I've been researching the opportunities 'Web 2.0' or 'semantic Web' provides for creating 'content', content having become the catch-all term for a company's documented efforts to communicate with customers/users. It includes what we used to think of as 'documentation' or 'technical communication,' as well as marketing and sales materials and help, all pictures and instructional materials etc. I'm interested in the burgeoning disciplines of organizing (Information Architecture) and managing that content on a company-wide basis (Content Management), as well as the specifics of the technologies and strategies for communication that have opened up as a result of emerging technologies. Over the next few months, as I research and think about this, I'm going to post a bit about what I'm learning. Interspersed in these ruminations will be my thoughts on another topic I've recently had the good fortune to get involved with in a serious way, usability.
For a sense of where I started with the Web 2.0 business, I've spent the last year thinking about and learning other things (like XML and Linux and how to create effective docs for developers etc.). Until two weeks ago 'social networking' meant MySpace to me, which I thought of as a kid's version of LinkedIn. That other huge buzz word - 'tagging' - meant nothing much, and nothing relevant. 'Web 2.0' was the groovy little video that circulated a few months back and the topic of occasional growsing by the engineers.
The first site I visited was http://listal.com, a social networking site. I found it terrifically frustrating that the site made much of its ability to 'tag', and then explained it nowhere. To be fair, the site has only rudimentary help and I've since read up a great deal and realize that tagging is so common that what it is and how to use it goes without saying. For those of you who stumbled to this post as clueless as I was, I'll talk about tagging in a future effort, but start by looking it up on Wikipedia. Then look up folksonomy.
In the mid-1990's, I spent my days in a cube in Blue Bell, PA working as a member of a team of researchers for an EAP. We used the Web to answer questions like 'is it practical to cover my attic floor with sisal rugs?' and 'how would I go about getting a baseball signed by Ken Griffey Jr.?' - three or four a day each for several years. That we consistently produced answers seemed like magic to the social workers and therapists who interacted directly with the customers. The Web was such a mystery to them that we developed and taught a class to, ultimately, everyone in our division of the company - the therapists and social workers, the admin staff, the managers, the call center staff etc. Practically no one had ever 'logged on' or used a search engine. If they had, they certainly had never heard of Boolean logic and could rarely find what they wanted.
Google provides much better results than dogpile did in those days, and it's clear that most of what we're talking about when we're talking about information architecture and content management is how to ensure users can find our content - more fruitful searching. It is interesting and exciting and a bit daunting to wonder how the technologies coming into vogue right now might facilitate this, and whether tagged content will enhance or impede our efforts.
These are some of the questions I'm starting with. More about the specific stuff I'm looking at and finding to come, but a good place to start is with a presentation by Innodata Isogen: Web 2.0: Understanding the Semantic Web and Its Impact on Technical Communication. This presentation features Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler and, while my follow-up research on the technologies and strategies Scott covers indicates that the field has changed even since he prepared this talk, it's a great overview for those of us noobs. Another good starting point is Web 2.0: the 24 Minute Documentary. It's an interview with CEO's of Web 2.0 companies talking about various aspects of this phenomena. It introduces the business model, the buzz words and includes some entertaining speculation.
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