tcworld conference Bangalore 2013 – Summary

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I attended my first ever conference in Bangalore, India – the tcworld conference, jointly hosted by tekom and TWIN. It was an amazing experience to chat to and interact with well over 350 technical writers, mostly from India, but also some amazing presenters from all over the world. I met many a fellow technical writer and it was interesting to hear about how quickly the technical communication profession is taking off in India. A large number of people I met worked for multinational IT giants such as Adobe, IBM, HP, Oracle, Cisco, but I also chatted with a few translators (another upcoming industry in India). Overall, an awesome experience!

A couple of days before the conference started; a 2-day nationwide strike was announced in India, which would have affected Day 1 of the conference. The organisers did a stellar job of arranging transport (chartered buses) for participants travelling from various parts of Bangalore and even organised backup plans for people flying in from other cities/overseas, in case the taxi organisations decided to join the strike. All this worked rather well and over 400 people attended the conference without any issues. This post provides a summary of the conference through some presentations I managed to find value out of, in the context of my current and future roles.

The State of the Tech Comm Industry – Scott Abel

The Content Wrangler kicked off proceedings with giving the audience a glimpse into the state of the Technical Communication industry via what tech writers (US and Europe primarily, but also a mix of other nations thrown in) answered in relation to a survey posted a few months back.

Amongst other things, a few interesting points coming out of the presentation are:

  • A large number of TC teams have not yet adopted agile documentation methods, typically because of the organisation they are a part of and how the organisation looks at documentation.
  • Advanced practices in developing documentation is driven largely by advent of configurable hardware/software products and consequently, TC teams need to be flexible with the approach to customer expectations.
  • Organisations are still focused on the implementation rather than the strategy, thus missing out on crucial factors of planning for expected and unexpected changes.

The full presentation of this keynote address is available at:

http://www.slideshare.net/abelsp/the-state-of-the-technical-communication-industry-tcworld-india-2013-keynote-address

Smarter Education through videos and social media – Swathi Jain, IBM

In her presentation, Swathi demonstrated how it is possible to create videos that complement the traditional text documentation, based on the user learning preferences (visual, auditory, read/write, kinesthetic).

She argued that in some cases it is actually beneficial to have videos only to better suit the user requirements (For example, Procedural documentation, Installation Guides or Quick Start documentation). She backed up her arguments with videos she had prepared earlier and it clearly demonstrated the usability of this output mechanism.

According to her estimates, although videos may seem harder to produce initially, over time, creating videos takes the same amount of time as writing good textual content. She also showed how to popularise the videos effectively so that a large number of users benefit from this medium

DITA 1.2 – Tony Self

Tony Self, or Dr DITA as he is known in some parts of the world began his presentation with

Hi, my name is Tony Self and I am from Melbourne, the city from where Shane Warne is; although I am not sure whether that is a good or a bad thing.

Once the audience had warmed up to this, he proceeded to give us a quick demonstration of changes expected in DITA 1.2. DITA 1.2 has been around since 2010, but is only being implemented by a large number of organisations recently.

Although the presentation was probably more useful for someone who currently uses DITA 1.1 or an earlier version, it was clear enough to understand what was coming in the newer version.

Rethinking DITA – Tony Self

Tony Self started off Day 2 by getting us to first look at the legacy work practices around documentation and then leading into the exciting world of XML/DITA and the opportunities it offers to tech writers. He demonstrated the power of XML through a series of demonstrations and pointed us in the direction of a few common tools that he currently uses to leverage of the power of XML.

Information Mapping and DITA – Francis Declercq

I was interested in attending this presentation because I have been a strong supporter and user of the Information Mapping methodology and principles for the last 3 or so years. I was curious to know how IM tied in with DITA.

Definitions:

Information Mapping® is a structured writing method that helps writers analyse, organize, and present information based on the audience’s needs and the purpose of the information.

The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is an XML based architecture for authoring, producing, and delivering information.

This is where the similarities and differences lay:

Similarities:

  • DITA information types is based on IM principles
  • Both define new basic units of information
  • Both promote writing modular, reusable and topic-based content

Differences:

  • DITA specifies a container
  • IM specifies how to write content in that container

The next version of DITA (DITA 1.3) is supposed to have way more information types than it presently has, and this is to closely align with 6 key IM information types.

Social Media & Search Engine Friendly UA – Anindita Basu and Vidhya Kumar, IBM

The aim of this presentation was to provide information on how to create search engine friendly documentation and use the power of social media to promote this documentation.

The key messages from this presentation were:

  • Search
    a. Optimise the help content by looking at keywords, content tags and introductory text
    b. Optimise the help architecture to establish the relative importance of pages and content
  • ShareShare your content using internal (wiki pages) and external (Linkedin, Twitter etc) social media
  • EngageExtend the reach of your content by involving both social media and search engines.
  • MonitorGather statistics about the content and use web analytics tools to show ROI.

I did my best to try and attend a mix of the technology, management and translation tracks, but the main 2 takeaways from the conference for me personally were:

  • DITA is here to stay – Admittedly, only a small number of TWs are using XML and DITA the way it was meant to be used, but the idea has caught on and it will definitely fuel the documentation of the future. With the ever increasing pace of mobile and handheld devices, it has become highly important for the TW to customize documentation for a large number of devices.
  • Social media plays a crucial role – No longer is your documentation/content contained to a paper document or online. It is important to design and plan your documentation in a manner so that it can be shared amongst a large population, users and non-users alike.

Much as I would have liked it, I didn’t get a chance to do any sightseeing in Bangalore and surrounds, but I did get to feast on some delicious local food at the conference venue as well as the hotel I was staying at, so that’s some consolation for a foodie like myself.