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Horse meetup found in technical writer’s blog post



WritersUA 2011 – Using social media to get readers involved

This week I attended the WritersUA 2011 Conference for Software User Assistance in Long Beach, California. On Tuesday it was my turn to present a session, called “Getting your readers involved in the documentation”. This post summarises my talk and offers you the opportunity to download the presentation in PDF form.

At Atlassian, we’ve been using social media in various ways, to make our documentation a living, interactive hub where people can find the answers to their questions, talk to us, talk to each other, and use the documentation as a tool to help each other.

Download the presentation

If you like, you can download a copy of my presentation in PDF form. I’ve put a lot of information and references into the speaker’s notes too.

What’s in this post

The rest of this post is a summary of and discussion of my presentation, and of the condensed version that I showed people at the WritersUA peer showcase.

The social organisation

We know that organisations are becoming more social. Studies show that engaged customers buy more, are more likely to be satisfied with the product, and are more likely to help each other use the product.

In the same way, I’d like to propose that engaged readers will keep coming back to the documentation, are more likely to be happy with the documentation, and will use the docs as a tool to help each other.

The tools

The tools and ideas I discussed are:

  • Using a wiki as the documentation authoring and publishing tool – Confluence. In our documentation and in my presentation I’m using Confluence wiki. But most of the tools and ideas are transferable to online documentation on any platform.
    • Allowing readers to add comments to the documentation pages.
    • Allowing various groups of people to edit your documentation, including community authors, all the company staff, customers, the whole wide world.
    • Using wiki permissions to determine who can do what.
    • Monitoring the updates via RSS feeds and wiki watches.
  • Designing a contributor licence agreement, based on the Apache Contributor License Agreement, to protect the rights of all parties.
  • Adding a Creative Commons copyright licence to the documentation pages. Ours is a Creative Commons by Attribution licence, which means that anyone can use the documentation for any purpose they like, provided they acknowledge us as the source.
  • Using a web service that allows you to design an online feedback form, then grab the HTML to embed the form into your own documentation page – Wufoo. When people fill in information on your form, the data goes into the Wufoo database. You can then log in to Wufoo and see the results, get some statistics, and so on.
  • Linking to blog posts written by community developers and authors from within your documentation. For example, the JIRA Tips of the Trade, the Crowd Tips of the Trade and the Confluence Tips of the Trade.
  • Encouraging people to interact with your documentation via Twitter (
    • Using Twitter as a medium for your release notes.
    • Encouraging people to tweet hints and tips about your products, and then taking it a step further and embedding a live stream of tweets on a documentation page. See the JIRA Tips via Twitter and the Confluence Tips via Twitter pages.
  • Rewarding contributors by giving them an online badge that they can add to their blogs or other social sites.
  • Organising a doc sprint. This is an event, similar to the book sprints of the opensource world, where a group of people get together for a specific period of time to write a specific set of documentation. We have held two doc sprints, with participants working in our offices and remotely all over the world. We plan to hold more.
  • Bringing back fond memories of a documentation-related event, and encouraging people to join in next time, by streaming photos of the event onto your documentation page directly from Flickr. Flickr is a web service where you can upload and share photographs with your community, friends and the world.
  • Building fun, a game, a challenge and interactivity into your documentation. I demonstrated at the Dragon Slayer documentation.

The Dragon Slayer Documentation

The Dragon Slayer documentation is a set of installation instructions that we created to solve a specific problem. Atlassian, the company I work for, has a great set of products that you can set up to work together as an integrated development suite. At the moment, though, the integration process is long and complex. In fact, it’s painful. The products were not originally created to work together, and we’re developing the integration incrementally. The setup process is getting easier all the time, because our developers are working to improve the process.

In the meantime, we needed some documentation that leads people through the setup process, to create a specific environment with some good simple examples of the integration possibilities. This documentation does not replace the existing installation and upgrade guides for each product. Instead, it’s an additional tool to get people started quickly when they want to set up the full suite of products.

What’s more, because the process is long and complex, we wanted to turn the pain into fun. So we challenge people to come a slay the dragon. The dragon is, of course, the setup process.

A summary of the Dragon Slayer docs:

  • There are 9 stages, corresponding to 9 pages. Each stage consists of many steps.
  • We’ve taken pains sure ensure that the fun stuff is at the top and bottom of the pages. In between is good, solid technical writing – “how to” steps that we test rigorously, end-to-end, before making any updates, to ensure that the entire environment will work.
  • There’s a pretty picture and some funny words (shamelessly cribbed from various online translations of Dante) at the top of each page.
  • At the bottom of each page, we congratulate you on your victory and tell you what you have achieved so far.
  • When you start out on the dragon quest, you meet Sir Charlie of Atlassian, whom you will recognise as the dude in the Atlassian logo. He is scantily clad and has only a staff to ward off the dragon.
  • As you go through the stages, Charlie acquires armour and a sword, so that he is well equipped by the time he meets the dragon in stage 9.
  • When you finish the dragon quest, you get a T-shirt. (A real one.)
  • During the quest, you can intereact with other dragon slayers via Twitter. We’ve crafted some funny tweets that are a call to action. If you click the “Tweet” link, we prepopulate your tweet box with those words. You can delete or change them before tweeting. We also embed a live stream of tweets on the Dragon Slayer front page, so that people can see which dragon slayers are out there right now.
  • Each page also has a number of links to the dragon slayers’ forum, where you can discuss any problems you encounter and swap ideas with other people going through the procedures at the same time as you.

The plan is that the Dragon Slayer documentation will morph into a set of quick, simple steps. The dragon may disappear entirely. Or maybe not. Watch this space. 😉

The WritersUA peer showcase

I presented a condensed version of the presentation at the WritersUA peer showcase on the last day of the conference. What happens at the peer showcase is that you sit at a table for two hours, and people drop by in groups or individually to see your project. So you need just a short demonstration. I focused on our use of Twitter in and around the documentation, and specifically on the Dragon Slayer documentation.

I was completely overjoyed when I won the award for the most innovative peer showcase project at the 2011 Conference for Software UA. Thank you so much to everyone who voted for our project, and to Atlassian for giving the technical writers the opportunity to do such fun stuff in our documentation.

WritersUA Peer Showcase trophy


I hope you find the attached presentation useful. Let me know what you think, and if you’re doing something similar.

Outcasts make good – semicolon, hyphen and parenthesis unite

A thought struck me in the shower this morning. I laughed out loud. Perhaps only a technical writer would. 😉

The semicolon, hyphen and parenthesis. They’re the pariahs of our world. Yet they’ve got together and created a new semantic symbol. ; -)

Content management LOL

Ready for a Friday chuckle?

I took this picture in a stairwell, then tweeted it:

This has to be an important document! 

Content management LOL

Content management LOL

Here’s the reply I received from Alan J. Porter:

I think that may be taking content management a little too far!!

While Michael O’Neill quips:

Can’t tell if it’s a usability fail or win. ;P

LOL (laugh out loud)! 🙂

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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