Speaker: Darren Barefoot (see http://darrenbarefoot.com)
Conference: Doc Train 2008
For most of human history, we had few-to-few communication. One person spoke to a few around a campfire. Then in the 1500s, along came the printing press, and gave rise to a few-to-many communication model. The power to communicate is placed in the hands of a few, which communicate to everyone else. Today with the web, we have a many-to-many model. The ubiquity of the web and the abundance of cheap tools enable many-to-many communication. This is also called the "rise of the creative class." People are transforming from consumers to creators.
Social media is typified by several main concepts:
Social media tools: Facebook, RSS, Wikpedia, Brightkite, Digg, Twitter, Ning, Mashups, Flickr, Friendfeed, YouTube, Blogs, Wikis, Social Bookkmarking, virtual worlds, Stumbleupon, Linkedin, and so on.
Who creates social media? Dang near everybody. All sorts of people, ethnicities, regions. 42% of Chinese Internet users have a blog. Whoa. A lot of people are engaging in social media:
Why do people make social media? backup, brain, earn money, emote, entertain, experiment with technology, follow trends, join a community, keep a personal history, make change, practice writing, talk to friends and family. He showed a tag cloud, and I bolded the most common (largest) tags.
How does this apply to technical writing? People all over the world are creating instructions for different things, from creating a shirt pocket for your macbook, to explaining how to create a manual powered charger for your ipod.
Darren showed this video on Wikis in Plain English as a prime example of user-generated technical instructions.
This video is one of the most engaging technical explanations on the web. Originally it was a pet project by some people at commoncraft.com. Now they have an entire business creating this type of content, and a huge demand for it. Their videos have been viewed millions of times on the web.
Another example of social media user-generated content is with World of Warcraft. People have created extensive documentation about World of Warcraft, complete with screenshots, 3D models, image maps, migratory patterns, and more. No one is paying anyone to do these things. Hundreds of thousands of player hours have been spent in documentation.
Another example is forums on the web. There are millions of examples, but people who get involved in forums spend a lot of time helping each other out online, providing instructions and how-to's and workarounds. They participate in forums answering questions, giving advice, documenting procedures. This is another way that everyone is becoming a technical writer. It's like everyone is tech support.
He also showed videojug.com -- "life explained on film." These are user-contributed how-to videos on the web. Users are generating this content, uploading it, and sharing it.
Other social media formats include podcasts. QA Podcast covers "expert conversations about the poor cousin of the software family." QA Podcast covers an expert talking about issues people have encountered. These podcasts are instructional, supporting the idea again that everyone is becoming a technical writer on the web.
Finally, Twitter is also a social media tool used to market your products, provide support, give announcements and news. If you're a Twitter user, this can be an excellent way to include your customers, to keep them up to date about changes or updates.
Lessons from social media:
In conclusion, when Tim Berners-Lee first created the web, it was a read-write format, similar to the wikis that we have today. So we've come full circle to where we originally started with the web.
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I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.