Cloudy Forecast for Tech-comm?

October 14, 2010

As my employer looks to tap into the cloud market, I’ve been doing cloud-related research to gain perspective on how my role will evolve to support cloud initiatives. The predictions are staggering and the implications for tech comm, a bit nerve-wracking.

According to Gartner, 20% of businesses will own no IT assets by 2010. This doesn’t mean companies won’t need IT at all but does mean they’ll look to the cloud to lease services, equipment and software.   I like to compare this trend to the operation of a car.  How many of us have a driver’s license? How many licensed drivers understand how the car’s various systems work?  How many drivers can repair their car?   The shift toward non-ownership indicates businesses would rather pay for the benefits of IT without also having to care and feed it.

Also according to Gartner, context will be as influential to mobile consumer devices as search engines are to the web by 2015. While search engines pulled content from the web, context-enriched services will push information to users based on analysis of patterns. We’re already seeing this with Amazon’s book recommendations.  I think taxonomies and tagging will require more intent than content development itself.

This segues neatly into the next prediction, that by 2013, mobile phones will pass PCs as the most common device used to access the web, worldwide. As Gartner points out, users expect fewer clicks on mobile devices than on PCs but I also anticipate renewed vigor toward minimal content.  Windows is nearly twenty years old; I think we can now safely drop mouse-related terms like click, choose, and select from procedures, similar to this example posted by Julie Norris.  With this approach, content would be faster to develop, less expensive to translate, and easier to port to mobile devices.

These predictions make me wonder where our efforts will take place. Will tech-comm be outsourced to even greater degrees than we’re already seeing? What impact do you think shrinking IT staffs and budgets, and the commoditization of IT will have on tech-comm?



  1. While I use my phone to access the web and for email and text messages, I don’t use it to produce content. The interface is just too cramped.

    Terms like click, choose and select are common, understood, and applicable on laptops with mouse-based interfaces. When I write documentation for mobile device applications, I don’t use them unless there’s a cursor on the screen and the device is allowing operation of that cursor through a track pad or track ball. (I can’t see your example by the way, the link is dead for me).

    I think the TC field will continue to grow and evolve. It may be that more of us will become contractors – modular assets – but that will depend on the company and the product. And being a modular asset (a contractor) isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As a contractor, I’ve always had other writers to rely on. In startups, I’m usually the only writer.

    So let’s look at startups and ask the question, if you can outsource IT and rely on cloud-based computing, can you outsource your Techwriter too? Absolutely. Is it economical? Depends on what you’re producing. Contractors cost more, but if you only need a document once and aren’t going to update it, then a dedicated writer will cost less in the long run. Are you producing a cloud-based application that requires documentation? If so, then the same question would apply. Will you have multiple versions and scheduled releases? If so, then a dedicated writer will be beneficial.

    Will cloud-based applications require fewer instructions? That largely depends on how they’re accessed and what purpose they server. For the foreseeable future, I think you’ll see applications made for both small interface devices and large interface devices. No one wants to draft large amounts of content on a phone keypad. They’re happy to consume content from a phone, but producing it is another story. Detection is an issue because in some cases you’ll need to produce two documentation sets, one for access on a large screen, and one for access on a small screen. It’s not even a mobile/local paradigm, it’s an interface issue. Laptops are mobile. So really, what we should look at is producing content for minimal interfaces and producing content for standard interfaces. Ideally, some applications will have both, particularly if you can access them from either interface. However, the instructions should change based on detection of the interface. I do this now with applications that run on PCs and mobile phones. It’s resulted in a need for more documentation rather than less, and more effort rather than less effort. Plus, with continuous product releases and updates, there’s a need for a dedicated writer.

    What will other startups interested in creating cloud-based applications do? I’m not so sure it will be any different than it is now. But then I’m not sure it won’t. It’s difficult to tell. Logically, though, it doesn’t seem like much of a change. What do you see?

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Edward Martino, PhD, Patty Blount. Patty Blount said: Blog update: Cloud's Impact on #techcomm? http://bit.ly/dpd23u […]

  3. I don´t know exactly what cloud-based applications means, but I don´t believe that most applications that now run on PC will be suitable for running on mobile devices. Till now mobile phones have a too small screen. Other mobile devices like notebooks or tablets or similar are too weighty. So, I hope I will enjoy writing on my beloved PC for some long enough time.

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