Cloudy skies ahead for tech writers

January 30, 2010

It’s been almost a year since I started hearing about The Cloud at work, a nebulous (grin) metaphor for the internet – or so I’d thought.  Many months and countless hours of research later, my interpretation of the term, and its impact on technical communication, have evolved.

Here’s my elevator pitch definition:

Doing business a few years ago forced you to invest small fortunes implementing IT technology that obsolesced before it was paid for. That’s like buying your own plane when all you really needed was an airline ticket. Today, the internet lets you buy IT technology as its needed – pay for only what you use, as long as you use it. This commoditized wealth of computing power, software, and services is The Cloud. In the cloud, brand names don’t matter –  Intel Inside, Solutions for a Small Planet, or Where do you want to go today  – what matters is the technology is there, it’s ready when you are and it goes away when you’re done with it. The Cloud helps your business concentrate on business.

Of course, my definition has a distinct end-user focus. Ynema Mangum, in her guest post on Just Write Click, dives deeper into types of clouds, but it seems to me that an end-user focus is appropriate if we are to determine how the cloud impacts technical writing.

My first observation is this  –  if users’ computing power, software, and services live in the cloud, shouldn’t also their instructions for using that technology? In fact, as the technology becomes commoditized, so must the customer information that supports it.  We’re already seeing content generation shift from a manufacturer- to a community-driven endeavor with the explosion in popularity of wikis, blogs, and forums.  Along with community-generated content, I think making that content portable and accessible will become a primary goal of writing for the cloud. Imagine being able to edit a procedure from any device, collaborate with subject matter experts live in a webcast and instantly distribute your up-to-the-minute content to your entire user base. Sarah O’Keefe agrees, saying small (or maybe, no?) desktop application footprints will mean technical writers can access content from anywhere.

I’m also learning that procedures must change so that content development can exist as a separate and agile effort divorced from the product development cycle.  We’ll need to learn and exploit more web technology (screen casts, videos, social networks, Help, RSS feeds, etc.) to make this possible.  And we’ll need to do all this while balancing it with the principles of good technical writing – concise, clear direction.

As soon as I figure out how to do all that, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here are some links that helped.








One comment

  1. Hello,

    Your readers might be interested in this article which discusses career projections for tech writers based on their skill sets:

    Who Makes The Most Money – Technical Writers with Strong Language or Deep Technical Skills?




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