Saturday Nov 20, 2010

Conversation with Chris Warticki about Communities

I chatted recently with Chris Warticki, Senior Principal Regional Customer Advocate from Oracle Software Support--he's our best-known "spokesmodel" for community support in Oracle.

Chris, being the guy in touch with customers all the time knows exactly what's going on in the community support space, and gets to hear it all from customers. He helped me navigate through the different Oracle support communities out there. And he told me succinctly what the essence of the community approach is. It's about connecting people to people, not people to a portal. Wow, what a great line (I'll use that elsewhere)!

We first looked at My Oracle Support communities. These are moderated by Oracle and are for supported, licensed customers (so if you're not one of those, there's no point in me providing a link). Some super communities there, and collaborative approaches such as forums and patch download ratings and reviews too. Next, we explored the hugely popular and massive Oracle Technology Network (OTN) forums. The OTN communities are self-moderating, for all products, with downloads of products, documentation and other materials available. You can check it out yourself--a very rich resource indeed!

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Oracle Technology Network

After that, we checked out the Oracle Wiki (I have signed up to be a writer). Again, essentially a self-regulating community with some ground rules, members can contribute and edit content. I was especially delighted to see non-English language content there too (see this Consortium for Service Innovation presentation if you think translation of community-provided or official support content can be ignored).

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Oracle Wiki

Continuing the theme of individual contributors I mentioned in a previous post about Oracle's rich community conversations, we stopped by Tom Kyte's Ask Tom site. I was amazed to see how questions asked years ago are still being updated!

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Ask Tom

Then we went to Oracle Mix, a community where "blending" is the order of the day: members create blended groups of product, technology, industry, interests, you name it! I've created a few groups myself on Oracle Mix--for Arbortext, arcolinx IQ, and user assistance.

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Oracle Mix

Finally, we had a great exchange about the role of Twitter. Oracle, too, cannot ignore the power of microblogging, with its huge uptake and real-time nature, and we have a strong presence on Twitter. Twitter clearly offers tremendous potential for support, but also customer relations generally. And of course, we didn't miss out the key role that our communities of user groups play too.

There is no greater change agent than the collective voice of our users, Chris tells me. I agree. In terms of community generally, we've moved past the notion that the official corporate web site and marketing efforts will completely form the reputation of Oracle. Loyalty and user experience generally is all about listening to the community conversation and responding to it the right way. Personally, I think we need to really look a lot more closely at what wikis, self-regulating communities, and microblogging offer in the user assistance and customer support space, as user-generated content explodes (70% of the digital universe, say IDC) and the age profile of customers changes. But, as for Facebook in that space? Forget it.

These are exciting times, and it's great to have people with initiative and vision, people like Chris, driving the model forward, and harnessing its power. I want to be part of that too!

Thanks Chris for talking the time to talk with me.

Sunday Nov 14, 2010

Oracle's Rich Community Conversations

Been doing a lot of research into the community help and support area lately. Of course, we should remember Oracle already has powerful community resources to hand, contributing a very rich and lively conversation with valuable how-to information and examples to try.

For example, there are the My Oracle Support Community and Oracle Technology Network (OTN) forums, the Sun communities,  official wiki, and internal and external blogs from employees like David Haimes, as well as enthusiastic non-employee gurus like Chet Justice (OracleNerd), and friends, Floyd Teter, Eddie Awad (check out Eddie's news aggregator for more names), and so on.

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David Haimes's Financials Blog

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OracleNerd Blog  

There are lots of other Oracle voices other there too: the user groups, Oracle Mix,and so on. The best place to get started, in my opinion, is the AppsLab. I usually track all this stuff through Twitter. I'll come up a list of the best tweeters soon!

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.

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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