The other thing wrong with the DIKW pyramid

I took a side swipe at the DIKW (Data Information Knowledge Wisdom) pyramid the other day, and included a link to David Weinberger’s excellent debunking of it, which concludes:

The real problem with the DIKW pyramid is that it’s a pyramid. The image that knowledge (much less wisdom) results from applying finer-grained filters at each level, paints the wrong picture. That view is natural to the Information Age which has been all about filtering noise, reducing the flow to what is clean, clear and manageable. Knowledge is more creative, messier, harder won, and far more discontinuous. read more

Findability is a Content Problem, not a Search Problem

Findability is a constant theme in content strategy and technical communications, yet it  seems to me that people often treat findability as a problem existing outside the content. Findability is addressed using SEO tactics and by devising sophisticated top-down navigational aids, such as taxonomies and faceted navigation, but it is seldom seen as issue to be addressed in the content itself.

I believe this focus on top-down findability is wrong. Top-down finding aids have their place, but the majority of the focus should be bottom up, and it should start with the content itself. read more

The Tyranny of the Terrible Troika: Rethinking Concept, Task, and Reference

Tom Johnson’s blog post Unconscious Meaning Suggested from the Structure and Shape of Help, includes a graphic showing three shapes of content:

Tom Johnson's "Shapes of Help" graphic. Tom Johnson’s “Shapes of Help” graphic.

These three shapes are meant to represent the DITA topic triad of concept, task, and reference. I didn’t get it. As I said in a comment on Tom’s blog, I was trying to match the shapes to something more specific. It was odd that I didn’t recognize them as concept, task, and reference, I said, because I have be “battling the tyranny of the terrible troika” for the last few years. Tom asked what I meant by “the tyranny of the terrible troika”; this is my answer. read more

Too Big to Browse; Too Small to Search

Findability continues to be the bete noire of technical communication. This may be a parallax error, but it seems that findability is more of a problem in technical communication than in other fields. The reason, I suspect, is that many technical documentation suites are too big to browse but too small to search.

I have commented before on the somewhat counter-intuitive phenomenon that on the Web it is easier to find a needle in a haystack (The Best Place to Find a Needle is a Haystack). This may be counterintuitive, but it is easy enough to explain: search (if it is any more sophisticated than simple string matching) is essentially a statistical analysis function. A search engine works by discovering a statistical correlation between a search string and a set of resources in its index. read more

Approximation, Correction, and Tech Comm

Charge of the Light Brigade

Charge of the Light Brigade

At the Battle of Balaclava, an order reached a brigade of light cavalry to take the Russian guns. The general who sent the order was referring to a small artillery position that had been abandoned. But the commander of the light brigade could not see those guns. He could only see the main Russian battery at the end of the valley. He charged, and the light brigade was cut to pieces. The Charge of the Light Brigade can tell us something pretty interesting about the development of technical communication today. read more

What is a topic? What does standalone mean?

Everyone agrees that we should be writing in topics. (Okay, not everyone, probably, but everyone who is likely to read this blog.) Everyone agrees we should write in topics. But no one agrees on what a topic is.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. When asked to describe what a topic is, almost everyone in the business will come up with the same essential adjective: standalone. Everyone agree that a topic is a standalone piece of content. Unfortunately, no one agrees on what “standalone” means. read more

Crossing the chasm with documentation

I was reflecting today on whether companies are making the best strategic use of their documentation departments. Of course, we doc folk believe that no self respecting corporation should ever let any product go out the door without full, brilliant, richly illustrated documentation — preferable printed on acid free archival quality paper and bound in rich leather embossed with gold lettering. In fact, of course, that virtually never happens, and yet our companies still manage to eek out a return for their shareholders. read more

Too little information

Were I asked to characterize the human condition in a sentence, I might choose this: to be human is to make decisions with too little information. All our decisions, great and small, are taken without adequate information: getting married, buying real estate, having children (this especially), saving for retirement, choosing the best route for a journey, taking a job, or hiring an employee. We don’t know nearly as much as we would like to in making any of these decisions.