Findability: The Last Mile

Search is somewhat like an airplane. If you go to a meeting in another city, the plane takes you most of the way. But the plane only takes you to the airport. The meeting is somewhere downtown. You need some other means of transport to take you the last mile to your meeting.

I wrote recently on the impossible expectations that we have of search. Search fails, many claim, because it cannot always get you right to the single exact piece of content that you want. As I argued here, I think that it is unreasonable to ask such precision of search. Even if the limits of language did not interfere, the reader still would not know enough to enter perfect search terms every time. Search is the long haul carrier of findability. But we still need to travel the last mile. And the last mile of findability is being sadly neglected. read more

The Vocabulary of Tasks

Task orientation is one of the most important principles of technical communication. But it is also a more difficult concept than it might at first seem. Part of the problem is the vocabulary of tasks.

When we urge writers to be task oriented, we usually contrast it to a different style, which we often call “feature oriented”, or “product oriented”. We say things like, “write about the task, not the product”, or “stop talking about the product and start working for the user”. All of this can make it sound like it is a bad thing to even mention the product and its features. read more

The Reader is the Enemy

Noz Urbina asks, Is Communication Mired in the Past? Well, yes, obviously. Most of the tech comms world is still making books in FrameMaker. But also no, because the problem is more profound than the words “mired in the past suggest”. People get mired in things through carelessness or misfortune. They want to get out, but they can’t. Technical communications isn’t mired in the past, it is entrenched there, gallantly, if with dwindling hope, guarding the battlements against the encroaching hoards of readers. read more

Princes of Erudition?

Just back from JoAnn Hackos’ CMS/DITA conference, where it became clear that even in a conference dedicated to a topic-based authoring methodology, most people are still writing books. Certainly, they are writing them in the form of topics, but then stitching them together into books. The fundamental product is still a book.