I provided a lengthy response today to a LinkedIn conversation based on a post by Robert Desprez on “Web 2.0 and Technical Communicators.” The premise of Robert’s post is that Most technical writers are not embracing Web 2.0. The discussion has so far trended toward observations about reuse of user-generated content. I felt that the premise could be branched out further.
First, some definitions: The way I see it, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 are mainly terms for a set of requirements for classes of function: social engagement on one hand and interoperable applications on the other hand. The two may absolutely cross over whenever you are discussing the use of social media tools for creating intelligent content–would that be Web 5.0? But they are not two separate things–it is more a matter of which requirements are needed for a specific goal. Therefore I find those “Web x.0″ terms to be artificially limiting–the issue is what capabilities are available, and how can we help users embrace them more effectively.
So back to the question about the role of Web 2.0 principles for content development in tech writing, I think there are two issues at work: one is whether writers are making effective use of social media, the other is whether social media principles can be used effectively for content creation. Those are two entirely separate concerns, in my book.
Are writers making effective use of all that social media can offer them, personally? Social media can be tremendously useful for personal branding, creating career visibility, staying in touch with and learning from peers, for customer contact and support, and much more. To me, all of this fits into discussions about career management and being the tangible face of the product you work for–the human voice you finally get to on the recording-driven phone menu, as it were. These tools help you make a difference in the world of relationships, which is a valuable soft skill that many companies fall short in helping their employees to achieve. Individuals who “get it” tend to rise beyond those institutional barriers, but some of the blame for ineffective use by employees (including technical writers) of Web 2.0 for influence is clearly a lack of encouragement in that direction.
Then we can address the other aspect, which is how Web 2.0-informed tools can be used in the realm of content creation and curation. Twitter is a good example of the tension I’ve seen. While Twitter is clearly popular for creating followings and visibility, it is fundamentally a “micro-blogging” tool–it can be the piece of paper that you carry to make notes on throughout the day. That it is rarely used for this role (outside of public hashtags) is again a matter of disciplined convention rather than a limitation of the tool. Check out http://glunote.com/ as an example of an extremely simple convention for using Twitter as a personal journal or line-at-a-time book writing exercise. It can be done, but you have to change channels from “influencer” to “writer” to use this particular medium effectively.
I had mentioned that one of the commenters who is familiar with my work on the expeDITA content collaboration project knows my premise that DITA is potentially valuable as a behind-the-scenes enabler for the creation of intelligent content with these collaborative tools. Web 2.0 provides the service; Web 3.0 creates the requirements for how that content can be used, which makes DITA meaningful to discuss for collaboration tools. Notice that you can still do the work without DITA, but to do so, more of the structure and intent for that content has to be inferred by the system rather than dictated from the content. If we want content that can actually drive multiple “Web 3.0″ systems well into the future (and into collaboration tools well beyond today’s conception of blogs and wikis), something better than XHTML needs to be defining that job list, that recipe, that workflow description or personalized content. Being originally designed expressly to map XML into the Web’s natural architectures, DITA is certainly a candidate for that marriage of collaboration with programmatic use of content.
The original questions are of course open ended, and so I invite your continued discussion here as well as back on LinkedIn or Robert’s site:
- Are technical writers making the best use of social media for its branding and connections aspects?
- How can social media principles be more effectively used for content creation? This invites the consideration of user-generated content and the warrantying of “truth” of the contributions, and more!
- And my twist, How would DITA under the covers help enhance the combined goal of “collaboration for intelligent content creation?”