Last week I presented at the DocTrain conference on customizing information. This is a conference for technical communicators interested in documentation and training. On exhibit were a wide variety of content management systems and content development, QA, and other tools. My presentation followed JoAnn Hackos’ keynote about the importance of structure in content, and included a mention of DITA, the Darwin Information Typing Architecture which provides a way to describe the structure of content in meaningful ways that synergize with ontologies and topic maps as ways to describe what the content’s about.
JoAnn was gracious in person, and eloquent about the power of models for content. This was a great setup for my talk about how to exploit models of content, task, user, and context to create customized information delivery (Wayne Hodgins’ the Right Stuff: the right information to the right person in the right place at the right time in the right way on the right device…).
However, the message didn’t really seem to take hold (except for one gent who didn’t have a business card).
Now, I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me. I was on about games for a couple of years before I started getting traction, and the same pattern was seen with mobile several years before it took off (which is just now beginning to make headway). So maybe the idea is still ahead of it’s time?
Or maybe I didn’t seed the ground well enough at the beginning. I’m also willing to believe it may be partly my presentation, which can be a bit conceptual at times (I’m working on it, OK?). And it may not have been quite the right audience, perhaps more the communicators and the administrators instead of the managers.
So, I’m willing to let this one instance go, but not the whole idea. We can’t just trust to Jay Cross’ Informal Learning, much as that’s necessary (and Jay gets this, working with me as he has on meta-learning). We can’t just create an ecosystem of learning resources, though we need to do this too, but we also need to educate our folks about how to use the system, and we also need to optimize information flows for and to them. And we do this through models, with logic to glue them together.
Not sure where to carry this message forward, but it’s part of the push to stop the silo separation: documentation separate from training separate from support. It’s about performance, at the end of the day, and as long as we don’t have that overall perspective that integrates the elements, we’ll keep having redundant content development, proliferating portals, and confused and ineffective performers.