The History of Content -- Content Components podcast with Patrick Bosek and Sarah O'Keefe
Although I’ve listened to Content Components on and off for a while, this latest interview with Sarah O’Keefe from Scriptorium titled the “The History of Content According to Sarah O’Keefe” (Parts 1, 2, and 3) — was really fun to listen to. I actually listened to each part twice. (Each part is only about 15 min. long.)
Part 1 explores the idea of content re-use, starting with the revolution of movable type (which allowed letters used for printing to be reused with new content) to the challenges of reusing content between documentation and elearning. Many elearning folks are persuaded that “bouncy PowerPoint” (slides with custom animations and dynamic effects) helps people learn better than plain content (which is repurposed from documentation). Others argue that bouncy PowerPoint is a waste of time and that plain content is more accurate and on-target for learning.
Part 2 explores why Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was the most helpful book in Sarah’s college education. Sarah says Kuhn says that it takes a while for people to shift paradigms, but once some do, it opens the floodgates to more widespread paradigm shifts. The shift transitions from a small trickle for some time to a massive stream all at once (or something.)
I remember reading Kuhn’s book eons ago and liking it, though I couldn’t remember the details. It is much more enjoyable than reading Kant (who is nearly unreadable — there’s some playful confusion between Kuhn and Kant on the podcast). Sarah says Kuhn’s book helped explain some of the initial reluctance she faces in helping tech comm companies embrace structured authoring. It takes a while, initially, and then when they do start to paradigm shift, everyone seems to get onboard in a more enthusiastic way.
She says that companies with a lot of risk (e.g., NASA or pharmaceutical industries) are much more risk-averse than companies with little risk (e.g., gaming companies) for failure. Patrick finds this idea to be “profound.” And it makes sense — if you have a lot to lose, you’ll probably be hesitant to make changes. Whereas if you have nothing to lose, you’ll much more embracing of risk.
Part 3 explores whether the cliche “No one reads the docs” is still true today. Patrick says that it’s no longer common to hear this phrase, as people are starting to recognize that documentation is a differentiator within the product space. Companies who try to do away with docs end up regretting it and doubling back with more doc resources.
One reason I liked these episodes is because there was finally some disagreement on these podcasts. Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate Content Components and Scriptorium’s The Content Strategy Experts podcasts. They’re full of good information. But they often aren’t engaging listens because they lack a sense of debate. They agree too much with each other. For once, especially in Part 1 of the History of Content, we saw two tech comm powerplayers spar off on each other! It was exhilerating.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.