This year I had a marvelous opportunity to attend the Evolution of TC conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. It is an annual international event for all technical communicators with a focus on innovations in software documentation. Being a place for technical writers, information developers, translators, and everyone who is interested in technical communication, it gives an excellent opportunity to exchange knowledge and ideas, learn new tendencies and trends, as well as grow network.
We’ve all heard that it is the end of the era of technical communicators. We’ve heard that users do not read guides and instructions, or that developers or anyone else from the project team could write product documentation, or that we (technical communicators) had better start learning new tools and ways of delivering information.
Even though I totally disagree with the first two points, I do see some sense in the third one. The era of ordinary text documentation, either printed or online, is fading out. Sure, we do make eLearnings, videos, and infographics. However, the problem is still there – documentation is of minor priority, users read less and less, and, as a result, we might feel that our work is useless, which is absolutely not. Here comes the question – Is there any future? Fortunately, I have received the answer – yes, there is! Of course, the way is not simple and straight, but here are some bright thoughts I’ve heard at the conference.
Dynamic Content Publishing
A technical communicator from Hungary, Marton Klausz, delivered a presentation on Dynamic Content Publishing as one of the ways to make your content alive, thus, more useful and more important.
More often than not, the end deliverables of product documentation are still PDF and static HTML files, as it was 20 years ago. “64% of men and 24% of women don’t read manuals before calling technical support” (Gadget Helpline, a UK tech support service). People tend to google the information rather than read guides. The main reason is that DITA and XML benefits are not perceived by the users if content is delivered in static formats.
Dynamic content publishing can be helpful in many ways. Its main point is that we can actually see what content people do or do not read. This can make the documentation straight to the point, free of unnecessary information, therefore, more appealing to the users. And even more than that!
The key points of dynamic content delivery are:
- Content stored in a database
- Uniform & central access location
- Customizable UI
- Metadata‐driven ”smart” search
- Taxonomies, dictionaries
- Сontinuous delivery
- Content aggregator
- Connection to wiki, KB support
- Automatic content parsing and pickup
Dynamic content publishing unleashes content usage metrics, which is more than simple page view statistics. It records search items, including misspellings. It enlists traffic patterns and frequently viewed content, generates what customers have been looking for and what they could not find.
As a result, with the help of documentation which is based on continuous monitoring, in the near future, we can have a Dynamic IoT‐based content and Predictive support. This will guarantee performance and availability, as well as prevent incidents (from minor breakdowns to saving people’s lives).
Robot User Assistant
Nowadays, people tend to spend most of their time chatting in messaging platforms. Conversational UIs and chatbots have been in our everyday life for a while. So, how about integrating a chatbot into a documentation portal?
Ekaterina Mitova and Dima Ilieva, technical communicators from Bulgaria, presented a robot user assistant Tina – a prototype of conversational UI in documentation. However, they decided to go further than just a chatbot: they kept Tina robotic but also gave her a heart and nice looks.
This experiment took them 4 months to implement, and even though there were many drawbacks, Tina appeared to be very useful and convenient to the users.
First, the users liked the structure of the documentation Tina suggested. The conversation flow could go in 4 different directions: Search, Guide me, Give feedback, and About Tina. Second, Tina managed to get the user’s interest not only because of her looks, but because it is one-to-one conversation focused on a specific task. Users also liked that with the help of Tina, complicated procedures are divided into simple tasks and there is a smaller chance for making a mistake.
The room for improvement is bigger, though. As Tina proved to be difficult to debug, there appeared to be dead-ends in the conversation flow. Tina is unable to recognize users, remember their search history, and analyze their input. The search offered by Tina was not perfect as well. The users found that Tina is useful, however, not for all kinds of users and not for all kinds of documentation.
Considering all these imperfections, Ekaterina Mitova and Dima Ilieva decided to continue developing and improving Tina. And who knows, maybe chatbots are the future of the documentation.
To learn more about chatbots visit:
These are only a few solutions for making the documentation of better quality, higher priority, and extra convenience for today’s users. It is our task to look for new ideas and ways of delivering the information to users. The future is here. The future is us.
Check the article How ETC 2017 Showed me that TechComm Rocks! to read more impressions about ETC 2017.