Think Connection, not Creation

There is a brilliant post by Gerry McGovern today entitled Moving from a world of producing to a world of connecting. We have a tendency, McGovern argues, to think of creating value in terms of creating more things, when we should be more concerned with creating connections between things. In a network, he argues, connections between things are actually more valuable than the things themselves. (How valuable would your phone be if it could not make calls or access the Web?) McGovern concludes:

We must move to a work culture that focuses as much on the maintenance and improvement of what we already have, as on the production of new stuff. But more importantly, we must develop our skills of linking and bridge building. Because in a network, that’s where the real value lies. read more

Taxonomy Won’t Save Us

One of the great hopes of content management is that taxonomy will save us. Developing a consistent and rigorous taxonomy, it is hoped, will remove inconsistencies from how describe and label things, enabling us to find and reuse content much more easily. It is a lovely vision, and it is doomed to failure.

The underlying assumption of this confidence in taxonomy is that differences in terminology are accidental and that if we simply assign clear and well defined meanings to the terms we use, we can all use the same vocabulary and communicate more clearly and with less ambiguity. read more

The War Between Content Management and Hypertext

Summary: As content consumers, we love hypertext. As content creators, we still believe in content management, even after years of disappointment. Content management disappoints because it does not scale for culture. It is time to embrace hypertext instead.

I should know better. Every time I put the word “hypertext” in the title of a post, my readership numbers plummet. Hopefully “content management” will help pull them up this time, because as content professionals we need to come to terms with hypertext. read more

Structured vs Unstructured Hypertexts

One of the questions I am often asked about Every Page is Page One is whether it simply means write articles instead of books. But while articles are certainly much closer to the EPPO model than books, there is something more to EPPO than simply writing articles. EPPO is also about the relationships between articles/topics/pages (or whatever else we decide to call them).

A single article is seldom sufficient to cover a large subject. You often need to create a much larger content set, consisting of many articles/topics/pages, to cover a subject adequately and to meet your audience’s varied needs. In the age of the Web, however, in the age of Google and information foraging, a linear or hierarchical organization of content is no longer adequate, and does not match how modern readers approach content. We need another way to approach the organization of content — one I have termed bottom-up information architecture. read more

The Romance of Technical Communication

Summary: There is a romance to technical communication, because there is a romance to all useful things. But don’t expect the romance of technical communication to be apparent to everyone.

Technical communication is a romantic profession. No, really. There is a romance to any profession if you love it. But why would anyone love a utilitarian profession like technical communication? Because there is a romance to useful things.

This thought is prompted by Tom Johnson’s recent post on trying (and failing) to interest students at his daughters school in a career in technical communication. Tom made the best possible case for tech comm as a compelling career (my book was on the table), and yet none of the students stopped by. Why? read more

PDF in a Bottom-up Information Architecture

This is another in a series responding to questions from my TC Dojo series on Bottom-up Information Architecture.

Q: We are still frequently requested to deliver PDFs. What is the impact of this new way of writing when the deliverable also needs to be PDF?

A: One of the things we have discovered about documentation preferences is that what people ask for and what they use are often different things. So the fact that you are still being asked for PDFs does not necessarily mean people are still using them. On the other hand, they may be, if they have special needs or you are not providing a better alternative. read more

Search ranking and bottom-up architecture

Does a bottom-up information architecture improve search ranking? This is another in a series responding to questions from my TC Dojo series on Bottom-up Information Architecture. I have several questions from the second session on writing, but I’m still working off the backlog of questions from the first session on organization. (Because we are moving and renovating is why.)

Q: How does Mr. Baker contend to navigate Google’s “filter bubble” and the highly competitive market for search result display order? read more

Content is a Republic

I’d thought the Content is King debate was over, but I saw it rearing its jester’s head once again recently. Argh!

“Content is King” is a phrase that seems to have come out of content marketing to express the simple idea that content is now the most important form of marketing. Which is actually a rather weird and restricted meaning of the word content, since it was meant to contrast with traditional advertising which is, after all, content.

What I think those who coined the term were really trying to say is that in marketing content that informs now performs better than content that attempts to persuade. This is a direct result of content being easier to get on the Web, which means that readers can get the information they want while avoiding any overt attempt to persuade them. read more

Reference vs. Learning in a Bottom-up Information Architecture

Do reference and learning require different organization in a bottom-up information architecture? This is another in the series of posts addressing questions from my TC Dojo webinar on Bottom-up Information Architecture.

Q: Is there a difference in looking for a specific information fact (such as the depth of the manacougan crater) versus a search for understanding a larger information set, such as the development and formation of craters in general? Would the latter type of search merit a more hierarchical mini-TOC to navigate through the content? read more

The role of the TOC in a bottom-up information architecture

Is there still a place for a TOC in a bottom-up information architecture? Yes, but its role is different.

This is another in my series following up on the questions asked in my TC Dojo webinar on bottom-up information architecture.

Q: Is the TOC dead then? I’m used to structuring content based on an analysis of user tasks, presenting the product secondarily. That becomes the structure? Where do you put the topics?

A: In a very real sense, it is top-down architecture that has killed the TOC. Bottom-up architecture might actually save it, but in a different form and playing a different role. read more