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Emotive analytics at stc17

This week I’m attending STC Summit 2017, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. These are my notes from one of the sessions at the conference. All credit goes to the presenter, and any mistakes are mine.

Allie Proff‘s session had the intriguing title of “My Android Dreams of Electric Cats: Are You Capturing Your User’s Emotive Analytics?”

Allie took us through a fast-paced view of analytics and emotions. She started by looking at traditional analytics: bounce rate, time on page, number of views, etc). But this measures the “what”, and not the “why”. The “why” is emotions: how the readers are feeling when they come to the docs.

She talked about emotions, why they’re important, and the science of emotions. She told the story of Phineas Gage, who had a staking pole punched all the way through his brain, and lived to tell the tale. Later studies have shown that when you damage the areas of the brain that connect your emotions to your logic, you can’t make decisions. You can list pros and cons, but not make the decision.

We actually use the emotional part of our brain to make a decision, then use our logic to justify that decision. Emotions engage more of your brain than logic: 7 areas as opposed to 2.

Significance for technical documentation: Story telling engages emotions, which makes it very powerful. User experience focuses on delight. Gamification is a specific example of engaging emotions.

Emotive analytics

Also called emolytics, or emotional analytics: The ability to measure emotions of your reader, for example through their face, voice, wearables, bio-feedback, or text. For example, Facebook infers emotion from people’s updates.

Affective software is software that can analyse a user’s emotions and provide appropriate responses. As a simple example, you might display radio buttons asking how the user is feeling, then provide textual help based on the answers. Allie gave the example of cheery text delivered when the user is filling in a tax return, if the user says they have children.

A more complex example is voice to text software, which can analyse your words and meaning as it processes the input. Beyond Verbal does voice analytics. Their main focus is health care. You talk into the app, and it tells you how you are feeling, based on your tone, with a view to telling whether someone is well or sick.

Also face detection software, which discovers a face in an image. CV Dazzle is a website where you can find out how to trick face detection software. For example, cover up the bridge of your nose between your eyes, and add asymmetrical patterns. Sunglasses dont work. Affectiva provides software (Affdex) that can quantify emotion, such as joy, surprise, anger, based on your face as you watch a video. There are SDKs available for developers to use. A cat scored 99% disdain.

There are a number of companies providing affective software. Allie’s presentation deck lists a number of them.

Allie also showed us some companies producing robots that show or teach emotions to some extent.

Thanks for a fun and informative session, Allie!

Social media in technical documentation – a presentation

Last week I attended Atlassian Summit 2010. This was a conference in San Francisco focusing on Atlassian products such as Confluence wiki, JIRA issue tracker and more. At Summit, I presented a session on using social media in technical documentation. We also got a bit emotional about the docs. 😉

This was pretty cool. It’s the first time I’ve given a talk at an Atlassian conference. I was totally stoked and very nervous. Apart from a technical glitch or two (basically, Twitter was borked and my presentation was supposed to use Twitter) all went well. The audience was great. Thank you guys!

Downloading the presentation and watching the video

If you like, you can watch the video of me doing the talk (yes, they filmed me!) or download the slides:

  • Watch the video of me giving the presentation on the Atlassian Summit 2010 site. You’ll see two big picture boxes in the right-hand half of the screen. The top one is the video. The first 22 minutes are my part of the session. In the second half of the video, Jeremy Largman talks about using Confluence as a support knowledge base and the tools the support team have built to extend Confluence. His presentation is awesome and packed with information. Well worth a watch. If you’d like to bump up our ratings, click the “Like” button just above the video. Let me know what you think of it too. I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out. I was expecting far worse! I was quite nervous, and my mouth got very dry. They’ve done a really great job of compiling the video with me and the presentation slides in one single view.
  • See the slides on Slideshare: Felt the earth move when I read your docs (Slideshare)
  • Download the slides in PDF form (1,901 KB) from this blog post that you’re reading now: Felt the earth move when I read your docs (slides only)
  • Download the slides with notes in PDF form (1,907 KB) from this blog post: Felt the earth move when I read your docs (slides with notes)

Summary of the presentation

My talk was called “Felt the earth move when I read your docs“. Actually, it was originally called “Felt the earth move when I read your docs, mate” but someone with a fair bit of influence 😉 suggested that I remove the word “mate” from the title. You may notice that the word sneaked into the presentation itself anyway! Here’s a still image that I grabbed from the video:

Social media in technical documentation - a presentation

Social media in technical documentation - a presentation

It’s all about using social media to engage readers in the documentation. It’s also about fun and games and a bit of emotion in the docs. We looked at these tools:

  • Confluence wiki
  • Twitter
  • Flickr
  • Wufoo

And we saw how we can use them in technical documentation:

  • Using comments and forms to get actionable feedback from readers and customers.
  • Linking to external blogs from within the documentation.
  • How you can set up and manage your documentation while allowing external people to edit it.
  • Using Twitter as a medium for release notes.
  • Encouraging customers and readers to tweet hints and tips, and publishing the Twitter stream in your documentation.
  • Holding a doc sprint.

To round it off, we looked at the Atlassian Dragon Slayer documentation, which combines a game, social interaction and a laugh with good solid well-tested technical writing.


The Atlassian Summit presentation is related to one I gave at AODC recently. If you’re interested in a lot more detail about each of the topics covered here, then take a look at my earlier post: AODC 2010 day 2: Engaging your readers in the documentation.

Craig Smith snapped a cool picture of me giving the presentation. He also wrote some great summaries in his Atlassian Summit 2010 Day 1 Wrapup.  Thanks Craig!

At the end of my slides are a number of references and links that I hope you’ll find useful. They include links to blog posts by other technical writers who are experimenting with social media and other adventures in the docs.

The Atlassian web site has a lot more Summit presentations, including a number about Confluence and how people are using it.

Attending this conference was a great experience. I’m really lucky to have had the chance to be there and to meet all those great people. Thank you to all the attendees for the ideas you brought and the fun we had.

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