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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.

AODC 2010 day 2: Engaging your readers in the documentation

Last month I attended AODC 2010, the Australasian Online Documentation and Content conference. Over the last few weeks I’ve been posting my summaries of the conference sessions. Now it’s the turn of my own presentation.

My presentation was called “Engaging your readers in the documentation”. Conversation, the social web, community – they’re all the buzz. OK, sounds good, but how do you get your readers involved in the documentation?

Downloading the presentation

Attached to this blog post are two PDF files containing my presentation:

Overview of the presentation

At Atlassian, we’ve been experimenting with social media and other techniques. My presentation takes an in-depth look at the tools and techniques we’re using.

We write and publish our documentation on Confluence wiki. The wiki, and in particular a Confluence macro called the Widget Connector, provide many opportunities for integrating other social media into the documentation pages. Examples of such social tools are Twitter, Flickr and Wufoo.

Even if you’re not using a wiki, you’ll still be able to apply these ideas and techniques in and around your technical documentation.

AODC 2010 day 2: Engaging your readers in the documentation

AODC 2010 day 2: Engaging your readers in the documentation

The presentation covers the following techniques and tools for engaging your readers:

  • Getting feedback from readers via comments on the documentation pages.
  • Using Wufoo forms as another feedback mechanism. You can embed a Wufoo form into your wiki page or other web pages.
  • Holding a doc sprint, where a group of people got together to write tutorials. Our focus was plugin and gadget development, so we invited the developers too. We use a Flickr photo stream in the doc sprint wiki to show the sprinters in action.
  • A few ways of using Twitter‘s hash tags, viral tendencies and 140-character limitation to their best advantage. We tweet our release notes. In one of our long procedural documents, readers can tweet when they hit each milestone and can follow the tweets to see how others are faring. Breaking news: We’re about to start encouraging people to tweet their hints and tips. We’ll embed the Twitter stream into a documentation page, so that tweeters can see their tips appearing in our documentation, and readers can see other people’s hints in real time.
  • Linking to external blog posts from within your documentation. Our “Tips of the Trade” pages link to external blog posts where our readers share their own hard-won tips and techniques.
  • Letting other people edit your documentation. Is it safe? We use wiki permissions to control who can do what. Technical writers monitor all updates via RSS feeds and wiki watches. Our developer documentation is open for editing by any logged-in user. That means that anyone can click the “Sign Up” button, get a wiki user ID and start editing the developer docs immediately. We have a contributor’s licence agreement that we ask people to sign before they get permission to update the product documentation. A Creative Commons (cc-by) licence lets readers and contributors know what copyright rules apply.
  • The idea of documentation as an emotional experience and of having a game in and around the edges of your documents. The presentation looks at a case study, Atlassian’s Here Be Dragons documentation.
  • Lots and lots of links and references in the last few slides. In particular, I’ve linked to some blog posts by other technical writers who are talking about and experimenting with similar techniques.  Anne Gentle’s book is a great source of ideas: Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation. Peg Mulligan wrote about “social business, also known as enterprise 2.0″. Julie Stickler blogged on HeraTech about Agile Doc Reviews – The Documentation Sprint. Lisa Dyer writes “I suppose we’ll soon agree on a name for the era we’ve entered” in her blog post about “Business intelligence, intelligent content and devices, games, and noise”. Bill Kerschbaum asks “Did you hear the one about the user guide with a sense of humor?” Ellis Pratt’s writes on the Cherryleaf blog about “Turning technical documentation into an emotional experience (for the customer)”.

I hope you enjoy the presentation. Let me know if it gives you some useful hints and ideas. 🙂

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