Although I usually don’t like to pull out my crystal ball or scry into a tea cup, TechWhirl asked me take a stab at guessing the future of tech comm. So here we go: Johnny Mnemonic meets Minority Report and Star Wars, with a touch of Hackers thrown in for good measure.
This is really not very surprising because user experience drives technical communication already. Games like Kinect let us control a computer with gesture and movement, but this control will spread from entertainment over to business and then everyday use, much like the widespread adoption of the mouse. People thinking that gesture control is just a fad and won’t really impact the tech comm industry is like thinking that the mouse wouldn’t change the way we navigate through the interwebs. It seems like such a small and superfluous shift, but it will have a profound impact on how we do everything.
Widespread adoption of gesture control devices will let us control computers, TVs, gaming systems in a visual/physical way, browsing, searching, and finding content by swiping, grabbing, and manipulating information objects. Click something? How prosaic. Too much work. Let me wiggle a finger, rotate a wrist, or blink to find my next piece of information, start or stop a video, exit an application, or troubleshoot a nuclear reactor while encased in 90 pounds of protective gear. This change will, of course, profoundly affect the content we provide—not just what we write, but how users access it, experience it, save it, and recall it.
In the slightly longer term, when the entire planet is essentially on wi-fi, we’ll likely be walking around accessing information wherever we are—when looking at a product in the grocery store, contemplating recipes in the kitchen, navigating the back nine at a golf course, or negotiating with a camel in the Gobi desert—we’ll expect instant information, on demand, all the time. Think Google Glasses without the glasses. Some information will likely be passive, like the calorie count of products as you walk through the grocery store, while you will retrieve other information with a mental search: recipes using saffron or camel whispering.
In the shorter term (say, the next two to four years), I think we’ll see some pretty obvious changes that have begun in certain places but have yet to enjoy a wider adoption.
Where We’re Going: Impacts on Content When User Experience Drives Technical Communication
- XML. There’s no other way to do everything we need to do with our content efficiently and effectively. Widespread XML adoption for content will continue to grow, grow, grow and will be the backbone for the majority of other shifts listed below.
- Content that dynamically displays what users want/need. Users will be able to select their roles, experience level, operating systems, etc. and get the content that applies to them—dynamically. This has already been implemented in some large and small corporations, but it will start being demanded by users (“Just give me what I need!”) and the rest of us will need to implement this basic functionality as well.
- PDF no longer a delivery method, only an assemble-on-the-fly option. PDFs will die as a means of delivering content. Instead, PDF will be an option-on-demand. Users will assemble their own PDFs on the fly and create their own “books.”
- Gesture control devices will profoundly change the user experience of information of all kinds. Your content will need the ability to be searched, saved, sorted, filtered, and assembled for users easily while they are gesturing through it. Findability and usability will be the twin pillars of importance here.
- Mobile is king. Our content will have to automatically and dynamically adjust to the user’s device, no matter what device that is, with minimal effort (we can’t afford to code for individual devices—it just doesn’t scale). We have to build to be adjustable.
- Direct, real-time feedback from users directly back into the source content. We’re going to open up the dialog (or possibly monologue from user > author) between users and authors and break down the barrier between us. Hopefully.
- Huge growth of user communities. People want to talk to other people using the same product. Either host it yourself (and make it awesome) or assume your users will start their own community. If you want to keep some control, you’d better start yours first (and encourage users to contribute).If you do it well, people will come. If you don’t, they’ll build their own site. The internet—bringing us all together. Who would have predicted?
- Silos start to clump. Marketing, technical content, training content, support-generated content will all start to converge into simply “content,” as it should. The rest of the enterprise will be sadly left out (for now).
- Revenue. Some bright company is going to really put huge effort into great documentation…and then go ahead and charge users for it via apps for mobile devices, making content a direct revenue source. This will excite executives and we will all scramble to keep up while rolling our eyes because putting more effort into documentation is exactly what we’ve always wanted.
Editor’s note: our recent poll question on wearable computing is still open. Feel free to cast your vote. And add your thoughts to the discussion here.