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Twitter can be useful

[Originally intended as an email to the NBComm Yahoo group .. repurposed to the blog.]

I get the feeling that many of you don’t use Twitter. I totally understand the desire to avoid getting sucked into yet-another-social-network. Twitter is different. Yes .. there’s plenty of inane and completely useless noise on Twitter, but there’s also a fair amount of good info to be found. The trick is avoiding the noise and just gaining the benefit of the useful info.

Of the various social networks available today I find Twitter the easiest to benefit from without spending huge amounts of time getting sucked in. That’s not to say that you can’t get sucked in and spend huge amounts of time, but that’s totally up to you. I actually find that I learn about important events (local, international, and global) on Twitter before reading about it through traditional media.

First .. you don’t even have to set up an account to make use of it. You can read an individual’s tweets or follow a hash tag by just going to and doing a search. This is a great way to dip your toe in the pool without a huge commitment.

Starting with this last week and going for the next couple weeks are some techcomm conferences that you can follow on Twitter. It’s a great way to get an idea about what’s going on at a conference without being there ..

Keep in mind that you’re getting the perspective of only those attendees who Tweet .. which may or may not be a good thing. You’ll also notice that hash tags can collide! (#ICC2014 is the tag for the Intelligent Content Conference, but it’s also apparently the tag for the International Champions Cup!)

The great thing about Twitter is that the tweets are short. It’s easy to scan and skip over those that are not useful, and follow links of those that are.

If you do decide to set up an account and post tweets of your own, it’s a very low bar with minimal overhead and requirements. No confusing permissions and settings. What you tweet goes out to whoever wants to read it. People will follow you if you tweet about things that interest them. You can follow people who tweet about things that interest you, and if they start tweeting about things that don’t interest you, you just stop following them. Easy.

You can follow @NBComm on Twitter as well, to see the fascinating things that we tweet about!

Join us at TC Camp, Jan 25

Many of us from the North Bay Communicators Network will be heading down to TC Camp on January 25.


TC Camp is an Unconference focused on Technical Communications issues, skills, challenges, and the various applications used by technical communicators.

The purpose of TC Camp is to provide a local bay area conference for technical communicators that is driven by the members of that community–writers, editors, designers, and the people who support them.


If you’d like to carpool, email <>, or join in on the discussions on our mail list ( Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

Big Discount – Intelligent Content Conference


I’ve got a special promo code for big discounts to attend the Intelligent Content Conference!

The 6th Annual Intelligent Content Conference is taking place in San Jose, CA on Wednesday Feb. 26- Friday Feb. 28, 2014. Hosted by Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler and Ann Rockley of The Rockley Group, the event is filled with learning opportunities, including presentations from 70 leading experts.

If you register now through January 31 and use the discount link below, you’ll receive a big discount:

ALL ACCESS PASS $1250 (regularly $2050)
CONFERENCE ONLY $999 (regularly $1550)
WORKSHOP ONLY $400 (regularly $650)

Here’s the link to register with the discounted rate:

After you register, someone from the ICC will follow up to confirm your hotel reservations at a special discount room rate. Note that although payment for the conference is due at the time of registration, you will not be charged for your hotel room (if you reserve one during the registration process) until you check out at the end of the conference.

Here’s more info:

About the Conference

The sixth annual Intelligent Content Conference takes place February 26-28, 2014 at the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, CA. The event will equip attendees with the knowledge they need to break down the barriers preventing them from connecting content with those who need it. More than 70 experts will present examples, standards, methods, strategies, and tools needed to deliver the right content, to the right people, at the right place and time, on any device.


Simply put, ‘intelligent content’ is content that is not limited to one purpose, technology or output. It’s content that is structurally rich and semantically aware, and is therefore discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable. It’s content that helps you and your customers get the job done. It’s content that works for you and it’s limited only by your imagination. Learn more about intelligent content and how it can benefit your organization.

* Content Strategy
* Content Engineering
* Content Marketing
* Digital Publishing
* eBooks, Apps, and Mobile
* Structured Authoring
* Adaptive Content
* Language and Culture
* Personalized Content
* Dynamic Publishing
* Content Reuse
* Translation Automation
* Information Visualization
* Big Data and Analytics

Looking forward to seeing you there!


Welcome to the North Bay Communicators Network website! We are just getting things set up, so bear with us for now. You should be able to log in or register add new ideas to the “Ideas!” forum.

If you have an avatar registered with, that image will be used in your forum profile.

Over the coming days and weeks we will be adding more information to the website. Please do add your suggestions to the forum and volunteer to help out.

Announcements and information about this group will be sent to the NBCOMM Yahoo group. You can sign up for that mail list at ..

Our June 2012 Meeting: “Hands on with EPUBs – Mini-Workshop,” with Scott Prentice

Those wise and fortunate enough to attend this meeting left appreciating a learning experience one likely would have to travel to an STC conference to obtain. Again, Scott Prentice shared his considerable depth of understanding of the technical details underlying the words we read on the surface, and in the case of EPUB, we got to look under the hood and see how the various components of a document are related and stitched together.

(For the what, why, and how of EPUB — yes, ALLCAPS are back in fashion now — see Scott’s previous presentation.)

For the deconstruction process, we downloaded an ebook of one of my favorite authors, one E. A. Poe, and proceeded to deconstruct it with the oXygen XML editor. (Ever see the decoder table in “The Gold Bug” in XML?) A trial license is free for a month, and anyone interested in seeing how an EPUB document is constructed is encouraged to do the same.

With more and more existing information likely to be repurposed for mobile appliances, it will not hurt to become more familiar with this evolving publishing technology, perhaps the hottest thing since movable type. Standards are still evolving, with the powerful HTML5 standard still more or less on the horizon, and EPUB2 more reliable than EPUB 3. (You can download for free some great resource ebooks from look for “What is EPUB3” and “HTML5 for Publishers.” You can inspect the mysterious workings of these well-formed publications with oXygen, or even the free Sigil, which is also a ebook good reader.

As for ebook readers, Scott provides a good list in his meeting notes. There are many other goodies in those slides, so take a look. If you are interested in this growing area of doc expertise, Scott will be glad to explain.

Our May 2012 Meeting: “Emerging Roles and Hot Markets for Tomorrow’s Tech Writers,” with Andrew Davis

With tight job markets, unique skills requirements, and risk-averse hiring managers, finding work in the world of technical communications is not what it used to be . . . no more mirror test.

However, the world of contract and contract-to-hire can still be rewarding for individuals who have precisely what a company (often a young one) needs with respect to skills (often intangible), but also with respect to attitudes that often go beyond those required by old-school corporations. In short, “skills” and “experience” are not enough — at least in the common use of those terms. As a major recruiter for Content Rules, Andrew Davis has accumulated a lot of understanding of the contemporary job market for technical communications skills.

Desirable Intangible Skills/Experience

What are those intangibles?

  • Do you understand the business goals and business model of the hiring company?
  • Do you have entrepreneurial experience (which comes in handy in a startup environment)?
  • For a given product or service, do you understand the audience’s context, needs, and priorities?
  • Can you visualize and design customized content deliverables?
  • Do you understand what it takes to translate/localize content successfully and at least cost?
  • Are you experienced in making a business case for content initiatives?
  • Do you understand the latest tools and can you demonstrate their use?
  • Do you have project management and consensus-building skills (which also come in handy in a startup environment)?

Desirable Empirical Skills/Experience

In the area of contemporary tools, Andrew lists the following:

  • Hot are HTML5, EPUB3, or iBooks Author: In a multiplatform environment, eBook conversion and delivery can be paramount, through XML, XSL, XSLT, XSL-FO, DITA, DocBook, structured authoring tools such as Arbortext Editor (formerly “Epic”) and XMetaL Author, and (to a much lesser extent) Structured FrameMaker, Author-it, and MadCap Flare.
  • Of particular importance is video production (iMovie, etc.) or screencasting experience (Captivate, Articulate, etc.)
  • Can you implement a Wiki, after convincing an employer of the value of one?
  • Have you demonstrated skills in interface/user-experience (UX) design, especially for mobile applications?

Andrew lists what is not, and what is not, with degrees of temperature in between.

Hot Industry Niches for SF Bay Area Content Developers

This is what employers are willing to pay for, at least for today:

  • Data analytics
  • IP security
  • Big data (Hadoop, MapReduce, NoSQL, etc.)
  • Mobile/GIS (iOS, Android)
  • SaaS-ified apps
  • Data center optimization/virtualization/cloud
  • Open source
  • Social
  • Advertising
  • Games/entertainment

Tepid Niches

The following areas are not suffering, but they are just not as hot:

  • SQL/data warehousing/business intelligence
  • Enterprise applications (non-SaaS)
  • Search
  • Development tools
  • Content translation/localization/internationalization technology
  • Medical devices
  • Biotech/pharma
  • Storage (SAN/NAS technology)
  • Networking (including videoconferencing) – noncloud

Not-so-Hot Niches

Here we can see how the world we used to know so well has changed:

  • Finance/insurance
  • CRM
  • Semiconductors/EDA
  • PCs, tablets, smartphones (hardware)
  • Peripherals
  • Manufacturing (most)
  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Law
  • Utilities
  • Infrastructure (transportation, etc.)
  • Education
  • Publishing
  • Graphics (hardware, software)
  • Clean/green tech

Consistently Hot Tech Comm Roles

If you have demonstrated skills in the following areas, you should be fine until the next paradigm shift:

  • Developer-oriented content creation (API references, developer tutorials)
  • Video (scripting, creation) – not just scriptwriting, podcasting, blogging
  • UX design
  • Structured content design/migration (part of “content strategist” work)

Not-so-Hot TC Roles

And here are the old-school skills that you may have, but that employers are not so interested in:

  • Publications manager
  • Editor
  • Proofreader, indexer, formatter
  • End-user doc (for consumers and nontechnical audiences)
  • System/network administration doc
  • Proposal writer
  • Business analyst
  • Trainer (nontechnical, but in recent years also the technical variant)
  • Instructional designer (nontechnical)

How to Get Hot (a One-Page Primer)

Here are Andrew’s tips for success in the current talent marketplace:

  • Avoid academe (with few exceptions, schools are out of date, and more degrees and certificates are not a substitute for specialized experience).
  • Download (and immerse yourself in) trial versions of your niche’s tools (the entry cost is cheap).
  • Participate in open-source projects (this will take a bit of looking around, but the rewards are there).
  • Build a portfolio online and link it to your LinkedIn profile. The portfolio demonstrates initiative, mastery of tools, and subject-matter awareness/interest. Make it easy for your target audience to get the info it wants.
  • Study how others do it, then emulate the best.
  • Intern or subcontract – or just volunteer (for a written reference).
  • Conduct informational interviews (solicited through LinkedIn).
  • Sell your services to the young companies, who really need your experience.
  • Network! Do it in person through meetups (Andrew likes svnewtech a lot), and also use LinkedIn and corporate alumni networks (and even STC!).

Upsell Your Core TC Skills

In marketese, nothing beats repackaging what you have to offer so that it rings with currency in the ear of the beholder. Could you find yourself wearing the following hot terms?

  • Content Strategist (cf. Information Architect)
  • Content Marketer
  • Community Liaison
  • Corporate Storyteller
  • Toolsmith (for wikis, structured content authoring/migrations, mobile content, content management, etc.)
    User Experience (UX) Designer (not UX Engineer)
  • Terminology Manager
  • User Assistance (UA) Expert
  • Content Manager (SharePoint administrator, process/workflow optimizer)
  • SEO Expert
  • Niche Analyst/Blogger/Tech Gadfly/Content Curator
  • Conference Organizer
  • Ghost Tweeter
  • Demo Builder (involves scriptwriting, animation, and marketing)

And Try Successor Careers

Below are all “titles” that you may be able to wear after your years of service — which was not just about “docs,” was it?

  • Business Analyst
  • Project Manager
  • Program Manager
  • Engagement Manager
  • Marketing Communications Manager
  • Corporate Communications Manager
  • Localization Manager
  • Executive Communicator (speechwriting, spokesperson work)
  • Technical Sales (including recruiting)

(As for management, Andrew cautions, it can often be a trap, so wear two hats and keep the managerial skills — but be able to produce content as well.)

Following the 2001 tech wreck, Andrew tracked the fields into which a number of experienced technical communicators moved at “Career Paths for Tired Tech Writers” (, and he would be happy to connect anyone interested in reaching out to these individuals.

Just be ready for the next paradigm shift, and if you find work that works, take it. (For a copy of Andrew’s slides, see

Andrew thrives on inquiries and feedback, so give him a call:

Andrew Davis, recruiter
408-395-8178 ext. 105

Our March 2012 Meeting: “Agile Documentation (Hi, Honey, I joined a cult!)”

Fundamentals of Agile Development
Mike Ziegenhagen, a technical writer and tech pubs manager in the software business for more than 18 years, has also specialized in documenting virtual worlds. One virtual world you may be familiar with is the one that “relates” (read “force fits”) product specifications to actual products. If you have ever suffered from the disconnect between fantasy specs and real deliverables, you will appreciate how the Agile process keeps a tight rein on development, making sure that each feature works properly before subsequent features are added — all executed in cycles of generally a couple of weeks at a time. The Agile approach embodies the principal of iterative and incremental development: Never get ahead of yourself, and keep it real. While “Agile Documentation” is not yet a topic on Wikipedia, it is not hard to extrapolate from stepwise development to stepwise documentation.

Mike spoke from experience. For the past two years he’s worked with a team of writers in a large enterprise software company that embraced Agile software development from the top management team down. (Without proper buy-in and support at the highest levels, it is hard to realize the benefits of this approach.)

Some Basic Principles
An Agile Manifesto lists four fundamental priorities. Favor . . .

  • Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools
  • Working software over Comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over Contract management
  • Responding to change over Following a plan
  • There remains value in the functions on the right, but these should never dominate.

    Real reality, not the virtual variety, is key. Unlike the all-to-familiar MS Project approach, where 100-page best-laid plans of mice and men soon go stale, Agile requires daily truth-telling sessions in meat space. Each participant stands and briefly addresses three questions: What have you done since yesterday (in an interval known as a “sprint”), what are you doing today , and are you being blocked from what you have to do? A series of sprints comprises a release for the multiple teams, called a scrum (yes, development can be bruising like rugby). In the sport, a scrum restarts the game after a minor infraction — a fair analogy. In development, a Scrum Master ensures that progress is made at each sprint truth-telling session. At the top of the process is the Product Owner — who is closest to the “first customer” and knows precisely what a potential buyer needs, wants, and is willing to pay for. All other features can come after the basic functionality of the product is rock solid. What a concept!

    And the benefits?

  • Avoid the “spec monster” approach, which creates bloatware or (worse yet!) phantomware.
  • Avoid turning the prototype into a product (seen that fantasy before?).
  • Meet changing needs and markets easily, simply by adding or removing iterations (you can always catch up later if you need to).
  • Address bugs early and often, preventing unplanned delays in product releases.
  • Agile Documentation
    Until someone writes the Agile Documentation page on Wikipedia, here are the principles Mike has arrived at from his experience as a writer involved in the Agile process:

  • Don’t sweat providing documentation for discoverable tasks. (Click OK already!)
  • It is virtuous to keep things simple, but only if you provide enough information for the user to accomplish a task.
  • Provide simple documentation for complex tasks (keeping in mind the principle above).
  • Don’t make documentation more than it deserves to be. Documentation is part of the process of users doing their work; it is not the process (communicate rather than “document”).
  • Write the documentation you would like to read. (What a concept!)
  • Follow the principle of Occam’s razor: Keep things as simple as possible, but no simpler (see above).
  • Build documents from the center outward, as time allows. Use the software, take notes, flesh it out. Do not write the outline and fill it in with content! (cf. “fantasy specs” above)
  • But Wait, There’s More!

    This should be enough to get you interested and motivated to learn more about Agile. And what better resource for that than the excellent slides you may have missed if you were not at our meeting. Many who attended will have some thoughtful insights to take back to the workplace.

    So dig a bit and see what Agile could do for you!

    Our July 2010 Meeting: A Tour of Virtual Worlds and How They Impact Technical Communicators

    In this online-only event, Mike Ziegenhagen shared his growing expertise–and most of all his enthusiasm–ror the expanding sector of virtual world applications. Many are by now aware of Second Life, but Mike documented an application from Forterra Systems called OLIVE ™, an “online interactive virtual environment” that offers the security sorely lacking in the standard, free version of Second Life (OLIVE can be seen as “Second Life in business suit”). His experience with the team was also a great opportunity to work with both artists and actors, to achieve the best possible renderings and life-like actions of the avatars. Verisimilitude is more and more critical to success. Mike also gave a brief tour of Blue Mars, a 3D social networking application, based on high-definition game technology, that is definitely worth exploring.

    There are additional applications for hosting secure virtual meetings: Venuegen can be “rented” for under $100/mo. for ten people or so, and 3DXplorer offers an enterprise beta version. Both are browser based. Also, Second Life Work offers an application-based approach for those willing to buy.

    Why bother? It turns out that business are seeing the advantages to hosting so-called hybrid events and conferences. Participants who want to meet in meatspace continue to do so, while those distributed around the world appreciate the advantages of entering the virtual world. Indeed, perpetual virtual environments are turning out to be profit centers. Not only that, but they can be really fun (as long as you don’t get lost in layers of consciousness, Inception-style, so to speak. It is actually not all that hard to get lost. But fortune favors the brave and the curious. With increasing bandwidth and video processing power for less and less money, it it not inconceivable to see virtual meeting places become more and more common. They can be used to unite family members, and they provide unique opportunities for training. STC is rumored to have a group (more detail to be provided when it is available), and you can always check out NPR’s Science Friday Second Life.

    Next steps?

  • Do some research.
  • Explore some sites.
  • Download Second Life viewer and take if for a ride.
  • Get a good headset.
  • Have some fun.
  • The NorthBay Chapter is looking forward to playing around with this new medium, so stay tuned and let us know if you want to test the virtual waters. It is almost as if the spirit of the early days of computing were back again.