Monday, November 23, 2009

Confessions of a Mark Up Junkie!

Hello my name is Alan, and I love tagging things.

It has been 15 minutes since I last tagged some text.

There I’ve said it.

A few days ago I came to the realization that I’m a tagging and mark-up junkie. I do it almost everyday, and I do it without thinking about it. I also never thought about the effect my tagging habit had on others, until a few days age when my wife complained about it.

I’ve been tagging for over twenty years now, SGML, XML, HTML, CGM and a multiple variety of typesetting tags and industry specific ones - I’ve used them all. For me tagging is as natural as using the Ctl+ keys to shortcut a menu.

I even used to have a t-shirt that proudly proclaimed:


But it's time I stopped assuming that others want to join me in this behavior.

What bought me to this realization?

In preparation for our upcoming house move, we decided to sell some of our books on eBay and my wife offered to help set up the listings. I walked her through the steps to sell an item online and all went well until it came to the part where you need to add an item description of the article.

Without thinking I just started applying 'p' tags a 'b' tags and even a few 'a href=' tags . She stopped and looked at me as is to say "What is all this nonsense?"

The feeling that I was perhaps doing something that may not be understood (or needed) by a large percentage of the population was further compounded by various comments and feedback on my article about "Wikis in the workplace" that was published on Ars Technica last week,

Several of the comments made the point that the biggest obstacle to wiki adoption was the perceived notion that you had to learn mark-up to write in a wiki. Whether this is true or not (and it isn't), the idea is out there.

One comment in particular caught me eye.:

I don't know anyone under 40 who will use a wiki at work. The mark-up language is a deal breaker.

While the comment may have been a little facetious, I take the point. I've written before about how we need to observe the way the next generation accesses information. Those comments made me realize that we should do the same for the way that information is created.

In the article I wrote:

Technology geeks need to realize that many of the ideas, features and functions that get us excited and turn us into early adopters of new technology can intimidate the average user to the point where they will be scared off and not use a solution no matter how beneficial it may be.

Everyone is now used to the simplicity and intuitive look and feel of a simple word processor, be it MS-Word or Google Docs, and many other content creation tools, including most wikis, have also adopted the same approach. This is something we need to remember when we become enthused about a new technology or process.

I guess what I'm saying is that having a tagging habit is fine, (and in some circumstances it is a very valuable skill), but it should be exercised when it's needed. When dealing with your audience, customers and general users don't jump in to showing them how clever you are; think about what will make their lives and project easier.

Don't let the technology and techno-babble get in the way.


As an aside - this is the first post on The Content Pool blog not hand coded with HTML tags but written using the in build rich text editor.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wikis in the workplace: a practical introduction

When times get tough and belts get tight, one of the first things many companies do is begin casting about for ways increase efficiency and raise per-worker productivity. Many businesses turn to free and open-source tools to meet these needs, and at some point in such discussions someone invariably suggests a wiki for some internal project. But the wiki idea often gets rejected soon after it's floated, typically because wikis are perceived to be insecure, inaccurate, or difficult to use; either that, or someone in the discussion has gone the wiki route before, only to see their wiki languish from lack of interest and participation.

These perceptions and experiences that lead companies to reject wikis are rooted in a common problem: the vast majority of the public has formed 100 percent of their expectations about what a wiki can and should be based on the single example of Wikipedia. Few have ever seen wikis used creatively and successfully in a real-life business context, so even when IT professionals attempt to implement wikis in their own companies they lack real experience and good examples to imitate.

As someone who's currently writing a book on wikis, I've talked at length with a number of different organizations about the wiki's role in their business. In this article, I'll share with you some of what I've learned about wikis in the real-world by taking a case-study approach to describing how and why a handful very different organizations are successfully using wikis. After seeing the kinds of things that are being done with wikis, you might be motivated to give the technology a second look.

Read the rest in my article on the Ars Technica website.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Irony, Thy Name Is Webinar!

Last Thursday evening, while wearing my WebWorks hat, I was happy to deliver a presentation to the fine folks from the North East Ohio chapter of the STC. The title of my presentation was “Why Publishing Is No Longer The Last Step.”

If you scroll through the slides in the embedded copy of the presentation below, you can see that the main theme I was talking about was feedback and how we should both encourage and embrace user participation in the publication process. In fact one of the points I was making was that feedback, user participation and collaborative authoring, while they may all be current buzz words, aren’t anything new. They have been a part of the publishing process for as long as we have been telling stories. It’s just that the technology has changed. In fact it could be argued that modern technology is an enabler that allows us to capture and process feedback even quicker.


When I got home my wife asked how the webinar had gone, and I had to admit that I wasn’t 100% sure. The reason for my lack of certainty? Missing feedback.

Yes a few people had asked questions, and I had received a nice round of applause at the end of my presentation, but delivering the presentation over a combination of WebEx and phone meant I had no visual feedback. I didn’t now if silence meant that people were enthralled, bored, or had all snuck off to the pub!

Anyone who has seen me present will know I like to walk around. I talk with my hands a lot, gesticulate, point. I also like to try and engage the audience, ask questions, crack stupid jokes and make the occasional pun. But perhaps the biggest part of presenting for me, and the main reason I enjoy doing it, is being able to interact and engage with individuals in the audience.

Visual communication and body language provide essential feedback, and in this instance using enabling technology robbed the experience of one of its most vital layers of communication.

Virtual meeting tools and conference calls can be great cost savers and allow events to happen that otherwise might not occur – but even in today’s social network obsessed, web driven world, nothing beats being face to face with a real live person.

Technology should enable conversation, not get in its way.