information [has] effectively redefined [my] work” (p. 23). I write in ways that I never imagined I would write and I’ve transformed myself into a technical marketing communicator (that’s a mouthful to say).
For example, when we rolled out our fall enrollment campaign, we had to change the way we marketed online because it was different than what we did in the past and we learned new skills. Rich Maggiani says it best: “in a social media setting, the skill set of the technical communicator grows” (Maggiani in Longo, p. 23). I couldn’t agree with him any more! I had to learn the ways of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram advertisement, understand the reporting tools to get data from our advertisement campaigns, and coordinate with multiple divisions in our department to prepare the ad slots. A lot of work and planning went into the campaign and my part was just a small subset of a larger marketing effort.
In retrospect, will it be too much for me to handle and take care of developing all of these new skill sets? My tool belt is quickly filling up with too many skill sets that I’m afraid I may have to drop a few and focus on specific ones. Perhaps I can find a couple of them that are of interest to me and I’ll put my best effort into skilling myself in that domain. I am quite lucky our work provides us with that type of opportunity frequently.
Moving on to learning using new tools. I was intrigued that to know my sentiments are the same as “knowledge workers who do not have access to enterprise-sponsored, proprietary systems (e.g., freelancers), but they are also used by many who—for various reasons—choose to use services not sponsored by their employers” (Ferro and Zachry, p. 6).
Perhaps I can share some insight on the reasons why we choose to use alternative services:
- Tools are often faster and feel modern
- Services are available on many devices instead of one
- Systems are more reliable
- Rules on how to use services are less strict
- Free to use
I’m sure I’ve made every single IT worker in the world cringe at my reasons. But it’s true, I’ve dealt with email that doesn’t work, clunky tools that waste my time, and the need to have a mobile version for my on-the-go lifestyle. Lastly, if services are free to use–you can’t beat free (unless a software company paid you). I know my latest experience with Office 365 has made me consider using it more often than Google Docs at work. There’s much more IT can improve to change my reasons and get me back to using tools sponsored by my employer.
In conclusion, we have so much power in front of our computers that it’s unbelievable. I wish one day we can reflect on this and see that we have it very good right now. I’m not sure what the future will bring us. I predict it will be a melding of technologies that look like one huge amalgamated blob of technology that we hook up to.
Maybe I’ll grab a Pumpkin Spiced Latte and work from the virtual office for a change of pace and ponder more about the scary future of our technical communication tools.
Forget Web 2.0 for a moment. That was more than a decade ago. We’ve moved on from the world according to Andrew Keen and David Weinberger that we commonly know of that has “YouTube, the blogosphere, Wikipedia, MySpace or Facebook” (Wall Street Journal, 2007). For one, we still have a lot of Web 2.0 services surviving on the Internet these days, but their days are numbered. We live in the Curated Web Experience where content will be served up based on your interests, needs, and behavior. There is nothing you can do to escape the reach of what is being recorded every day on the Internet.
In the article by Keen and Weinberger, “what ‘matters’ in the world of Web 2.0 [is]:
- Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things
- The Huffington Post
- Lifehacker, the Productivity and Software Guide”
Instead, this list should be updated to include the tools that matter the most in the world of the Curated Web Experience:
- Customer Relation Management Systems (such as SalesForce, Zoho, and Zendesk)
- Cloud-based Media Networks (such as Netflix and Spotify)
- Cloud-based Data Visualization Services (such as Tableau, Google Data Studio)
- Cloud-based Internet of Things (devices such as Google Nest and Amazon Echo)
- Apps that take care of you based on habits and events (automation systems like IFTTT, Microsoft Flow)
These tools and much more are what matter the most to get the best curated web experience out there and Web 2.0 is going to have to compete or work alongside these new systems. Right now, we have live with what we have and will slowly transition to the new sanity (or insanity) of the web.
Existing as a Zombie Social Media Networks
Right now, we are so overwhelmed with the fragmentation of social media networks that I wonder why so many still exist. I still have a MySpace account but I hardly check it. I still have a LiveJournal account and it only exists. Why hasn’t Flickr simply collapsed? Yahoo crippled the service for diehard fans like myself who actually had a paid account for years just to avoid advertisement and had worse service than the folks who didn’t pay for Flickr.
I hate to say it, but there are better services out there that have a different flavor of networking engagement than ever before. More and more, there are social networks that exist only in a mobile app environment, meaning you cannot engage in networking with people except within a smartphone or tablet. Examples of social networks on mobile apps that I have used are Tinder, YikYak, and Snapchat. I predict that the next phase of social media networks will fall into a category where you are going to have to have a portable devices to gain access to these services. Also, these social media networks will use various types of curation tactics to serve information to users. I’m curious if these apps will survive or experience fates similar to the countless networks that have closed down. The data shows we have passed the point where mobile usage is greater than desktop usage.
Web Curation Experience, Inc.
Getting back on topic, modern social media networks are curating content based on our interests. We tend to be our own curation system and not even know it. However, algorithms are out there to guide us where we want to go. Jonathan Zittrain says that “we have arrived in a world that is much more sophisticated and personalized algorithms and processes decide what we see.”
Screenshot of Google’s Page Rank from Jonathan Zittrain’s presentation at 30m37s.
“For example in our Facebook news feed that at this moment decides that Argentina and the Falklands is more of what I want to see than a video of a cat” (Zittrain, 2015).
Even Facebook can figure out when you are going to be in a relationship. Funny how much of our lives are constantly recorded.
Privacy Concerns or Convenience over Privacy?
Most of what I see as the curated web experience will come from ourselves providing a firehose of data points. We are exchanging our information to gain access to using the Internet whether we like it or not. Somewhere hidden in all of the Terms of Service agreements we click or tap, we are signing contracts without thinking we are. According to Quartz, Apple fans have click-signed more than 100,000 words of legal contracts. In addition Christopher Groskoph says, “a heavy internet user could easily have agreed to a million or more words of contracts.” Yikes. On the other hand, this is great news for getting you the content you want!
For me, I prefer convenience over privacy. Who knows? I might be pregnant and not even know it! It’s how the world is going to run and I’m confident that people will overcome their fears of letting companies enter their sphere of privacy. I understand that you can change how you share your information and supposedly trick algorithms and it’s not as bad as it seems. The other end, by not sharing some information, you may not get the access you want.
Screenshot of an example where I have to provide some information to gain access to this Wall Street Journal article.
Right now at work, we are trying to figure out how to sort through tons of data that we have collected over the years and how to put that data to work. I honestly don’t know how we will interpret the data, but it will be useful to gain an edge in how people behave and we might be able to link events through various data points based on event timestamps. The end goal is to help us serve information and other services easier and identify trends as they happen.
Already, some companies use this type of data to serve tailored content or suggest people you might get along with. This is completely different than what Web 2.0 offered over a decade ago. We’re finally at a point where the framework of Web 2.0 is slowly reengineered to look and feel more comfortable and easier to use with amazing cloud-based tools and services.
Welcome to the Curated Web Experience.
Lately, I’ve been having difficulty trying to figure out how to make the best decision for many things. I turn to digital technology to get the help I need from my friends and colleagues on a multitude of things.
It’s easy to get things done quickly online and get the feedback you need from your tribe.
I rely on the Internet for help. Someone will have the answer I need and I am always happy to provide the answer for them when they ask. As a kid, I was told I was to fear the Internet and it was not a great place to be in. However, I disagree because I feel it’s a place where I can get reliable and honest feedback. I also can find good software and advice and most of the time it’s free. The only thing I need to pay for is an Internet connection.
One of my favorite sites right now is Quora. If you are unfamiliar with Quora, it is a social network where people ask interesting questions and anyone has the opportunity to answer them. If you ever get a chance, go on there and find something interesting to discuss. This is where I can spend more of my day reading articles from
- What are the most mind-blowing facts about airplanes?
- What tweak has made all the difference in your life?
- What was the strangest thing you have experienced as a foreigner/visitor in the United States?
- What is the cheapest thing you’ve seen a mega-rich person do?
There are many more, but I believe you get the point that people have some awesome stories to tell where you can get some great information because people are willing to share their stories on this platform.
For me, I’ll put my two cents:
- Why do people live in Albuquerque?
- What is the Public Transit system in Albuquerque, New Mexico, like?
And then I can ask questions and hope people can provide a decent answer
Seriously, if you know why technical writers are introverts, I encourage you to answer it!
I enjoy having Quora around for this reason. According to Rheingold, we “collaborate publicly without requiring or expecting any direct reward” (p. 155). Quora will curate questions and answered based on my preferences, so I can enjoy reading people’s answers which I deem worthy and I get to upvote or downvote their answer based on my thoughts. Above all, I’m here to learn on this social network and have an open mind about anything because I see the human condition written by others who are like me.
Giving Away Something Helps Everyone
My first participation in crowdsourcing was downloading and installing SETI@Home. I would help crunch data in exchange for a pretty screensaver. Yes, I know it would eat up processing resources and electrical power, but I felt I was doing something helpful running the program and looking at my units that I completed. Rheingold noted that I was part of a group of people who would donate time and computing power for “mass collaboration in response to” science (p. 168). It’s a feel-good thing where I could directly help “scientists understand the universe or assisting biomedical researchers who are seeking to cure a disease…” (p. 169).
SETI@home Classic screenshot from Berkeley.
One thing I missed was the Folding@home project where I could have helped in another way. By that time, I didn’t have the time and I moved on to using a laptop instead of a desktop and it would not be helpful for me to overheat my laptop. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t stop helping whenever I could on the Internet.
Occasionally I’d fix a problem a problem with grammar on Wikipedia, update a listing on Google Maps, or edit a manual on iFixIt. I love these kinds of websites because I’m invited to edit content to make it better. I actually enjoy the moment I can make a change on Wikipedia, which is kind of like a nice thing. At work, our content management system works in a similar fashion, except we have a few administrators (me and my co-workers) who approve content updates. What makes my job awesome is that I get to make those edits to the content updates before we get to click the publish button every time.
The Professional Network
Whenever I think of a social network that is helpful, it is my group of colleagues who are spread out across the world who know about technical communication and content strategy. Whenever I need help with a tool or understanding about a new concept, I can send them a message on any of the social networks I’m connected with. In a sense, Rheingold calls this a PLN, which is a “personally curated network of people I want to learn from and a network that learns together” (p. 228). What I try to do is maintain my network all of the time by following people I am interested in, ask questions whenever I can, and feed my network by providing answers. Somehow doing this for several years with my colleagues I’ve met at the Society for Technical Communication Annual Summits have earned me a place in the field. This year, I’ve presented a couple of times and am reviewing session proposals for the 2017 Summit. On the otherhand, I also have gained a couple of side gigs at another conference.
So far, maintaining and building that network online has taken me to places like Las Vegas, Portland, New Orleans, and Dublin. In fact, without this network I would not have had the opportunity to attend this class. I certainly attribute and appreciate these connections for giving opportunities at the right time. I have tried to return the favor by helping out with the Society for Technical Communication whenever I can.
I want to mention that Rheingold’s last chapter is a great summary of the book. In fact, during my conference I have had the opportunity to talk with a lot of colleagues about the books I’ve been reading in this class and a couple were considering to add them into their future reading lists. Let’s see where it goes from here! I may now have a new hobby to find books that are interesting that my colleagues would be interested in. No, I will not create a technical communicators book reading club (but I probably will).
The Long Tail…
When I read Chris Anderson’s presentation, The Long Tail, the first slides immediately made me think about Spotify and Netflix. They do such a great job of suggesting things based off of our interests because we have a nearly “unlimited selection” that “is revealing truths about
what (we) consumers want…” (Slide 4). One of the best things that has come to the world of consumer media is that I can get the media almost immediately instead of waiting for it to arrive.
- Movie date night with a girlfriend can be as easy as downloading a feature film in five minutes from Amazon.com.
- DJ song request instantly bought and downloaded to play within minutes even at the same dance event
- Class project which requires a book which can be downloaded instantly and read on any device
Lastly, I love how digital technologies are available on most devices. It’s not like I need to have a specific device to use my content. As long as I have a multi-use device, I can read, listen, or watch what I download. It’s not like the past where I need to buy a DVD player to play movies or a CD player to listen to music. However, I’m worried that our multi-use devices will become nostalgic. Tonight, I get to watch a movie on DVD, which required unpacking my DVD player from my box. Maybe next week for nostalgia-sale, I’ll find my VHS player stored at my parents, blow the dust off the VHS tapes and watch The Lion King.
Anderson, C. (2004, December). The Long Tail. [Presentation Slides]. Retrieved from http://changethis.com/manifesto/show/10.LongTail
Rheingold, H. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA
Or The Internet is full of adventure and can we learn to love and live with it?
It takes time to understand the fluency of the Internet. The wool is never pulled over my eyes when it comes to the junk the Internet has to offer. However, how can you blame the Internet for tricking us? Anyone with a connection can post whatever they want to get our attention. In the book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, Howard Rheingold says that “the web undermines authority (by enabling anybody to publish)” (p. 89). The amount of content waiting for our attention is enormous. Whenever I see dubious posts that talk about folklore or “truthy” on the social media, I do a quick search on Google to see if the content is real or fake.
Sometimes Google search results give me a Snopes.com article. I tend to believe the Snopes website because it has been around busting urban folkore and “truthiness” for over twenty years. If you think I made that up, check out Rob Walker’s profile on the person behind the most well-known website for clearing up the internet’s (dis)information. Because of the amount of information out there these days, “we need Snopes more than ever” (Walker, 2016).
In the Futurama episode, “Attack of the Killer App,” the characters get eyePhones installed in their eye sockets, which the device mimics features found on actual iPhones. Bender, the narcissistic robot, uses his eyePhone for the purpose of getting attention through the device. He posts on the social media site, Twitcher (a parody of Twitter), about his kayaking trip around the world while sitting comfortably at a pizzeria.
Screenshots and captions from “Attack of the Killer App” from Futurama.
Bender then says, “Can you believe 50,000 idiots swallow that crap?” and he accidentally sends that message to his followers. This example is a great one to showcase that people will believe anything and somehow Bender amassed a following of people who believe he is an authoritative figure. In a sense, do we believe what people say online as true or do we need to step back and question the content we consume?
Working out that skepticism muscle
I think it’s time we start working on our skepticism muscle. I propose using this analogy: work out your skeptical muscle on the internet by critically thinking about the content you consume. You will get better exercising that skepticism muscle every time you get a chance to.
In my case, I research a lot of information and gauge the data by how well the website presents itself and if it is corroborated by other reputable sources. Rheingold says “journalists talk about ‘triangulating’ by checking three different, credible sources” (p. 79). I know whatever’s on the web should be taken with caution and I question everything before I believe it to be true. However, critical thinking should apply not only for the internet, but anything else posted elsewhere, such as the yellow and tabloid journalism peddled at checkout aisles in grocery stores.
During my earliest days using the Internet, I learned quickly how to tell what was true and fake. Rheingold says that “age can be a factor in crap-detection fluency, experience and engagement may be more important” (p. 84) I agree that it takes experience and years of reading online content to gather that kind of heuristic for detecting what is junk and what to believe. “The danger of … credulity is made possible by digital media” says Rheingold, and there is something we can do about it: “make skepticism [our] default” (p. 77).
Rheingold includes Dan Gillmor’s five “Principles of Media Consumption” (pp. 95-96) as a good guide for figuring out how to work that skepticism muscle in order to process information better and not take anything for granted.
- Be Skeptical
- Exercise Judgment
- Open Your Mind
- Keep Asking Questions
- Learn Media Techniques
Gillmor says that we need everyone to understand that “we are doing a poor job of ensuring that consumers and producers of media in a digital age are equipped for these tasks [of consuming media appropriately].” Additionally, Gillmor and I agree that in order to build these skills, “this is a job for parents and schools” and unfortunately “a teacher who teaches critical thinking in much of the United States risks being attacked as a dangerous radical.” Luckily, in my educational upbringing, I was told to question and research everything before I decide to accept it.
Can we patch the human?
Lastly, I am fascinated how people could fall for most well-known digital scam: phishing. In my last job I worked with an information security team as a technical writer. One of the security measures the team would test for was phishing and my co-workers were good at hacking the human since most of the computer systems were already hardened with security patches. How easy it it to fall for the everyday phishing email? Very easy. You’d be surprised that despite all of the security efforts made to secure systems so hackers can’t get in, people always were the weakest chain.
It boggles me how anyone can be so trusting to give away passwords!
In essence how can we train ourselves to figure out scams or fake authoritative figures via email? Can we “social engineer-proof” the average person to catch subtle hints everywhere on the Internet to be aware of? I think it is possible to help everyone to detect these types of scams instead of relying on software to filter the scams out of our email.
We need to educate people early on how to detect these kinds of things on the Internet. I would hope that these days, not only parents, educators teach online literacy. That doesn’t mean scaring kids and teens away from the internet, but teach helpful skills in consuming media like using Gillmor’s five principles. Whenever a friend or family member posts a hoax on Facebook, I check it and decide if it’s worthy to explain to them that they posted junk information. I gently prod them by posting a link to Snopes.com, like what Rheingold mentions we do to debunk online rumors (p. 81) because it’s important to stop the junk from misinforming other unfortunate souls.
To me, I liken it to telling people Comic Sans and Papyrus are terrible fonts and you need to use something like Gothic or Perpetua or Cambria. You don’t need to suffer awful junk from the digital world. We can do better.
Gillmor, D. (2008, December 26). Principles of a new media literacy. [Web log message]. Retrieved from https://dangillmor.com/2008/12/26/principles-of-a-new-media-literacy/
Rheingold, H. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA
Verrone, P. (Writer). (2010). Attack of the killer app. [Television series episode]. in Cohen, D. X. (Executive producer). Futurama. New York, NY: Comedy Central.
Walker, R. (2016, October 19). How the truth set Snopes free. Webby Awards. Retrieved from http://webbyawards.com/features/how-the-truth-set-snopes-free/
Technology can go only so far as to connecting us together in a virtual way. Thanks to technology, we are separated further and further away from other humans. When was the last time that you spent more time talking with a person instead of communicating through a device? Bernadette Longo says that “[p]eople value human relations. We want to feel connected to other people” (Longo, p. 156). Yet it’s funny that more and more recently, we are interacting through electronic devices instead of face-to-face.
I love the idea of using technology to communicate quickly and easily. I admit that I spend more time making plans via text message with my friends instead of calling someone up or talking to them in person. As we speak, my friends and I are discussing travel plans for next weekend. Questions arise from: “Are we staying at an Airbnb?” to “Should we rent a car or use Uber?” It used to be we’d sit together and get everything planned out. These days, it’s a group text. What will it be in the future?
I think we’ve been sold on a bad bill of communication goods because, despite the way technology has made our entire world more and more connected and easier to reach. According to Barry Thatcher, “[e]mail seems to have the distance and isolation of individualistic cultures” because it can’t even substitute for the personal interactions between people occupying the same physical space (Thatcher, p. 181). Nothing compares to it and yet somehow technology substitutes parts of that communication but not entirely everything.
In a sense, we are developing a virtual world that mimics the real one that we’ve created for physical items. Take for instance the iconography within digital environments. I have to refer to a well-known graphic artist: Susan Kare. She “helped establish the paradigm of icons as a navigational tool in graphical user interfaces.” “Her icons are metaphors” (Hurst, 2013). It’s interesting how we use metaphors for objects in a digital environment and sometimes they work really well and are accepted. However, sometimes there’s a metaphor which causes issues like the confused and misunderstood hamburger button.
I’m really interested in how much thought goes into culture and rhetoric. Longo points out that we “technical communicators can learn about cultural contexts by studying language and the social relationships embedded in how people use it” (Longo p. 149). My favorite examples come from color symbolism.
Infographic from Visually.
Living in the western world, I believe we forget that “our cultural values and beliefs are ‘normal’ and we notice what is different about other cultures” (Longo, p. 149). I think there is nothing wrong that ideas, feelings, symbols, and communication is different in other cultures but if we were aware of these cultural contexts, we would be better technical communicators. I’m pretty thankful that I have family in South America and that helps me understand a bit better how others function in different countries. I theorize with my mom about the technology shifts and how Colombia may skip steps in technology that the United States has first experienced.
The world works differently elsewhere and I’m okay with that. We technical communicators (as well as all humans) need to recognize the environment we enter when working in a cross-cultural setting. What may be culturally acceptable will not work well elsewhere. Barry Thatcher learned that difficulty while working as a technical communication teacher in Ecuador. I even learned that difficulty trying to talk with my cousins in Colombia because of the way they prefer communication over what I preferred. Thatcher says that “digital media simply do not fit all communicative and cultural traditions the same way.” It’s true in my experience, in Thatcher’s words, I “assumed that another culture will simply use digital media the same way” as we would like (Thatcher, p. 170). For me to communicate with my cousins, I had to find another digital technology that worked for them as well as for me. After years of struggling to find a perfect communication system, we finally nailed it down to WhatsApp. Now I can communicate with them quickly and I’m not as disconnected in their daily lives either. Even the phone calls are free.
Going along with technological advances, I’m not okay that the technology have-nots may get stuck behind. I understand that Rheingold’s model of an “inclusive community relies on economic and cultural gatekeepers” (Longo, p. 151) but technology creeps everywhere. Also, I want to point out that prisoners who have not been released for decades can fall behind on technology too.
Lastly, here’s a question for the ages
What’s our ethical use of our line of work? Can we find ways to communicate ethically as technical communicators? It was interesting to find a reference to Nazi Germany and technical communication. Katz (1992) found the “ethos of expediency” in a well-written memo, I want to counter that technical communication was also considered by the Allied Powers. I wrote in my own blog that “during WWII, Winston Churchill wrote a memo which asked for simpler language when communicating within his team. He wanted short and crisp messages, include headers, and remove ‘wolly’ phrases because he felt it was merely padding. Why? He didn’t want his staff to waste time reading long reports when there is a war going on” (Renteria, 2016).
I understand that we “technical communicators attend only to the utility and expediency of our work, we risk falling into the ethical trap of rational inhumanity in the same of creating universal good,” (Longo, 155) but we don’t have to think that everything we do for the sake of quickness and efficiency will be for used for evil. We do have the right to question how our work will be used and I would hope what we create in any kind of media will be used for the greater good.
Hurst, N. (2013, April 24). Meet the woman who launched a billion clicks. Wired Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2013/04/susan-kare/
Longo, B. (2010). Human+Machine Culture. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 147-168). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.
Renteria (2016, March 20). Writing for the Web – Simplify Your Words! WriteTechie. Retrieved from https://writetechie.com/2016/03/20/writing-web-simplify-words/
Thatcher, B. (2010). Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 169-198). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.
Gosh, where do I begin? I love creating technological things. Whether it’s designing a website, creating Word templates, or forms, nothing screams that loudly that I’m a technical communicator. But what I create is not exactly perfect and nothing will be. What surprises me is who uses it and where it shows up.
At my current position at the community college, I am intrigued at what happens to my work. Sometimes it gets mixed up and reused for other purposes. Sometimes I end up reusing my own ideas to base new ideas with. For example, I take photos for the social media channels and sometimes I find that my work is reused and remixed for other purposes. I’m not upset that it gets reused, but I’m fascinated that people look to me for coming up with the idea and design of these communication pieces.
Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski explains that “[w]e build spaces and then we cannot control how users interact with them, and that horrifies and excited the ‘designer’ and the ‘architect’ inside each technical communicator.” In a sense, I’m not horrified or excited, but amused when my work pops up in the least expected places.
Different Flavors of Communicating
Information design is something that I am passionate for and somehow it’s funny that whatever we create, we build upon that framework for the next thing that we use in the future. For example, Twitter is one of those funny social media networks that is an alternative to other full-service networks. Since it’s designed to be open, anyone can find what they are looking for. Twitter is like the Southwest Airlines to social media experience, but it’s not like the full-service experience you can get with Facebook. In either case, Twitter is designed for replacing some aspects of instant messaging and live broadcasting, which would have taken the life of a telephone call and email.
I do like that email is being replaced by many other tools. Much like email replaced the idea of paper-based genres that were internalized and naturalized (Salvo, Rosinski, p. 105). But can we go to the extreme and say no more email? Luis Suarez from IBM quit using email as a primary means of communication and decided to use internal social media tools to communicate with his co-workers (2008). Perhaps maybe going too far won’t be sustainable for most of us technical communicators, yet maybe using a chat system like Slack and a project management tool like Asana can reduce the amount of unnecessary email overhead.
Designing Forms for the Web
When it comes to frameworks, creating and using online forms comes to my mind. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but online forms are difficult to design and use. I say this because at work, I sometimes have to rebuild forms using a form generator and they are not exactly going to function the same as the paper-based counterparts. I don’t like to tell clients that the form is going to not look visually the same as the form they’ve built in Word, but it will serve the same purpose. Instead, I sell the benefits of using an online form, which sometimes helps them make the move to using a form. I always will say that technology make things easier, it just doesn’t always look pretty.
Writing for the Web
In addition to making things not look so pretty is writing for the web. One of my biggest requests at work is adding an FAQ. Instead of tacking on an FAQ to a website, my job went to great lengths to explain why we don’t use them. For the web, we emphasize writing in plain language, use headers, bullets, paragraphs, and short sentences. In a sense, this reinforces one aspect of technical communication because we ensure contextual orientation to design.
What I wish we could do is explain to everyone else that we are the experts in what we do and people around us could at least understand that we aren’t making things up and this is based on best practices that have been tried, tested, and verified.
Lastly, I think these readings were quite interesting, but mostly topics I’ve learned from since attending conferences and experience in the workplace. It’s interesting how much of the communication within technology applies to our field.
Salvo M.J. (2010). Information Design. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 51-81). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.
Suarez, L. (2008, June 29). I freed myself from e-mail’s grip. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/jobs/29pre.html
Elissa Matulis Myers said in the March 2009 issue of Intercom that technical communicators “need to define their own opportunities and then move boldly forward” (2009) by adapting to the changes in their work environment or risk becoming irrelevant. This is true not only for technical communicators, but for everyone working in an environment where technology plays a significant role in their professional tasks.
In that same issue of Intercom were two helpful articles about adapting to keep up with the changing business environment. One offered practical advice to recession-proof your career by taking actions to decrease the chance of being laid off such as “add[ing] value to your company, ensur[ing] management recognizes that you add value, and repeat as needed” (Molisani, 2009, p.14).
The second article compared and contrasted social media and technical communication “…to demonstrate how social media is changing the way we communicate, to engage our audience in a dialogue, to create a sense of community, and to better meet expectations” (Maggiani, 2009, p.19).
These articles reinforce the idea that we need to adapt to both the shift in technology and management.
When Myers published her article in 2009, I was a year away from graduating with my bachelors of science in Technical Communication and entering into a workforce that was in turmoil due to the economy. Yet, somehow and according to Meyers, I found my way to become visible and indispensable to my employers. In essence in order for me and many of my colleagues to become successful and stay on top of the business, we needed to “…adapt to the changes and become a valuable asset to a work environment…” (2009).
Documenting Our Past to Find Our Future
If we want to look to the future of technical communication, we must look back into history. When reading Saul Carliner and R. Stanley Dicks’ respective histories of technical communication, I was excited to see how the field of technical communication transformed in the last forty years. Many of the tools and processes that were used by technical communicators since the end of World War II are still around and others have completely disappeared. Carliner said that technology in the last thirty years has affected our profession and shows us the five phases in the development of technical communication. Besides technology making these transformations in our field, Dicks points out the changes in management and business economics profoundly affected technical communicators. Both authors show us the larger picture in which our field has been affected, once again, by technology and management.
I want to emphasize that our work is constantly shifting toward becoming the experts in content. We no longer are bound to being experts in a specific tool, instead we are experts in content, information, concepts, and ideas. Dicks shows how technical communicators have moved on from the fundamentals of technical communication and into the field of symbolic-analytic work, which “their primary products are ideas (e.g. assertions, recommendations, value judgements) delivered in reports, plans, proposals, and other genres.” (Dicks, 2010, p.55). Symbolic-analytic work sounds more like content strategy which is to manage content, analyze methods, and use effective processes for publishing it.
For me, at work, I’m more interested in finding ways a business can reduce cost, increase revenue, and use technology when creating and managing technical content. This is a mantra I share with many content strategists, of which Jack Molisani promotes these ideas every year with his LavaCon Content Strategy Conferences (2013). I think he and others like him have adapted to the current trends in the changes with technology and management.
I feel have made the move from being a traditional technical communicator when I first started in my college years. I imagined I would do more than just edit copy or document processes. I did a lot of fun things such as publish a newspaper and create websites. My focus was on using technology tools and how I can use them to publish faster, easier, and smarter. If I can make recommendations on using the tools, I can prove my value towards the company and remain gainfully employed.
Just Keep Going
In conclusion, in order to maintain relevancy, Myers points out that “[s]uccessful technical communicators need to be able to sell their skills and value independent of their industry or content, and they should not base their marketability on the expertise they have acquired in a specific field” (2009). More easily said: market your knowledge of concepts instead of expertise in the tools.
Dicks R.S. (2010). The effects of digital literacy. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 51-81). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.
Maggiani, R. (2009, March). Technical communication in a social media world. Intercom, 18-20.
Molisani, J. (2013). Building a business case for content initiatives. [Presentation Slides]. Retrieved from http://lavacon.org/business_case_for_content_initatives.pdf
Molisani, J. (2009, March). Recession-proof your career. Intercom, 14-17.
Myers, E. M. (2009, March). Adapt or die: Technical communicators of the twenty-first century. Intercom, 7-13.
No one ever said that social media is easy. The internet is a wonderful place where we can connect with one another, use it for business, and get our entertainment. Likewise, social media works in the same fashion which all kinds of content can live in harmony.
Can social media and technical communication work together?
Whenever I think of social media and technical communication, I go back to my first professional presentation and conference proceeding, “The Benefits and Pitfalls of Social Media Networks” (Koch, G. L. & Renteria R. A., 2009). With my co-presenter, we showed how social media can be used in productive ways despite the negative press surrounding it at the time. To counter the notion and fears of social media, we provided tips to help colleagues embrace this emerging communications technology.
In “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media” Hurley and Hea (2014) describe modern stories where professionals damage their career because of something they posted on social media. In their article, they describe students who have a fear of using social media in the context of technical communication. I find it amusing that in the years since I co-presented about social media that these issues of using it for professional causes remain present. I still refer to ”fatty paycheck” Tweet, Facebook Fairy’s Kevin Colvin, and Airline Crew Insulting Passengers on Facebook as early examples of social media mistakes. Fortunately or unfortunately, the internet is a great record keeper.
So, where does social media sit in the form of technical communication? Hurley and Hea present responses that showcase the reasons social media is not favorable for technical communication purposes because students think it can “cause more harm than good,” make people forget how to write well, and feel “they must dumb-down literature because of the diverse audience that now has access to it” (2014).
Due to the sensationalism of social media, students are often less likely to use these new and emerging technologies for professional purposes. However, me and my co-presenter provided the counterargument years earlier that you can, indeed, use social media for professional purposes. We showed that while using social media can be a risk, the benefits may outweigh the dangers when used appropriately and after becoming familiar with the privacy settings (Koch G. L., Renteria, R. A., 2009).
Lastly, the literature is not being dumbed-down, instead plain language is taking root. When looking at effective writing, I consider taking the easier and simpler route of writing because it is closer to how we communicate with each other in real-life. In the well-known adage of “less is more,” let’s consider adding another one: “plain language is easy to understand.”
We can use social media for many things and nothing should stop us from embracing it for educational and professional purposes. It’s not a bad thing.
Hurley, E. V. (2014) The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(1), 55-68
Koch, G. L. & Renteria R. A., (2009) The Benefits and Pitfalls of Social Media Networks. Society for Technical Communication 2009 Summit Proceedings, 83-86
Before this course, I blogged off and on for several years on Blogger, LiveJournal, and WordPress. In college, LiveJournal was my first exposure to the idea of a blog. I used LiveJournal as a personal diary to share my thoughts with my closest friends who used it on a frequent basis. To me, it was my first social network experience because I would check every day for new posts from my friends and I would post there many times a day. After a few years of constant posting, I abandoned my account because my focus shifted to Facebook.
Beyond documenting my personal life to my friends, I blogged about my summer internship for a grade. As part of the class requirements, I wrote about my experiences working for the Public Information Office at New Mexico Tech. My blog only had an audience of one: my professor, and I didn’t think I’d reference it here eight years later. Now when I re-read these posts, I definitely notice how different my writing was back then. As with any kind of activity,
you get better the more you keep trying you improve with practice.
After I attended the Society for Technical Communication 2011 Summit, I started my own blog called WriteTechie. I was inspired to create a technical communication blog because I saw so many people blog about their experiences at the conference, technical communication issues, and anything related to this field. At first, I had difficulty finding topics that were interesting to write about, and I couldn’t maintain a consistent schedule.
When I was told in a job interview that my professional website was “too bloggish,” I converted my blog into a professional business website; my blog became a section of the website. Right now, if you search on Google for “technical communication blogs,” my blog shows up on first page of results. If you search Google for “professional usernames,” my blog post shows up first. I used search engine optimization to get my blog post to show up at the top, and somehow it has stayed there since 2011.
Lately, I hardly blog much because I have no time to write lengthy articles and do the necessary research to post anything meaningful. At my current job, we discourage blogging. I admit there are no technical limitations to blogging; however, it is a massive time commitment. That is something I understand when I look at my own blogs I’ve created. At some point, blogs become stale and then dormant.
Where do I go from here?
When I was reading the articles about blog literacy, I was surprised to learn from “Scholarly Reflections on Blogging” that “[b]logging has slowly become part of academic life” (Doucet, 2012). Andrea Doucet makes a nice point that blogging frees you from the bounds of the academic world and opens your content to larger and different audiences. I feel that when you write in a blog, you have more room to speak freely and develop a voice than in other formats such as press releases or research papers. In essence, blogging can be a formal-informal way of communication because you can express your professional ideas in a fresh and casual format while reaching a very broad audience. Andrea and I agree: “[b]logging has helped me as a writer” (2012). Whenever I read my old work, I notice an evolution in my writing. Writing for blogs is challenging and I know it only gets better with more experience.
Lastly, before I read, “Why We Blog” (Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht, & Swartz, 2004), I didn’t consider my LiveJournal as a type of confessional blog which was a form of catharsis. In retrospect, writing in my LiveJournal was therapeutic. When I read old posts, whether from LiveJournal, Blogger, or WordPress, I look back at how much I’ve grown since then. Some day when I least expect it, I’ll look back at this blog, re-read my entries, and wonder: what was I thinking?
Doucet, A. (2012, January 2) Scholarly Reflections on Blogging: Once a Tortoise, Never a Hare. The Chronicle for Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/Scholarly-Reflections-on/130191
Nardi B., Schiano D.J., Gumbrect M., & Swartz, L. (2004) Why We Blog. Communications of the ACM, 47(12) 41-46