The Death of Associations -- Declining STC Statistics Prompt Innovation, Realigning of Value

The most pressing idea I took away from STC Leadership day is that associations are on a downward spiral and must innovate in new ways to provide value members want. From 2000 to 2007, membership in the Society for Technical Communication (STC) dropped from 20,000 to 14,000 members. This is not unique to the STC, but is a trend for all associations that don't offer an industry standard certification as their main value. Average retention ...

Usability Tip from Ricecooker Critiques Podcast -- Print the Documentation on the Product

In this Rice Cooker Critiques podcast, from Design Critique: Products for People, Tim and Tom talk extensively about the usability of several rice cookers. One of their conclusions is that instructions for cooking rice need to be printed on the actual rice cooker. I think the advice is sound and applies to many products: where possible, print instructions in a visible location for the user. This is one way that user help literally becomes...

Former HP CEO Talks About Corporate America and Why Constant Innovation Drives Success

Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP), makes some interesting reflections in this iinnovate podcast (a podcast dedicated to innovation and entrepreneurship). A few things struck me. Carly said corporate America can be confining and limiting after a while. Now that she's out of it, she feels free. As a CEO, she said you're never free. I think everyone in a large corporation can relate to that (hence the popularity of Dilbert ca...

WordPress 2.2 -- Here's Why It's Worth the Upgrade

WordPress 2.2 is definitely worth the upgrade. After my backup and restore issues the other night, I had a problem-free upgrade this time. The wp-cache plugin was what threw a monkey wrench in the upgrade before. Is WordPress 2.2 worth it? Yes. Here's why: In previous versions, WordPress let you pull the trigger on a loaded gun. You might activate a plugin that ends up crashing your blog. Now they've made it foolproof by preventing fatal...

Be Careful When Upgrading to WordPress 2.2 If You Have the WP-Cache Plugin — Adventures in Backing Up and Restoring WordPress Databases

I spent a fun evening wrangling with WordPress 2.2. I attribute most of the trouble to the wp-cache plugin, because I kept receiving this exciting error: Warning: fopen(/home/idrathe1/public_html/wp-content/cache/wp_cache_mutex.lock) [function.fopen]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /home/idrathe1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/wp-cache/wp-cache-phase2.php on line 96 I've never had a problem with a mutex.lock! After se...

My Podcasting Method for Face-to-Face Interviews

I received a couple of questions last week about podcasting. Klay writes, I REALLY like what you are doing and I am excited to try this out at work. I would like to have a better understanding of how to conduct an interview for a podcast. Do you give the person the questions ahead of time? I had to conduct some interviews last summer and it would have been great to record those. Anyway, I felt like I was not well prepared and would apprec...

Podcasting at the STC Conference: Reasons, Methods, and Reflections

Listen here: I interviewed about three dozen people at the STC Conference in Minneapolis this year. If you scroll down and look at the last 34 podcasts published on this site, you'll see that they're tagged with STC Conference or Leadership Day (which is part of the conference). Each podcast is short, about 5-10 minutes. Interviewees include both presenters and attendees. To download the podcasts, right-click the downloa...

STC Conference: Jack Molisani on Trends in Technical Communication

Listen here: Jack shares some trends in the technical communication industry. He says writers need to become hyphenated to move forward and be successful in the future. Jack owns a technical writing staffing company and also produces the Lavacon conference, which is in New Orleans this year, but is traditionally in Hawaii. Jack says users aren't concerned about polished language these days; they just want accurate, relev...

STC Conference: Geoff Sauer on tc.eserver.org, the Largest Tech Comm Index Online

Listen here: Geoff is one of the founders of tc.eserver.org – the largest online index for all works related to technical communication. The library indexes works by technical communicators in dozens of categories, and allows users to add new works, rank them, and get RSS feeds of specific topics. There are over 25,000 RSS feeds generated on the site and 15,000 visitors each day. Tc.eserver.org is five times as popular a...

STC Conference: Rob Houser on Creating Nontraditional E-Learning

Listen here: Rob explains how you can use Captivate to create nontraditional e-learning materials, such as on-the-job training, sales and marketing training, or even bird-watching training. You aren't just limited to technical how-to information in screen demos. Rob recommends Brenda Huettner's book on Captivate and also Ruth Clark's book on Building Expertise. You can also use resources on his own site, at www.userassis...

STC Conference: Scott Abel on Web 2.0

Listen here: Scott's presentation on Web 2.0 was the most popular presentation of the entire conference (at least this is my impression from these interviews). In his presentation, Scott touches upon RSS feeds, wikis, blogs, geospatial positioning, social networking, tagging, podcasts, and other Web 2.0 technologies. He expands here on geospatial positioning and tagging. Scott also explains why he uses a newsletter in ad...

STC Conference: Ann Rockley on the Rockley Group Blog and a New CMS Report

Listen here: Ann Rockley shares information about an upcoming report on component content management systems her group will be releasing this summer. She also says the Rockley Group is launching a blog to provide quicker information to users in a more interactive way. She talks about the growing presence companies have in the blogosphere, and why they chose WordPress as their blogging tool.

STC Conference: Chris Thompson on Searching for a Content Management System

Listen here: Chris talks about his search for the right content management system. He talks about the importance of content reuse across an entire system and having a workflow for editing, reviews, and translation. He discusses AuthorIT as a possible CMS solution. He also gives tips for talking with CMS vendors without being suckered in.

STC Conference: Caroline Jarrett on User Interface Design

Listen here: Caroline is one of the authors of User Interface Design and Evaluation, a beginning text for technical communicators moving into user interface design. Caroline says this book is a perfect start for users looking to add usability basics to their toolbox. Caroline also talks about forms, and how the best forms are ones you barely notice. Read more about Caroline's usability works at www.effortmark.co.uk and w...

STC Conference: Whitney Quesenbery on the Five E's of Usability

{: .note} Unfortunately, I lost this audio file during a site migration. Whitney is one of the authors of Content and Complexity: Information Design in Technical Communication. Whitney explains the five E's — a simple way to talk about product usability. The five E's are efficient, effective, engaging, error-tolerant, and easy to learn. She elaborates on what it means for a product to be engaging/satisfying. Whitney also explains the imp...