Dec. 4, 2008 STC Joe Welinske

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On Thursday December 4, 2008 the East Bay STC hosted Joe Welinske’s presentation on “An Overview of Trends, Tools, and Technologies in Software User Assistance”. It was a preview of WritersUA’s big Software User Assistance conference March 29, 2009 in Seattle.

The mission of technical communicators is to help users find the information they are looking for. What started out as PDFs or online help has evolved into semantic web searches. Technical communicators effectively develop and populate knowledge bases and content management systems. They write, edit, analyze tasks, interview, index, search, design, illustrate, and test. They code like any programmer using HTML, XML, CSS, JavaScript, Flash, C++, php, Perl or Ajax.

The ultimate goal is to make “help” unnecessary by embedding instructional text in the product. Today the product may move across operating systems, platforms or browsers and the help must move with it. While there is still demand for Windows or Apple Help, there is now demand for browser-based help or DITA. This allows for repurposing of text in unrelated applications. Mobile devices and web-based services will make developing software and the related content increasingly complex.

How do you make money in user assistance? Despite the Internet it still helps to live near IT centers like Silicon Valley or Seattle. These areas have a number of large companies with enough business and need for online help. In hard times, small markets cannot support large numbers of specialists.

I admire Joe Welinske for his work in user assistance and courageous leadership in STC. It was great to meet and talk with a man who cares about users and the professionals who serve them.

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Copyright 2008 DJ Cline All rights reserved.