The 2011 Technical Communication Innovation Awards aim to acknowledge some of the best — and most innovative — examples of technical communication available today. The awards also are designed to highlight some of the most innovative practitioners in the field. It’s not an exhaustive list. There are many people and organizations doing exceptional work in the technical communication arena. Instead, it’s a snapshot of some of the best examples of innovation that are likely to have a long-lasting impact on the future of tech comm.
The 2011 Technical Communication Innovation Awards are brought to you by The Content Wrangler and MindTouch. Here we go…
Most Innovative Socially-Enabled Support Community
Survey after survey shows that positive customer support experiences engender customer loyalty and increase sales. Customers don’t care where the right answer comes from as long as they get the answer quickly and easily. Each time you provide a positive experience — and help your customer locate the information they need — you make it more difficult for your competition to win over your customers. Autodesk understands this fact and has worked hard to ensure that their customer experience is one of the best around. That’s why we’re honoring the Autodesk WikiHelp community as the Most Innovative Socially-Enabled Support Community.
This community, however, wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for a few select individuals at Autodesk who spearheaded and drove this initiative from concept to creation. I’m happy to award Victor Solano and Tom Williams in this category. Congrats to these two individuals at Autodesk who manifested a dream of creating an exceptional experience for their customers into a reality.
The Autodesk WikiHelp community is a perfect example of the emerging Help 2.0 category of customer support. Think of Help 2.0 as an innovative online community that leverages structured content, social networking, and web 2.0. to enhanced and extend conventional publishing processes and leverage the power of the crowd. They help organizations like Autodesk make the right information, in the right language, in the right format, available to the right people, at the right time. Help 2.0 communities take advantage of peer-to-peer collaboration — users helping users. And, they organizations that employ them benefit from nearly immediate feedback to the content they provide. Errors can be pointed out and fixed before they become big, fat, expensive customer support problems.
The Autodesk WikiHelp support community leverages the company’s vast libraries of legacy technical content, much of which is being broken out of monolithic technical documentation manuals and ‘componentized’ in DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) before being ported to a topic-based, socially-enabled support platform (MindTouch) where it is organized in ways in which customers typically search for answers to questions.
Autodesk WikiHelp provides both the company and its customers with an interactive, wiki-based co-authoring and collaboration platform that allows registered users with permission to create, edit, augment, share, rate, print, save, tag, and comment on support content. In less than six months, without any public announcement by the company, the Autodesk WikiHelp community has attracted nearly 11,000 users. The community boasts over 111,000 pages of content spanning 21 product categories. Users have tagged nearly 13,000 pieces of content, uploaded 870 videos, and make nearly 1 million edits.
The Autodesk WikiHelp community adds links to related content dynamically, as it is created, organizing search results based on a variety of factors (popularity, relevance, relationships between search terms and content, and more). It also tracks when and how customers access individual pieces of content and remembers what search terms they used to hunt for content. These terms can later be added to the content as metadata (tags) to help future users more quickly find and retrieve the content they desire and to help Autodesk automatically create a robust and highly effective taxonomy to assist them in delivering relevant content to those who need it.
A “What’s New?” RSS feed is also made available allowing members to keep track of enhancements and other changes to the community from their favorite RSS reader, without the need to return to the community. Other RSS feeds are also available.
This information — and a wide variety of other metrics — are fed back into the Autodesk WikiHelp community where content managers can make decisions on future content development projects based on actionable, real-world data about how its customers interact with support content. The system also leverages metrics about the content and the members of the Wikihelp community to enhance the customer experience.
One only needs to use a little imagination to see where this is heading. As the community matures and Autodesk — and their customers — discover new and useful things they can do to add value to the content and the experience, expect this Help 2.0 support community to continue innovating.
Most Innovative Technical Communication Blog
Tom Johnson, I’d Rather Be Writing
This honor is bestowed upon long-time technical documentation professional Tom Johnson for creating some of the best — and most innovative — original content about the ﬁeld of technical communication (and related disciplines) on his ultra-popular blog, I’d Rather Be Writing.
Johnson creates top quality content. It’s thoughtful, well-researched, consistent, and available in a variety of formats. Whether it’s a podcast interview, a book review, a collaborative post, or a how-to article, Johnson does it right. He’s open to new ideas, not afraid of change, and willing to challenge his readers, service providers, and the industry itself to think in new and innovative ways. Always a great read!
Most Innovative Open Source Collaborative Authoring Project
FLOSS Manuals is an online community in which members work together to create a collection of freely available user guides and technical support materials designed to help people use free and open source software products. FLOSS Manuals members donate their time to document free and open source products, many of which are accompanied by less-than-stellar documentation, or worse, no documentation at all.
While this makes FLOSS Manuals useful, the community also provides an innovative, browser-based collaborative authoring environment called Booki, which they built themselves, that allows members use to create, edit, and publish documentation. There’s even a feature that allows members to ‘remix’ content from any of the manuals in the collection to create documentation mashups.
Anyone can contribute to a manual – to ﬁx a spelling mistake, to add a more detailed explanation, to write a new chapter, add a tutorial, insert a screen shot, or to start a new manual on a topic of their choosing. New manuals can be added to the open collection (and be viewed, downloaded, and remixes by others) or can be marked ‘private’, in which case only the creator will be able to access and interact with the publication.
FLOSS Manuals allows users to create manuals in both print-friendly PDF format and in eBook reader-friendly EPUB format. Printed copies can be ordered online (for a fee) via the print-to-order service of lulu.com.
Most Innovative In-App Technical Documentation
Most Innovative Technical Documentation
Apple has created what is certainly the best documentation ever provided to users of computer software. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to ﬁnd a better example anywhere, in any industry. Period. That’s why we’ve awarded Cupertino-based Apple with two awards: Most Innovative Technical Documentation and Most Innovative In-App Technical Documentation.
Let’s take a look at this game-changing documentation.
The Apple iWork suite of ofﬁce tools (in this case, for the iPad offers an amazingly easy-to-use set of inline documentation that is actually part of the product. When you launch any of tools in the suite, a ‘Getting Started’ document is displayed on the screen. Tapping the document displays step-by-step guidance on using the tool. Each and every lesson is designed to teach users how each feature or function works by having them actually perform the function in the documentation itself.
The ﬁrst lesson in each set of documentation reinforces the commands that are universal on the iPad and ensures new users of the device acclimate quickly. The second and subsequent lessons dive into the features speciﬁc to the product, providing an extremely easy-to-master interactive training lesson. Each lesson teaches users exactly how the feature works and allows them to easily undo changes they made to the document with a tap of the index ﬁnger.
Let’s take a look at Pages, the Apple word processing tool, part of the iWork suite of ofﬁce productivity tools. When a user is learning to insert a chart into a Pages document, for instance, they are not just reading a help topic about how the software works, instead, they are actually using the software and performing the tasks they are learning about. It couldn’t be any easier. Really.
This innovation has slipped quietly past most tech comm practitioners. It is perhaps the most important change in the TechComm industry in quite some time.
Today, documentation is part of the user experience. It’s a hybrid content type — part documentation, part training, part marketing. And, it’s going to change the way users expect technical documentation to work…forever.
Apple understands that documentation and training impact how consumers feel about a brand. They also understand that a positive experience using a product leads to future sales and the beginning if a long-lasting, potentially life-long customer relationship. They know that happy customers often become Apple evangelists, spreading the Apple gospel as volunteer marketing and PR agents. Itʼs brilliant. And, itʼs the right thing to do. After all, who doesnʼt enjoy a positive customer experience?
It’s no wonder the same folks who changed the music, entertainment, publishing, mobile communications and computing markets are now making their mark in the technical documentation space. Each and every time they raise the bar by creating a better customer experience, others are forced to duplicate their efforts, improving things for everyone — even customers of brands that compete with Apple.
The impact of in-app documentation will be felt in the technical documentation space, starting with tablet, smart phone, and other touch screen device manufacturers and makers of software apps designed to work with them. As more and more touch screen interfaces appear in other markets and a incorporated into other products, it’s likely that that Apple approach will be mimicked and eventually it will become the de facto manner in which contextually relevant training and technical support content is delivered to customers. Goodbye tri-pane online help. So long information mapping. Hello interactive documentation and training as part of the product! Brilliant. Viva la positive customer experience!
PixelMag Help Guide for Apple iPad
PixelMag Help Guide is not as innovative as it is simple, clear, and concise. Only takes a few seconds to learn how to use gestures to navigate PixelMag digital publications. If only everything were this easy!
Most Innovative Technical Communication Professional
Ann Rockley, President and CEO, The Rockley Group
This, our highest honor, is bestowed upon STC Fellow Ann Rockley for developing, implementing, and documenting innovative approaches to information management that were originally designed to solve multi-channel publishing challenges in the ﬁeld of technical communication, but that have since been adopted to solve all sorts of content problems across entire enterprises.
The methods Rockley pioneered were compiled in her best selling book, ‘Managing Enterprise Content: A Uniﬁed Content Strategy‘ (2002, New Riders), often referred to as the ‘bible’ of content management strategy among content strategists. Rockley’s ‘uniﬁed content strategy’ is a repeatable process for ….. It was originally used by technical communication and training departments to repurpose components of content to create multiple deliverables (online help, training materials, user documentation) from a single source of content. Over time, as XML content standards matured, and software vendors developed powerful content management systems designed to manage components of XML content, Rockley’s uniﬁed content strategy was adopted by organizations in nearly every industry imaginable around the globe.
Rockley has also sought out ways to promote and utilize XML content standards that help organizations make use of their content in innovative and useful ways. In 2010 she authored ‘DITA 101: Understanding the Darwin Information Typing Architecture for Authors and Managers’ (www.dita101.com), an introductory-level text designed to assist technical communication departments in getting started with DITA. But Rockley saw promise in the popular topic-based XML standard and began working to expand its adoption outside of the TechComm box. Her work with the DITA for Business Documents Committee (OASIS) helped innovative organizations extend the DITA standard in creative ways to help them create and manage a wide variety of content types not traditionally believed to be appropriate for use with DITA. Today, as a result of her leadership, DITA is being used to create marketing collateral, website content, training materials, news articles, human resource content and other types of business documents.
Rockley’s most innovative work is in the ﬁeld of intelligent content. By combining the uniﬁed content strategy with XML content standards and component content management systems, Rockley has helped content heavy organizations to create content that is not limited to one purpose, technology or output; content that is structurally rich and semantically aware, and is therefore discoverable, reusable, reconﬁgurable and adaptable. Each Spring Rockley showcases the best of breed solutions in this arena at her annual Intelligent Content Conference in Palm Springs, CA.
Her most recent innovation involves providing traditional publishers with the knowledge they need to efﬁciently and effectively create, manage and deliver enhanced and interactive eBooks, apps, and other types of content in mobile device-friendly digital formats. She’s documented her methods and communicated them in ways that resonate with publishers in her upcoming book, ‘eBooks 101: The Digital Content Strategy for Reaching Customers Anywhere, Anytime, on Any Device’ (The Rockley Press). The book takes over two decades of lessons learned creating interactive content and marries it with the uniﬁed content strategy in an effort to help publishers of all types avoid re-creating the wheel by leveraging lessons learned and best practices from the ﬁeld of technical communication.
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