Last week, I had a chance to interview our very own, MindTouch CTO and co-founder Steve Bjorg, about the importance of MindTouch Technical Communications Suite. I sat down with Steve for a Q&A session on MindTouch TCS, so that you can have his view into the importance and power of the product.
Mark Fidelman: What is MindTouch TCS and why is it so remarkable?
Steve Bjorg: MindTouch TCS is the culmination of the most exhaustive research in the company’s history, which included several rounds of market feedback and focus groups. We studied our current and prospective customers and asked them what they needed in a solution to be more successful. We discovered that there is a major issue around authoring and publishing content for the web. They desperately need a more robust and focused solution for documentation and Customer Support. They also sorely lacked analytics and curation tools to help them create better content for their customers.
In fact, we found there needed to be a serious re-thinking of the way companies are using documentation. I believe we achieved that with MindTouch TCS.
Fidelman: Why did we choose Author, Discover and Curate as the three main pillars for MindTouch TCS?
Bjorg: After we completed the requirements gathering from our research, we identified these three pillars early on. Interestingly, most people consider authoring and publishing two different activities. Authoring in MindTouch TCS combines both (authoring and publishing) as a single activity, which we feel is a distinct advantage. We also determined that finding information is difficult and happens to be the number one issue with documentation today. We solved that issue by providing a very robust and advanced search experience. You need to see it to appreciate the power of it. (Ed. Note: You can sign up for a live demonstration here.)
Finally, we heard that technical communicators wanted to curate the best content for their customers either automatically or through the help of reporting tools. Having a large corpus of content isn’t much different than a museum, where the best, most relevant content is being displayed depending on the exhibit. MindTouch TCS enables the same curation activities in a much more efficient approach.
In fact we take it a step further by automatically generating other exhibits (content) to the reader based on what interested similar users or consumers of that content.
Fidelman: What advantages are there with web based versus desktop authoring?
Bjorg: Most content is online, so authoring in the same medium that it’s consumed in is superior. Desktop authoring tools are anachronistic and designed for print media. They do not provide a great web authoring experience. Now with HTML 5 emerging, content publishers won’t want to author in a desktop tool. Web based applications also provide a very rich media experience not just text and pictures as in the offline print paradigm.
Finally, it’s much easier to collaborate with co-workers, subject matter experts (SME’s), engineers and other stakeholders because they don’t need to learn a a new tool. MindTouch makes it easy. In fact it’s a lot like Microsoft Word. Additionally, users can add comments, edit the documentation, ask questions, or vote on the efficacy of content. You can’t do this offline.
Fidelman: Am I limited to just documentation or can I expand MindTouch TCS into other areas?
Bjorg: You can take it well beyond documentation into a Social Learning Community, customer support knowledge bases, or even a general web content management system. Yet it was designed to solve the documentation issue at its core. But since MindTouch solutions are extremely flexible, it’s very easy to add these additional solution layers around your documentation.
Fidelman: Does MindTouch TCS support the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA)?
Bjorg: Going from DITA files to xhtml for content (not for structure) is a fairly straight forward process. The downside of DITA is that the content representation is always a few steps behind in terms of the current web standards. So if your primary goal is offline help or a simple documentation site, then DITA works well. But if you look at how MindTouch 2010 works, there are a lot of similar benefits but a whole new level of additional benefits that enable a far richer content experience.
Fidelman: How is MindTouch TCS different from the typical Wiki?
Bjorg: First, content authoring and publishing using MindTouch is simple. You don’t need to learn wiki-text or html, it works like Microsoft Word (for authoring). Second, most other tools fall behind when you want to do contextual suggestions of articles based on what you’ve just read. In these other systems, you have to encode and track these things separately over time which is a major burden. With MindTouch TCS it’s a native, automatic benefit with low impact and high yield.
Third, Wiki providers are not offering Curation analytics and enabling you to find the low performing content because it’s poorly rated, old, or people can’t find it because it doesn’t exist. We make it easy to find documentation issues (good or bad) and prioritize the content that has the most impact. Using these reports Documentation Managers can oversee the accuracy and improve the quality of the content they deliver.
Fidelman: Why is building a community around your documentation important?
Bjorg: Not all documentation can be crowdsourced. Documentation like product overviews, table of contents, indexes, etc. you won’t want to let the crowd edit. However, any content that is related to the product experience should be crowdsourced as your customers are the experts because they use your product or service every day.
There’s simply no way any technical communicator can anticipate every use case or trouble ticket. That’s why the community is important and can have a huge impact on your cost reduction efforts. Either by creating content themselves or by indicating that there is missing support content. This can be done a variety of ways including through forums, questions and answers or editing the content directly in the documentation.
We support each of these methods.
Fidelman: Thanks for your time, Steve. I’m sure our readers will have a much better appreciation of the power of MindTouch TCS and how it’s evolving documentation.