Saturday, January 30, 2010

iPad - Racing Towards Publishing's Future?

This afternoon I’m sat watching the first major motor race of the 2010 season, the Rolex 24 Hour sports car race at Daytona in Florida. When the race started it was raining, but over the last hour or so the drizzle has stopped and the track started to dry out a bit.

As in any race where the conditions change several drivers choose to come in early and switch their treaded wet weather tires for slick dry weather tires while the track was a little damp. Racing drivers being racing drivers several set off at full throttle back on to a damp track with cold slick tires and promptly spun off, some of them several times. While others balanced the risk with a degree of caution and soon found them selves making rapid progress.

Watching the race unfold over the last hour in changing conditions made me think about this week’s launch of the Apple iPad and the various reactions to it among the digital and technical publishing markets.

There is no doubt that the iPad is a clear sign of changing conditions in the industry. The trick will be how you approach those conditions.

Some will go full out to get to the first corner, by making hasty judgments, rush into new markets without testing, or just repackage existing material without adding any value. I believe that many of these chargers will ‘spin off.’ Some of them will crash and be out of the race, others will work their way back.

Others will take a more cautious approach, feeling out the new conditions, making small adjustments, see how the chargers are doing, watch others make mistakes and learn from them.

Over the last few days I’ve been asked several times what I think about the iPad. I think it’s too early to make a call about doing a ‘pit stop’ to start ‘changing tires.’

At this point I’m not sure what additional value the iPad brings – sure I’ve seen the videos, but I need to see one in action, maybe take a look at what some of the hard chargers are doing, and then maybe I’ll get a better idea of what race strategy we need to peruse to get to the finish line.

This Week in Wikis - Week 4

Another quite week on the wiki front, but here's a short list of some articles that caught my attention over the last few days.

- Wiki Web Help - "an AJAX-based wiki designed to operate like a CHM viewer"
- EBU's Wiki helps Haiti radio stations
- Wiki vs Professional debate in travcl guide industry.

As always the full list of all Wiki Week links can be found at

Sunday, January 24, 2010

This Week in Wikis - Week 3

A shorter list this week, but here is a quick summary of interesting wiki related articles etc. that I came across over the last seven days.

- Atlassian Snags 2009 Elearning! "Best Social Learning Tool" Award.
- MyWiki app of the iPhone
- Appropedia - the 'green" wiki
- Antifeatures Wiki Catalogues Tech Annoyances You Hate

as always a full archive of all Wiki Week links can be found online at

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Video Interview on Using Wikis in Technical Documentation

I was recently interviewed by Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf about the use of wikis in technical documentation. It was a fun and wide ranging conversation that lasted about an hour.

Ellis has prepared the following couple of short, 10 minute, extracts from the video interview and posted them on You Tube.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Augmented Future of Technical Documentation?

For those of us who have written, or write, technical documentation for hardware, and engineering products, this video of a BMW research project perhaps gives a glimpse of the future.

And BMW are not alone, a quick search online produced videos of several different prototypes of using Augmented Reality for maintenance, service and repair procedures.

This type of development, once again reinforces my message that technical writers need to step up and become technical communicators comfortable with developing content that can be delivered in any media.

Technical documentation is not just about the written word, it is about the communication of ideas and knowledge.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hello Publishing, Meet the other side of Publishing

Over at the TeleRead blog, which reports on trends in the growing eBook market, editor Roger Sperberg recently posted a piece entitled "Why Do Publishers Need XML?" in which he thoughtfully examined the advantages that traditional book publishers could benefit from by adopting an XML mark-up.

I won't reiterate his arguments here, most of which I agreed with, and suggest that instead you go read the article.

However one statement really caught my attention, Sperberg's suggestion that book editors should learn XML as part of their job. His statement was that

"...that we (book publishers) can’t exploit (eBooks) until editors understand XML as well as English grammar, and regard metadata as valuable as a plug on Oprah."

At face value a very valid point, but as I read through the article and the various comments attached to it, I suddenly realized there seemed to a complete lack of awareness that those skills already exist within a profession that understands a bit about publishing.

Here's a little extract from my own comments.

"As for asking editors to learn XML, sure they need to be aware of it and its power – but there is a whole profession of people out there who already know about applying XML mark-up to content – the Technical Publications industry. Oh and a lot of them know about XSLT and XSL-FO too, and are skilled in the tools that use these standards.

And believe you me, for people who have spent years tagging things like aircraft manuals and software user guides, tagging a trade mass market book is not too great of a challenge."

It is often said that traditional book publishing is dying, and a large part of that is because traditional publishers still see the physical book as the product, and not the content. But today content is king, and we need to make that content available across all platforms, and that means mark-up.

Does the salvation of the book publishing industry reside in the world of technical and business publishing? - It just might...

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Join me at 1:00pm ET on Wednesday (Jan 20th) when I present a live webinar on 'What Technical Communications Can Learn From The Comics."

Register HERE.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

English as She is Spoken - it can be difficult at times.

Earlier today, The Content Wrangler, Scott Abel, posted the following on his FaceBook page:

[English Lesson du jour] Leonard Lunsford says the letter combination "ough" can be pronounced 9 different ways. The following sentence contains them all: "A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed."

This sort of thing is a perfect example of why we shouldn't assume everyone in your intended audience understands the subtleties and nuances of the English language - particularly important if you are creating technical or business content for an audience who are not native English speakers.

As I mentioned to Scott - I will definitely be using this as an example in the Simplified Technical English training courses I run from now on.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

This Week in Wikis - Week 1

Welcome to a new feature on THE CONTENT POOL, "This Week in Wikis." - As I continue to work on my upcoming book "WIKI: Grow Your Own For Fun and Profit" I am reading and bookmarking numerous articles and online mentions of wikis, wiki tools and examples of wiki usage.

So I thought it might be useful each week to share a selection of wiki related articles I came across over the previous seven days.

Here's this week's selection:
- Wired's "How-To" Wiki
- CarbonCopyPRO Introduces New "Wiki" Marketing Platform,
- MobileRead Wiki on eBook technology
- Wiki on research for librarians
- Improved wiki usage in 2010
- How Non-Profits Are Using Wikis
- Wikipedia:Manual of Style

All the "This Week In Wikis" links will be archived, and available, at

Comics in Corporate Communications

Is there a place for comics in corporate communications? I certainly think so, and have long been a vocal proponent of using comics graphic and story telling techniques in the business world.

Recently Scott Abel, industry leading consultant and blogger, offered me the opportunity to write about the subject on his CONTENT WRANGLER blog.

My two page article Comics Can Make You A Better Communicator is now up, and you can check it out simply by clicking HERE.