Sunday Nov 14, 2010

A Conversational Style

I've been reading a superb paper called "Engaging Diverse Audiences With Screencasts, Wikis, and Blogs", written by Gail Chappell and Cindy Church of Oracle. While they were with Sun Microsystems, Gail and Cindy presented the paper at the 2008 STC Summit:.

The paper is rich in ideas for anyone interested in the community user assistance model--I'll return to that subject later--but their thoughts on adopting a conversational style really struck home:  

For the blog and the wiki, however, the writing was less formal and more folksy--we used our own writing style and own voices. We did not strictly follow the editorial style guidelines, nor did we pass the wiki or blog content to an editor. However, we did adhere to our company's branding requirements and blog guidelines.  

The blog was a good place for us to use a conversational style, as we frequently engaged in conversations with our readers. In fact, we were on a first-name basis with many who regularly read the blog. We also used the more conversational style when responding to customers who used the feedback mechanism in our tutorials and screencasts.

JavaFX Blog article on animations

Complete common sense. A conversational writing style that talks with users rather than at them or to them. We'd do well to follow this user-centred design approach to language in all of our blog and wiki efforts. And, what better way to change the antideluvian "say Web site, not website" mentality than harnessing the voice of the community too.

If you can get your hands on Cindy and Gail's paper and presentation through your local STC chapter (and internal Oracle employees should be able to get a later update too), I think you'll find it's well worth reading.

Friday Oct 15, 2010

The Community Support Explosion

Not convinced of the power of community support, eh? Then I urge you to check out this presentation from Greg Oxton of the Consortium for Service Innovation (CSI). Incredible. A very important statement about why enterprises need to be aware of--and harness--the power of their user communities.

csi_community_support.png
(Image copyright CSI 2010) Oracle is a member of the CSI.

Sunday Sep 19, 2010

Observations from UA Europe 2010

As mentioned, the Applications User Experience (Apps-UX) User Assistance team made an impact at UA Europe 2010. This is one conference I will definitely be attending again. Stockholm was such a great setting too. Highlights of the conference follow:

Anne Gentle's keynote address on Social Web Strategies for Documentation was an instructive, engaging, no BS approach to the subject, along with examples we could all look up. Anne's comments about doing what was right for your business made complete sense.

User assistance must be designed and deployed according to business requirements. If social web engagement doesn't make sense for your business, then don't do it. Watch out for our forthcoming interview with Anne (update, March 2011: it's here) when we will talk about the enterprise user assistance implications of being part of the user conversation, and more.

anne_gentle.jpg

I was intrigued when Anne pointed out the need to identify your role in the conversation with the user through the social web: Reporter/Observer, Enabler/Sharer, or Collaborator/Instigator. User profiles and roles are a central part of how Apps-UX goes about its research and design work. Could we see such roles appearing officially with the list maintained by our business process engineering team? I think so, and we will design user assistance accordingly. Exciting times! Follow Anne on Twitter for updates.

Enjoyed the session by Roger Hart about content strategy at Red Gate Software. This was a forthright delivery that got straight to the point about managing your web content to reflect what users want, so adding value to the business. Basically, a strategy ensures that your content doesn't suck, or continue to suck, according to Roger. You can also follow Roger on Twitter and read his blog here.

Matthew Ellison's session on what kind of user assistance users really need made me think hard about our own design of user assistance in the enterprise space, how embedded help, warning messages, and online help can work together, and what is offered by the Application Developer Framework to easily make embedded help and messages happen for internal developers and our customers.

Most interesting of all, though, was the discussion on user assistance trends and technologies. This discussion was led by vendors, but was thrown open to all attendees at the end. For me, what was not said, rather than what was, that was most revealing. It seems to me that there are many who still couch user assistance in narrow documentation and help terms (although some clearly get it as far as the social web is concerned), and don't consider user assistance as a key part of the overall user experience. The notion expressed that Microsoft Word documents and single sourcing were a content management strategy left me cold (they aren't). Furthermore, the positioning of a content management system as an administrative back end function just removes users further from user assistance. Why not make the back end the front end? Stop talking about content management systems. Start talking about information strategies and how users search for, retrieve, and consume that information, please.

Clearly, there is some way to go in bringing user assistance into the user experience fold. I am so proud to work for a user experience group providing some thought leadership in the area.

To conclude: UA Europe is a super high-value conference. As well as an opportunity to share your views and experiences, in return you will learn much, be exposed to new ideas and processes, and also get to network with some very insightful and helpful people. I will definitely be back. Oh, (update 2011), I'm already there...

Wednesday Jul 07, 2010

The User Assistance Conversation

Been reading Anne Gentle's book Conversation and the Community and picking up some great ideas about the shift from the traditional print paradigm user documentation towards user-generated content, collaborative communication, and the power of communities.

I'm also really looking forward to hearing Anne speak at the UA Europe 2010 conference, being held in Sweden this September. I will be speaking there, too, about "DITA and Writing Patterns for User Assistance". I will be joined by other Oracle colleagues, so I will not be alone. Watch out for Erika's Webb's session on "The Design of User Assistance on Mobile Enterprise Applications" too, for a start!

Reading Anne's book, the following jumped out at me:

"...even if your documentation can't 'talk back' to your users, it can help users talk to each other and make connections that help them do their jobs well, play with technology at home, or learn something new in a classroom setting.... think about documentation and user assistance as a multiple-channel communication device, perhaps with the help of some social technology applications."

Of course, whatever you might read in Globish, bear in mind this conversation is not all in English, regardless of the subject matter! By the way, you can read my own review of Globish in a forthcoming issue of Multilingual magazine (shameless plug, as I don't see any conflict of interest!). You see, I have an existence outside of Oracle too!

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Oracle applications user experience (UX) assistance. UX and development outreach of all sorts to the apps community, helping to design and deliver usable apps.

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Ultan Ó Broin. Director, Global Applications User Experience, Oracle Corporation. On Twitter: @ultan

See my other Oracle blog about product globalization too: Not Lost in Translation

Interests: User experience (UX), user centered design, design patterns, tailoring, BYOD, dev relations, language quality, mobile apps, Oracle FMW and ADF, and a lot more.

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