This article is based on my presentation at the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators' annual conference, in October 2006, on new trends in technical authoring. It covers the application of Web 2.0 technologies to technical documentation.
The three waves of interestingness
Every now and then, there are times where there is a change in the value of what a technical author deliveries. These are moments when organizations pay attention to technical documentation. This is because they recognize these changes mean that they can create something that will be of real value to the business and to their customers.
In recent years, there have been three "waves of interestingness". The first wave was the introduction of Windows Help (WinHelp). The second major wave was the introduction of the Internet and intranets. This was a time when organizations looked at how they could take large amounts of information and put them online. They were faced with issues such as how users could access and understand all this information easily – issues which technical communicators deal with on a day-to-day basis.
I believe we're just about to approach the new wave, which we have called "Tech Writing 2.0".
What do we mean by Tech Writing 2.0?
Tech Writing 2.0 is application of Web 2.0 services and technologies to technical communication. Web 2.0 gives us the opportunity to significantly change the quality of what the users receive.
This new wave is not about the introduction of DITA or the introduction of the new Help format in Windows Vista. These two technologies will primarily affect what happens behind the scenes. What the user receives is illegally to change significantly from what they received today.
What do we mean by Web 2.0?
Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as:
"A second generation of services available on the World Wide Web that lets people collaborate and share information online. In contrast to the first generation, Web 2.0 gives users an experience closer to desktop applications than the traditional static Web pages."
Web 2.0. (2006, July 13). In Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Web_2.0&oldid=63603254 (1997), The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:14, July 14, 2006.
Within Wikipedia's definition, there are two themes:
Another way of answering that question is to look at sites that people have called Web 2.0 sites. These include sites such as Lulu.com, Blogger.com, Flickr.com, Newsgator.com and Technorati.com. Within these we can see three common elements:
How can we apply Web 2.0 to technical communication?
Let's think about Web 2.0 could mean to technical writers. Not everything that comes under the banner of Web 2.0 impacts on the documentation world. Some of the techniques and technologies, however, can be used by technical authors to improve their documentation and the experience of those using it. It could allow you to:
Example – Collaboration
Today, it can be very difficult to incorporate content from third parties. In most situations, writers have to resort to "cut and paste", taking content from one document and pasting it into the master document. Writers find themselves spending considering time modifying the formatting and structure so that it conforms to the rest of the document. They rarely have the power to dictate the structure and formatting to others. Collaborative publishing means projects where documents are created by many different people working together (collaboratively) rather than individually.
Web 2.0 offers a variety of ways to write collaboratively.
The danger to technical communicators
However, it may be like the early days of the Internet. Companies may decide to implement Web 2.0, and not involve technical communicators in the process. New job titles and roles within businesses may appear to describe people that do this type of work. Indeed, the delivered service may not be seen as online Help or even user documentation.