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MM MM Good! Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate by Sarah Maddox

June 7, 2012

I bought this book by Sarah Maddox of Atlassian to aid me in my new role as leader of a social collaboration task force. Our assignment? Define the best practices for engaging our users via the various social networks that exist – a wiki being just one of them. My team at CA Technologies is in the midst of a technical information renovation – a mission to transform our content from ‘just there if you need it’ to engaging, collaborative and highly useful. We’re a geographically dispersed team working with developers around the world. We also have a large product portfolio to document so, as you can well imagine, anything that can foster collaboration around the clock is a good thing for us.

When I unwrapped Sarah’s book, I was a bit concerned by its size – it looks like a textbook. That concern was quickly set aside as soon as I opened it. On the very first page is a welcome graphic of a girl holding a tray of chocolates. “Hallo and welcome to Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate.”

Yes, chocolates. Oh, Sarah, you sly minx. You had me at “Hallo.”

A quick skim of the table of contents told me this book was EXACTLY what I needed to help direct my task force’s efforts. There is a metric ton of wiki advice online as well as books that describe how to configure one, how to use one, how to manage one – but almost NO information on doing so specifically for technical communicators. Right on page 4 – “Getting passionate about technical communication and wikis”  — This is my world. This is what I need to know. Now, admittedly, this book is about one specific wiki (Confluence), but that’s okay. Even if you’re using some other wiki, Sarah’s advice and insight can still help you.

Why? Because she’s a tech-comm pro who is practicing what she preaches. She truly gets the challenges we all face – i.e., finding SME time, juggling multiple priorities, managing meetings, handling issues, fitting into an Agile development environment, etc. Better, she offers practical guidelines for meeting all these challenges in ways that promote technical communicators as valued members of the product team. In a refreshingly honest voice, Sarah addresses all the daily minutiae of administering the wiki – she explains how to manage broken links, how to organize content, incorporate review cycles into the workflow, how to address legal matters like IP protection and even answers if it’s safe to allow readers to update content (“It depends.”). There’s an entire chapter on engaging readers via social media (just what I needed!) that also includes a ‘what’s in it for me’ benefits description useful for winning critical internal support.

You’re probably asking yourself if there’s really chocolate in this book. Yes, I’m happy to report, there is. Chocolate trivia facts are ingeniously interspersed throughout the book, plus a mouth-watering recipe for Kay’s Chocolate Cake is provided over several chapters. I’d been delaying this review until I’d had a chance to also try out the recipe but with a book release of my own coming up, I decided that would have to wait.

As you can see, this book was an absolute pleasure to read from beginning to end. 

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