Thursday, October 13, 2005

Turning your company inside out

TechPubs is not a very influential department in most companies. You're considered a cost centre, massaging content and concepts that originate elsewhere in the company (like engineering), and then pushing it out into the world. As a result, most departments justifiably consider themselves underfunded and understaffed, and find themselves fighting for budgets and respect. But the times are a-changin'. Multi-channel publishing initiatives like syndication networks and collaborative product development are accelerating demand for high-quality content. Blogging, Wikis, and other social-software phenomena are transforming the nature of marketing on the web. In the Web 2.0 world, people don't buy products, they join communities. Often, those communities know more about how your company's products actually work than the engineers who designed them. This presents a tremendous opportunity to the forward-looking techpubs department to turn their traditional role inside-out, and become a conduit for customer participation in the process of designing and documenting products. Many will, understandably, fear this change. Letting your customers participate directly in the development of product documentation will require new processes, new ways of working, new relationships. But in that change is an opportunity to become more meaningfully engaged in the process of creating excellent products.

OpenDocument - why do we need this again?

Look - I'm as big a standards geek as you're likely to meet, and I have a world of respect for Tim Bray, but I simply do not understand why I should care very much about ODF, let alone why it should "turn the world inside out". As far as I can see, this is simply encoding as XML the same broken model we've had in MS Office for many years now. Content and presentation mashed together in a jumble, and ten years from now, if I want to get my content out, I'll need to know quite a bit about how openoffice works (encodes fields, handles page breaks, styles text runs). Contrary to Tim's comments to News.com, the web was a tremendous explosion, not because HTML was an open standard (it really wasn't at the time). Leaving aside the fact that we had access to a world wide network for the first time, a) there were browsers on nearly every computer, b) HTML was simple enough that it could be coded by hand in notepad, and c) because you could teach yourself how to write it by using "view source" on any page you thought was cool. ODF: strike one, two and three by my count. Decouple the content from the presentation entirely, and then I'll be impressed. To me, DITA is the more singificant development. Now we can take a sophisticated XML content framework, and specialize it with company/industry/domain semantics without needing to futz around with DTDs or Schema. True single source, multi-channel publishing. Now that could turn everything inside out, not refighting the office suite wars of the 80's.

Web 2.0 - is it really made of people?

One of the most interesting things about the web 2.0 conference was all the talk about communities. About how this new wave of innovation is really about empowering and connecting people. Lots of companies displayed their new plumage for us, displaying all kinds of great new social environments for the expression of social proximity. How are all of these companies going to make money, you ask? They are going to plaster billboards on their plazas and squares, and sell advertising through Google. Somewhere, somebody is going to solve the problem of connecting web communities with community-based business, though, I'm sure of it. That will be cool.