Is personalized content unethical?

Personalized content has been the goal of many in the technical communication and content strategy communities for a long time now. And we encounter personalized content every day. Google “purple left handed widgets” and you will see ads for purple left handed widgets all over the web for months afterward. Visit Amazon and every page you see will push products based on your previous purchases. Visit Facebook …

Well, and there’s the rub, as Mark Zuckerberg is summoned before congress for a good and thorough roasting. Because what Cambridge Analytica did was personalized content, pure and simple, and no one is happy about it. read more

In Praise of Long-form Content

Yesterday I wrapped up work on my new book on Structured Writing and delivered it to the publisher. There will be more work to do, of course, after the pre-publication review process is complete, but in a broad sense, the book is done. That is, the arc of the book is complete.

Good books have an arc. Finding that arc is one of the great joys of long-form writing. Of course, this blog is about short form writing — about Every Page is Page One topics that serve a single discrete purpose for the reader. But in a sense even a book should fit that mold — should serve a single discrete purpose for the reader. The whole should be more than the sum of the parts. There should be an arc, something the book says that is more than an accumulation of details, and that allows the reader to see the details in a new light — and to act differently and, hopefully, more successfully, in that new light. read more

Can Content be Engineered; Can Writers be Certified?

tl;dr: We can apply engineering methods to content development, but we do not have the body of proven algorithms or known-good data to justify formal certification of communication professionals they way we have for doctors and engineers.

We talk about content engineering. I call myself a content engineer sometimes. But can content really be engineered? Is content engineering engineering in the same way that engineering a bridge is engineering, or only engineering by analogy?

This post is prompted by a fascinating conversation with Rob Hanna and others at the monthly STC Toronto Networking Lunch. The conversation morphed into something I think I can fairly characterize as: is there a uniform methodology to technical communication, one that can form the basis of a curriculum, a certification, or a toolset, or is there a legitimate diversity of approaches, roles, methods, and tools. 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

Successful Patterns are the Best Guide to Information Design

I am very grateful to Jonatan Lundin for a lengthy conversation on the subject of topic patterns because it helped me to crystalize something important about the basis for the principles of EPPO information design and how they are derived.

Approaches based on psychology

Traditionally, theories of information design have been psychologically based. Researchers (usually academics) attempted to form a psychological theory about how we learn and then suggested information design approaches based on those theories. The success of such efforts has been mixed. read more

Reuse is a good tactic but a poor strategy

I’m hearing people talk more and more about developing a reuse strategy. This is troubling. Reuse is a tactic at best. It is not a strategy. At least, it is not a good strategy.

Content strategy has an acronym COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere. But COPE can mean something a little different from tech comm’s idea of content reuse. Here is Mike Teasdale’s definition of COPE from http://www.harvestdigital.com/content-strategy-in-three-simple-acronyms/

I’m forever seeing great bits of content thrown away on a single tweet or Facebook post. read more

Tech Writers Must Learn to Stage Content Better

Some technical writers are proud of the utilitarian nature of their content. This isn’t marketing, they will say, with no attempt to veil their contempt for anything that might please or persuade. The customer has already bought the product, they will explain, so there is nothing left to sell.

This is wrong on a number of counts.

Documentation has to sell

There is a lot left to sell after the user makes an initial purchase. There are more copies to sell across the user’s organization. There is the next version to sell. There are other products your company wants to sell. There are the people that each current customer influences that your company want’s to sell to. But even more basic than this, your content has to be sold to the user. True, you are not asking the user for cash; just for time and trust. But time and trust are currency, and if we cannot command the reader’s time and trust, how can we expect to command our salaries? read more

Safari Flow and the EPPO-fication of Books

Summary: Safari Flow represents a move to Every Page is Page One navigation for books, but its success is limited when the content is not written in Every Page is Page One style.

At Tom Johnson’s suggestion, I have recently subscribed to Safari Flow. Safari Flow is a new take on the Safari Books Online concept which allows you to rent online access to a large library of technical books. What makes Safari Flow different? Essentially, it takes an Every Page is Page One approach to the navigation of the content it provides. read more

Content is a Utility

Summary: When content is a utility the job of the tech writer is to ensure reliability of supply.

In my earlier post, Content as Furniture, I suggested that while content used to be furniture — something to be acquired selectively and displayed as a prized possession (and a mark of status) — it is rapidly becoming a utility — something we simply expect to be there when we need it, like water or electricity.

The notion that content is becoming a utility has some pretty important consequences that I think are worth discussing. read more

Content as Furniture

Summary: Content is no longer furniture; it is a utility. We have to learn to treat it as such.

I am in the last throes of our move from Ottawa to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, which involves moving a lot of content. Boxes and boxes of great heavy lumps of paper and ink content. Great gaping room-swallowing wooden content storage units. Think those old hard drives in the computer museum (or your basement) were costly and low-capacity? Let me show you a book case. More to the point, help me move it. read more