Good stuff all the way

Posted in Feedback, MadCap software, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , on February 4, 2009 by Mike

You probably heard that we released a new version of Feedback this week. Feedback is a product that I think every one should be using. You can stop guessing about what’s working and finally start to know.

Feedback

One of the toughest things in Tech Comm is knowing what information your users are using, how they’re finding it, and what they’re looking for. This really matters because if they want information you created but they aren’t finding it, then it doesn’t exist for them.

With schedules and budgets the way they are, you are also being pushed to the wall to deliver as much as possible in shorter time frames. So, if you’re like me, you make decisions about what you think the users need and what they don’t need. And you may guess wrong.

But what if you could look over your users shoulders? What if you could see what information they are using? How are they finding it? What are they looking for that they aren’t finding? That would make your efforts more focused and would better meet your users needs.

That’s what Feedback does.

What the heck are these people doing?

You can run reports about where the users are spending time in the online docs, how they got there and what they are searching for. That lets you:

  • Add the information that they’re looking for that isn’t there
  • Add the keywords they’re using to the synonym list to help them find existing information
  • Decide not to update existing information because no one ever looks for it nor reads it

Feedback lets you see what your users are doing and help them better. Ultimately, that’s what Tech Comm professionals do – we’re a helpful people.

Feedback also lets your users rank topics with a 5 star system and you get the information as well, so you can know which topic are really helping and which aren’t.

But you can also get comments back, directly from the topic. These comments can be posted for everyone, moderated by your team before they become visible, or just sent to your team for review.

“No one reads the docs” is just wrong

And, if you’re like me and you spent your career listening to “No one reads the documentation”, wouldn’t it be nice to point to the data from the reports, showing that in fact, people are reading the docs? That would be cool!

We’re running a great deal on Feedback this month. If you want to just try it out to see what you can learn about your docs, we also do a 3 month thing that we host for your docs. No long term obligation, secure environment, all that.

Contact our sales team and ask about the special and the 3-month deal. In 3 months, you can discover a lot about your docs – enough to repay the cost of Feedback, I think.

New webinars

The webinars (my favorite topic lately!) are going very well. We’re getting 200/250 people signed up for each one. We’ve added 2 more topics. They are:

Controlling costs by controlling language

This tool-independent webinar shows how simplified language options can reduce page count, decrease translation expense, and improve comprehension among non-English audiences. But is it appropriate for you? Find out.

Presenter: Brenda Huettner, P-N Designs, Inc

Apr 23, 2009 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Pacific Time)

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/877644241

Users: Who are these people and what do they want?

This tool-independent webinar discusses creating the wrong content for the wrong user is as bad as creating nothing at all. Learn to identify your users and decide how to support them. Reduce costs and schedules by providing the right information.

Presenter: Sharon Burton, MadCap Software

May 14, 2009 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Pacific Time)

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/674715509

We’ve not added them to the MadCap website yet but they should appear in the next few days. If you’re interested, sign up.

We’re also recording the webinars so they are available afterwards if the time and date don’t work for you.

OK – I need to get back to work!

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Catching up

Posted in MadCap, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2009 by Mike

It’s 6:45a on a Sunday morning for me. Current Husband is sleeping, the animals are all asleep, and I’m awake. I’ve been up for an hour and a half, because the old dogs wake me up at 5am to go out. And once I’m awake, I’m up.

In a way, I don’t mind being up so early. I’m home and it’s quiet. I have so little time at home to myself, it’s rather nice.

Other stuff I do

Saturday morning, I taught my first Crochet class at my favorite local yarn store. What does this have to do with Tech Comm you might be asking? Oh, lots.

Friday night, I realized that if I were teaching crochet to people, they needed a thing. So I had to come up with a thing that could be made easily with simple stitches. I could teach the stitches in class and then send them home with the pattern. So I wrote a very simple hat pattern and quickly made a sample to show in class.

In class, I had them start with the simplest stitches and then do those over and over until they were confident. Then we did the next one. And so on, until they had practiced all the stitches they needed to have to make the hat. After 2 hours, I sent them on their way with the pattern.

Coat of many Tech Comm colors

Teaching this crochet class was Tech Comm in action. I identified the:  

  • Audience: Knitters
  • User goal: Learn the basics of crochet
  • Learning attention span: About 2 hours
  • Skills needed for the goal (that fit with the above): 4 stitches
  • Order to teach the stitches: from simplest to more complex, building and reinforcing skills from one stitch to the next
  • Opportunity for reinforcing with self learning: The simple hat pattern

My Tech Comm background was very useful in putting this class together! I had a good time teaching it and several people are now able to crochet. I’ll do another class on Tunisian crochet in March sometime.

It’s fun to get slightly outside my usual life and teach new skills to people. I think that when we stop learning, we spiritually die. It’s why I love our field so much – I learn new stuff every day.

Work, work, work

Work this week was long and busy. We have a new promotion you may want to look at for the month of February. It’s a screaming deal and should help you get noticed if you’re looking for work or think you might be looking for work soon.

We did the second of the webinars this week as well. These are so successful, I’m working with several people and scheduling June and July now. Keep watching our website for more webinars on various Tech Comm topics.

Between the new promotion for Feb and the webinars, your skills should be so up to date, you can’t help but be successful!

The rest of my day

I have a fairly busy day ahead of me. I need to do laundry, meet a former student for lunch, work on the sweater I’m making for my grand daughter, watch Super Bowl and spend time with Current Husband.

Be very good if I could get the oil changed in my car and get it washed, too. That would be a productive day!

Off I go!

We owe you all a big thank you!

Posted in MadCap, MadCap Blaze, Madcap flare, MadCap software, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2009 by Mike

For 10 years, Red Herring has been awarding exceptional start up companies who are changing the playing field. MadCap Software has won a Red Herring award! We are in the top 100 companies internationally, which is a huge honor.

Previous winners include Google, Skype, YouTube and others.  To see us listed and learn more, go to http://www.herringevents.com/global08/redherring100.html.

As we were talking about how great this is, we realized that this award is really all about our community of users. Four years ago, we had this idea that we thought might change the world a bit. It must have been a good idea, because many people have joined us.

Without people using our products, we’re not even a good idea.

But because people use our products and love our products, we’re successful. We really do owe it all to our user base.  So thank you!

In other news

The free webinars are going very well. I’m planning some new ones for April and May, so stay tuned for those. They should be posted in late February.

We’re offering tool-neutral free webinars to give back a little to the community. Expect topics that may not have much to do with our products at all but should forward your knowledge of the field.

Because these are recorded, they are more available for all time zones. So now you have no excuse!

As always, feel free to send me topics you’d like to know more about and I’ll see what I can do.

Personal notes

I just received word that I’m been accepted as an STC Associate Fellow! I’m delighted.

I knew I was nominated but working for a vendor might have changed things. Most of what I’ve done in the field has been teach and support tech comm in every place I could, which is part of why MadCap hired me, but… It could have been an issue.

This feels really good. I need a new dress.

Too much to do this week

I need to record more short demos this week and other stuff, so that’s all the time I’ve got right now.

So Cal is lovely in the winter

Posted in DITA, MadCap, MadCap software, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2009 by Mike

With much of the nation in frigid temps, I have to tell you it’s about 75 F today, the sun is shining, and the sky is blue.

Wow.

You really have to love So Cal on days like today.

Webinars, get your free webinars!

Today, I did the first webinar in the series we’re doing. If you didn’t get to sign up for the Topic-based authoring webinar, we recorded it. You can click here and see the recorded webinar.

I’m pretty pleased with how it went. I’ve listened to most of it and, other than verbally stumbling more than I like, it’s pretty good.

I think we’ll be recording all the webinars, so if you want to sign up but have a conflicting meeting, sign up anyway. The day after the webinar, you will be sent an email, saying we’re completely bummed out that you couldn’t make it but here’s a link to see the recording.

We’re also adding more as time goes on, so make sure you regularly check our site at http://www.madcapsoftware.com/demos/webinars.aspx to see what we’re adding to the line up.

Yes, but are the webinars any good?

Good question. Here’s some feedback we got today:

“Thanks for today’s well-structured, well-executed, and informative intro to topic-based authoring. And thanks for the continuing series of webinars; I’ve registered for many of them.”

and

“I particularly appreciate your vision of providing non-tool-specific information.  I’m not currently using MadCap software (but I think I wish I was), but I am at the end of a dev. cycle and your presentation has really given me a good basis for setting my agenda for the coming year.”

My personal favorite:

“I just wanted to tell you that that was the most enjoyable webinar I’ve ever attended. You’re absolutely hilarious and I learned a lot, so thanks!”

So, in sum, I was funny and I presented information people could use. Perfect!

Want to be a star?

Want to have people tell you things like this? Of course you do! It feels really good.

I’m looking for more topics and people who can give the topics.  I’m not looking for PhD topics – you don’t have to change the world or break new ground. You don’t have to talk about MadCap tools.

I’m looking for people who have something useful they’ve learned and are willing to share it.

If that’s you, contact me and let’s talk.

Dancing in the streets

Posted in Analyzer, MadCap, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars on January 10, 2009 by Mike

I spent this week locked up in a room, talking to myself and recording demos. I started the week not sure what I was doing and finished the week quite pleased that the short demos matched the pictures in my head of what I wanted them to be.

I’m getting fairly expert at editing audio, which is completely new to me. Overall, I’m really pleased. It’s a fun thing to do.

We now have short videos showing X-Edit Contribute, X-Edit Review, and Analyzer on our website. A short recording about topic-based authoring will appear early next week. More will be added as the month goes on, so check the website often.

We also added a new area called Demos. Now you can easily go to the demos and see what you want without hunting about to find them. To find out more, go to http://www.madcapsoftware.com/demos/product.aspx. We also put the free webinars in the same area, to make it all easier to find.

New quarter, new ducklings, new topics

Additionally, this week started a new quarter. We were asked for this quarter and this quarter only to change the Engineering 180 course to better meet the specific needs of graduate students who are getting Masters and PhDs in Engineering.

Normally, we’re dealing with undergraduate engineering students who are going into the workforce when they graduate. We teach them about developing presentations, specifications, test plans and test cases, and so on.

Not this quarter.

This quarter we’re dealing with people who need to write technical articles on complex topics. So we’re changing the class to focus more on how to explain very technical information to other experts in article formats.

It’s going to be interesting. We have a general direction we want to take the class but we’re also making this up as we go.

After this quarter, a new class is being created called Engineering 181, especially for these graduate needs. We’ll teach it every Winter quarter. It’s quite an honor to be teaching at the graduate level.

Bonni is a little nervous because she has no advanced degrees. She’s sure my ABD (All But (PhD) Dissertation, a real academic term) status in Economic Anthropology gives me a better insight or something.

I point out that communication is communication, and my overeducated status has little to do with anything, except I know buckets of stuff no one cares much about. And I have student loans she doesn’t. That’s it.

Personal notes

Jan 10 (today) is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 75. She died of breast cancer in 1999, about a week after her birthday. (Yes, I get checked every year in June. Feel free to nag.)

My mother should have been a history scholar, lost in archives, looking for truth and nuance in Middle Age documents. Of Swedish farming stock, she came from a dirt poor family, left school at 17 to go to San Diego, worked in various banking jobs, sang professionally, and finally met my broadcaster father.

She did what women were supposed to do in the 1950s. I think, for her, these were the wrong things to do.

I grew up listening to my mother sing. And she could sing just like Patsy Cline, just an astonishing voice. Even today, I can’t listen to Patsy without hearing my mother as a second sound track in my head. Sometimes, when I miss her, I play Patsy Cline just to hear the second sound track.

Losing your mother is strange, even when you’re an adult. I’ve spent a decade thinking about it, trying to decide how to describe it, hoping to write about it one day.

After all that thought, I can’t tell you why losing your mother is so hard, I can only tell you it is. It’s different than losing your father, your boyfriend, your best friend, your brother, your aunts and uncles. All of which I’ve lost.

Your mother. It’s different.

My mother was a self-contained person, never given to emotional displays. You had to know her to know what was going on; watching her hands and body language told you what was internal. So, while your mother is your first cheerleader, mine wasn’t given to demonstrations, there were no pom poms nor acrobatics.

Her sisters told me when she was proud of me and it always surprised me that she was. I had no idea. It certainly wasn’t something you would ever ask her about.

The only time I ever saw her emotional was when my father was terminally ill. He was at home and she called, telling me she thought he wasn’t breathing and what should she do? Call 911 and sit tight, I said. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.

More upsetting than my father potentially not breathing was my mother at a total loss. I’d never seen that before, couldn’t imagine she wouldn’t know something so basic as calling 911. But of course, she wasn’t asking about my father at all.

I get my impatience with self-indulgent emotions from her. Even, and perhaps especially, my own. Some things are just what they are and moaning and whining about them helps not at all, it changes nothing and wastes energy. And since, at some level, that may be what I’m doing now, I’ll stop.

But you should call your mom.

Quickly

Posted in MadCap, MadCap software, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , on January 9, 2009 by Mike

I’ll post a longer blog entry about stuff in general later this weekend, I’m sure, but while I’m thinking about this, I wanted to post.

We’ve added a new webinar. It’s not listed on our website yet, but it will be in the next day or 2.

Planning Topic-based Authoring: Working in a Use Case or Scenario-based Environment

Date: April 9, 2009 9am (Pacific time)

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/887293192

In this tools-independent webinar, learn how to identify topics and plan projects in a Use Case or Scenario-based development environment.

Presenter: John Hedtke, JVH Communications

This webinar is a direct result of people asking for it. We have done a webinar about what Topic-based authoring is in the past. And we get a lot of follow-up questions about the specifics of how to plan these projects. I thought another webinar about this exact topic would be very helpful.

And a Happy New Year to you

Posted in Analyzer, Blaze, Flare, MadCap, MadCap Blaze, Madcap flare, MadCap software, Tech Comm, technical writing on January 4, 2009 by Mike

I’ve had a lovely vacation, thank you. I stayed home, cooked a lot, cleaned a lot (my garage looks really good!), and knitted a lot. Current Husband and the animals are very happy to have had their fill of me. It’s back to San Diego with me on Monday.

As the new year starts, I’m also brimming with ideas. My brain had time to think. One of the (very very few) things I don’t like about my job is there isn’t a lot of time to just think. We’re just really busy all the time. Sitting quietly and thinking is a luxury. But 2 weeks off gave me time to think and clear my head.

Thoughts

So what have I been thinking about?

I’ve been thinking that we need more free webinars this spring. The response to the ones we’ve scheduled so far is amazing.

I’m looking for people who have a topic that’s interesting to the profession and want to get their name out there. That’s doesn’t mean that you have to change the world. Nor does it mean that you have to use our tools.

Perhaps you:

  • have some insight into your users that changed how you created or delivered docs
  • can talk about learning more about your audience
  • are good at project planning and estimating
  • are implementing Simplified English and have learned something useful

and many other topics.

Doing a webinar costs you nothing but some time. You don’t even have to be in the US to do it. I may be able to get you some product in exchange for doing one, but no promises on that.

Doing a webinar sets you up as an expert and helps you professionally. It also helps the field as a whole by adding to the cumlative knowledge. And it’s fun to do!

More thoughts

Personally, this year I need to become an expert at screen videos and audio. It’s something I’ve not done before in my career; it’s simply never come up.

I’m an online help and printed document expert. I’m good at designing documentation for usability. I can identify audience and then design to meet those needs. I’m good at project planning and managing writers. I’m even pretty good at designing ads and writing copy, I’ve discovered.

But multimedia is new to me. And I need to be expert at it.

So next week, I’m locking myself up in a room and becoming good at it (and trying to keep people away from me while I do it). My goal is to be expert by March.

The learning never ends, does it? And that’s why the webinars are a good idea!