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The Evolutionary Strategy of Web 2.0 — It's Like Having 100 Personal Researchers Working For You

by Tom Johnson on Mar 13, 2007
categories: technical-writing web-design

I finally found a perfect answer to the question "what's in it for me" when it comes to blogging, podcasting, and the other social media. In this IT Conversations panelist podcast from SofTECH, Robert Rebholz explains he engages in Web 2.0 media (blogs, social tagging, and other social collaborative sites) because the ROI for information is the equivalent of having 100 personal researchers and analysts working for you.

Web 2.0 panel

I liked his explanation so much I painstakingly transcribed a portion of it from the podcast. Rebholz said:

People often ask me….they say, you seem to have a lot of facts on these subjects. Where do you get all of this information? The truth of the matter is, I wish I could say it's because I'm a very intelligent man. But it's not it at all. Fact is, using the new social software technologies, many of which fall into this category we glibly call Web 2.0, will make you better informed and better connected, will help you to manage information better and more efficiently than anything you could have dreamt of in the past.

The reason is, leveraging these technologies is the equivalent of me having 100 researchers and analysts working exactly for me on exactly those subjects I'm interested in—finding, combing the Internet for key pieces of information, sometimes just tagging it so I can find it (I refer to them as my researchers because they don't add much value) or sometimes they find information and then they blog about it (I call them my personal set of analysts because they re providing value in addition to simply pointing to the content). But I've managed to get rid of my stack of information, that stack of magazines – that pile of journals and other magazines you just wish you could get to and read….

What's the trend? The trend is that social software allows you community. Taking advantage of the efforts of the many and putting them into the service of any individual is in fact, from an evolutionary perspective, a very compelling and successful strategy.

And now thanks to social technology, social softwares, you can take advantage of that software to make yourself more effective and more efficient. That's the trend. Why do it do it? Well because it works. I do it because I can manage information better. I do it because it makes me smarter. …

Which sites do that? Any of the tagging sites are useful in that regard. The blogging sites are useful in that regard. The biggest problem is figuring out which ones. … It's not about this site; it's not about that site. It's about how you can take advantage of these kinds of things to take accomplish your day to day activities. (Time: around the 35 to 37 minute marker into the podcast.)

In previous posts I indicated that it's hard to justify spending much time on peripheral activities like blogging and podcasting with a clear sense of return. When I encourage others to start a blog, they often ask, Why? What's in it for me? Rebholz nailed this question down perfectly, and made the answer crystal clear.

I have discovered much more information through my blog and podcast than I could have ever hoped to find alone. Not only do commenters respond and add tips, feedback, and other advice, but the podcast has morphed into the ultimate web 2.0 experience, where a listener is now a co-host and is teaching me much more than I could have ever known alone.

I have 40-50 technical writing blogs aggregated in my FeedDemon newsreader, and I sift through them to learn the latest trends and news in technical writing. Unlike traditional print media, I can comment and interact with the very idea makers in near real-time. When I aggregate these topic-based blogs, the bloggers are like my personal researchers, working tirelessly to present useful information at my door.
So that's it -- Web 2.0 is an evolutionary principle. If you can leverage information from hundreds of personal researchers, so much the better for you. You'll have more information, more power, more intelligence. This is why our help systems must transform. We can't afford to stick with the one-writer-does-it-all paradigm. We have to integrate knowledge from our users into the documentation that is produced. Architecting that information will be one of the key challenges for the future of technical communication.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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