Content for a Convergent World: Information, Interactions, and Experiences

When I first started blogging, I thought a lot about how I would explore content here, especially in About This Blog. At the time, my main inspiration came from Hillel Cooperman, who formerly directed the Windows user interface team at Microsoft, and is the more recent founder of Jackson Fish Market. In a speech, Cooperman proposed that “software and content are becoming so intertwined, there’s no longer much point in drawing any distinction.”

The Convergence of Content and Software

Back in March ’09, my main objective was to explore this “content-software convergence,” which in addition to a Content Wrangler post on “Convergence Technical Communication,” inspired the blog’s name.

Content as Information, Interactions, and Experiences

Sometime last winter, the tag-line for this blog became content strategy, development, and management, mainly to accommodate the topics that seemed most relevant to my immediate professional development, as well as the kinds of cross-disciplinary resources I was encountering mostly online. Previous to that, this blog was actually called, “Content for a Convergent World: Information, Interactions, and Experiences.”

Content as Branded Experience

The earlier tag-line was drawn from Vince Giorgi’s post, “Is It Content? Software? Let’s Call It a Branded Experience,” which describes content this way:

“Value-adding information, interactions, and experiences by which brands engage and build affinity with the audiences vital to their business success.”

Right now, there seems to be some debate in the blogosphere, about the nature of content, and how we use content to build relationships with our customers. Is content more in the questions we ask? or the information we synthesize? Is it better to be original or comprehensive? Is the nature of our relationships better served by inbound versus outbound frameworks?

Convergent Thinking in a Divergent World

In school, I was one of those people on standardized tests, who always looked for C, whenever I was presented with A or B.

To me, Giorgi’s view of content as “information, interactions, and experiences” encompasses all of it, and that’s why I can embrace, at least in this stage of my development, such convergent thinking, in a seemingly divergent world (or is it vice verca)?  (see Chris Brogan’s thoughts on cognitive resonance and dissonance, over at Open Forum, for more on convergent versus divergent thinking.)

Design Now a Part of Marketing

So far, I’ve focused mainly on the information part of Giorgi’s view of content. As I evolve as a blogger and continue with content as a theme, I’d like to explore more and better practice, the interactions and experiences part of Giorgi’s content equation.

Longterm, I’d also like to wind back to my original intent, exploring what Cooperman observed, as the interwining of content with software. I hadn’t thought much about that lately, until a recent post by Seth Godin, on the business of software. There, Godin notes:

At its heart, you need to imagine (and then execute) a business that just happens to involve a piece of software, because it’s become clear that software alone isn’t the point. There isn’t a supply issue–it’s about demand. The business of software is now marketing (which includes design).

So, what’s content to you?

Do you agree with Cooperman’s perspective that a lot of our prior distinctions (and to me, by implication, our way of working) are disappearing, in the intertwining of content with software? or Godin’s assertion that the “the business of software is now marketing (which includes design)?” How do you harness convergent versus divergent thinking in your own problem-solving? or within your organization?

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Content Strategy for Technical Content (according to Rahel Anne Bailie)

I’m not sure how many folks here may have noticed, but I recently dropped “Technical and Marketing Communication,” from the title of this blog. Though I’ll still be blogging about both technical and marketing communication topics, the direction I’m moving in these days is much broader than a single discipline (or two)…In the same vein, it took me a long time to settle on a tag-line here at Content for a Convergent World, but I finally found one I really like—Content Strategy, Development, and Management.

(For anyone who was watching closely, you may have noticed, especially during the fall and early winter months, that I changed my tag-line, in an almost weekly [sometimes daily, if you were watching very closely] display of creative indecision…I’ve kept this latest tag-line in place for many months and feel like it finally captures the diversity of my professional interests, in a simultaneously cohesive and focused way.)

On SlideShare, I recently found presentations from Rahel Anne Bailie (@rahelab on Twitter), Content Strategist and CM Consultant, from Intentional Design, which reinforce this blog’s inclusive direction and tie in with the vision I had, when I first set down my thoughts in About This Blog, more than a year ago.

In this retrospective, I pay special homage to Content Wrangler Scott Abel, who has featured Bailie, at his own blog in the post, Rahel Bailie Provides A Content Strategy Primer, and who has greatly influenced my thinking, about the direction of technical communication. In particular, I read Nicky Bleiel’s guest-post (Convergence Technical Communication: Strategies for Incorporating Web 2.0) at Abel’s blog , about the same time I was launching this blog. I find myself still referring back to those ideas, especially as I recommit to this more cross-disciplinary, holistic direction.

Bailie’s presentation describes all the themes I’m trying to capture here, including content convergence, as well as the role of the content strategist in devising strategies, rooted in business requirements, for developing and managing portable content, including subscriptions, marketing content, engineering content, tech comm content, training content, support center content, CRM content, RSS feeds, and user-generated content.

I especially loved Bailie’s eloquent description of the content strategist’s T-thinking mind-set, described as “convergent, synergistic thinking”…convergent, synergistic thinking…yep, that’s what I’m aiming for, here, at Content for a Convergent World…convergent, synergistic thinking, for Enterprise 2.0, and beyond…Another hat tip to Scott Abel, Nicky Bleiel, and Rahel Anne Bailie—for their inspiration and leadership, and for being content strategists, long before content strategy was cool.

Here are some quick notes, from Bailie’s presentation.

What Is Content Convergence?

Content convergence is a move away from content silos (single-use, linear content), paired with content integration, which is combining content from multiple sources. Content convergence means portability—mixing and matching content to fit new contexts. Complex contexts demand concise content…Shape content around a single concept. The ability to re-use content across context increases content value.

To be portable, content needs to:

  • Be structured.
  • Have semantic properties.
  • Be findable (searchable).
  • Conform to standards.

What is Content Strategy?

Content strategy = devising strategies, rooted in business requirements, for portable content.

Content Strategists, Described

  • Content strategists are T-shaped thinkers, good at convergent, synergistic thinking (thinking outside the box).
  • Questions content strategists explore:
    • What are the touch points?
    • What can be automated for users?
    • What are the preferences of your audiences?
    • What is required by regulatory?
    • What is the best you can provide, in practicality?
    • How creative can you be?

Examples of Portable Content

Blog posts, images, Twitter posts, upcoming product releases, user-generated content, visitor login, ratings information, e-commerce data, audio files, and product descriptions.

 View more presentations from Rahel Anne Bailie.

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Technical Writers: Why STC Membership is Worth It

The Society of Technical Communication has been working with the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), since 2007 to update its definition of the technical communications profession. At long last, The Occupational Outlook and Handbook (OOH), published by the US Department of Labor’s BLS Web site in December 2009, has an individual report on technical writers. Through this classification, STC membership has provided the entire technical communications discipline a great service.

Though the Department of Labor turned down the Society’s request for a new classification, as “technical communication specialist,” the entry in the OOH states that technical writers are also known as “technical communicators.”

Many of the technical writer’s key qualifications and responsibilities (see below), including the technical writer’s communication skills and user focus, transfer especially well to a Web 2.0 world.

The Department of Labor’s forecast that technical writing job prospects are good, particularly for those with Web or multimedia experience, complements an emerging trend, known in content development circles as (note: link to pdf document follows) social technical communication, or convergence technical communication.

Significant Points about Technical Writers

Here are the significant points from the US Department of Labor’s description of technical writers:

  • Most jobs in this occupation require a college degree—preferably in communications, journalism, or English—but a degree in a technical subject may be useful.
  • Job prospects for most technical writing jobs are expected to be good, particularly for those with Web or multimedia experience.
  • Excellent communications skills, curiosity, and attention to detail are highly desired traits.

Excerpt about the Nature of Technical Writing Work

Here is an excerpt about the nature of technical writing work:

Technical writers, also called technical communicators, put technical information into easily understandable language. They work primarily in information-technology-related industries, coordinating the development and dissemination of technical content for a variety of users;
however, a growing number of technical communicators are using technical content to resolve
business communications problems in a diversifying number of industries. Included in their products are operating instructions, how-to manuals, assembly instructions, and other documentation needed for online help and by technical support staff, consumers, and other users within the company or industry. Technical writers also develop documentation for computer programs and set up communications systems with consumers to assess customer satisfaction and quality control matters. In addition, they commonly work in engineering, scientific, healthcare, and other areas in which highly specialized material needs to be explained to a diverse audience, often of laypersons.

Technical writers often work with engineers, scientists, computer specialists, and software developers to manage the flow of information among project workgroups during development and testing. They also may work with product liability specialists and customer service or call center managers to improve the quality of product support and end-user assistance. Technical writers also oversee the preparation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts. Technical writers increasingly are using a variety of multimedia formats to convey information in such a way that complex concepts can be understood easily by users of the information.

Applying their knowledge of the user of the product, technical writers may serve as part of a team conducting usability studies to help improve the design of a product that is in the prototype stage. Technical writers may conduct research on their topics through personal observation, library and Internet research, and discussions with technical specialists. They also are expected to demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter and establish their credibility with their colleagues.

Kudos to the The Society of Technical Communication for its work to gain official recognition for the technical writer’s diverse and timely skill set.

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