Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Congrats to Jimmy Wales

Fresh from STC News and Notes: "Jimmy Wales, the founder and creator of Wikipedia, has been selected as STC’s 2009 Honorary Fellow."

I expect this announcement to create its own share of controversy. STC's top honor going to someone who cuts technical communicators out of the loop?

Well, we're out of the loop only if we choose to be out of the loop. One way to define Wikipedia is as a technology intervention to connect people with answers to people with questions. Sounds like technical communication to me. I think Wikipedia is an icon to where we are going as a profession: less about grammar and style guides and more about presenting information as performance support; less about creating content and more about orchestrating the distribution of that content.

It doesn't mean we will quit writing, quit editing, or quit publishing. It's just that like the passing of the literary clergy of days gone by, we are no longer the exclusive keepers of the book.

But just in case Wales' honor adds to your angst already brought on by offshore non-native writers, machine translators, mechanical spelling and grammar checkers, and you're wondering about the need for technical communicators--there are a few areas we can focus on that will let us add value above and beyond our commodities that are getting eroded:
  • User analysis as problem analysis and information as performance/decision support, i.e., what does the user need to know in order to make an informed decision at this point in her work flow
  • Dynamically generated user assistance (If Amazon.com can figure out my reading preferences and Google can guess what ads I'm most likely to respond to, why can't my Help track where my user has been, what system configurations she has set and give her tailored Help. Why does my Help say "If you are in Routing mode do this; if you are in Transparent mode do that." Why doesn't the application tell the Help what mode the user has configured and deliver a dynamic Help page that gives only the appropriate information?)
  • Integrating our communication skills to improve the design and development process, as in use case development
At any rate, job well done, Jimmy, and thanks to a forward-looking selection committee for making Mr. Wales an Honorary Fellow.


Gregory Kohs said...

So, the Society for Technical Communication has chosen to honor a man who communicates as follows:

"I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it." (On controversy regarding fraudulent claims of credentials by the user Essjay, in an e-mail to editors of The New Yorker, as quoted in The New York Times (5 March 2007))

"I think a fair number of people need to be kicked out of the project just for being lousy writers."

"I have said this many times in the past and will say it many times in the future I am sure: some people need to find a different hobby, because whatever they are here for, it is not to help build an encyclopedia."

And my personal favorite...

To Rachel Marsden: "Let's actually do this right now because the last thing I want to do is take a break from fucking your brains out all night to work on your Wikipedia entry :) "

You have truly chosen a Great Communicator, STC!

Miranda said...

This reminds me of that LaTour song - People are Still Having Sex.

For us, "people are still sharing information." The sheer volume of information that is produced everyday in bulletin boards, blogs, and places like Wikipedia is stunning. And, there is nothing that we can do to stop it. People need that information and we should help them get to it.

I think what we have here is an opportunity to become the shepherds of all this information. We should help define the processes, methodologies, and technologies that help make the mass of information really useful and accessible.

I don't feel one bit intimidated by things like Wikipedia - I say bring it!

Mike Hughes said...

Thanks for the validation and I agree with you, "...the Society for Technical Communication has chosen to honor a man who communicates..."