Author Archive: Maxwell Hoffmann

#ICC12: Resizing Content for the Small Screen: Considerations

Much has been written or presented on the process of converting content for mobile devices and tablets. But little has been written about how we must change the way we write for delivery to a device that displays about one ninth of web or PDF content viewed on a single laptop screen.

This blog touches on a few of the points I shared in my Intelligent Content Conference 2012 (#ICC12) presentation, “Resizing Content for the Small Screen: Considerations for Single-Source Authoring for Tablet and Mobile Delivery.” Subsequent blogs and probably an enhanced conference presentation on this topic will follow. Since only two of my 34 PPT slides had been seen before, I was curious how the early riser audience would react. The participants did connect with the message; in fact a few of them missed breakfast staying for an overtime discussion.

From this …

To this

…. In just 5,000 years

  
 

 

Ironically, some of the earliest known business “documents” were composed and read on “tablets.” Some 5,000 years later, we have come full circle to tablets again, only this time they are digitally dynamic, capable of receiving up-to-the-minute correct data. Due to their small size and portability, Sumerian clay tablets held concise, to the point messages in Cuneiform. Now that we are delivering content that was written for another medium to our new, iPhone-sized “tablets”, we need to reexamine the length and relevance of what we intend to deliver.

If I were wearing my Adobe Evangelist hat and wanted to make a shameless sales pitch, I would write about the ease of swapping templates in FrameMaker and Tech Comm Suite to shape content to resemble a small screen while you write. Or comment about single-source publishing from FrameMaker via RoboHelp to a variety of ePub formats. But that’s not my mission today.

Remembering what you hear can “measure” what would effectively display on an iPhone

Colleges provide different tracks for Broadcast Journalism vs. Print Journalism. Why? Because TV or Radio news content must be substantially shorter than what is written for newspapers or magazines. (Substitute your favorite digital equivalents for the media mentioned in the previous sentence.)  Our brains can process and remember more points when visible text is present. When we process information that we hear with no supporting visible text, we can handle about one thought per sentence. And sentences must be shorter; no longer than normal speed speech with one breath. (Please don’t consider my verbal speech/speed and words per breath as a good model to follow!) Continue reading…

Seeing is believing: FrameMaker, DITA and content “depth”

Since its inception, FrameMaker has provided a realistic page or output display during authoring or editing. This has occasionally led to criticism of the product for not being a “real” or “pure” DITA/XML solution. Most early DITA tools, and DITA Open Toolkit provide an approximation of output during editing. Tagged views of content are more common outside of FrameMaker.

This blog covers two kinds of “seeing is believing.” On one level, there is the issue of seeing the amount of content you have created, and on another level, there is the issue of being able to see the entire process required to achieve a DITA solution before you choose your authoring tools.

Shrinking platform displays give an advantage to FrameMaker’s realistic display

There are arguments for advantages to both the FrameMaker “what you see is what you get” and the traditional DITA view/tag “what you see is sort of what you’ll get” approaches. Ironically, the FrameMaker model is becoming more attractive due to significant changes in our content consumer expectations. Most tech comm authors have been used to multiple deliverables for years, e.g. to PDF and HTML/Web. Delivery platforms for content are rapidly increasing due to explosive proliferation of tablet computers and hi-rez smart phone devices. There is now a great variety in the sizes of screens that will frame and reshape the content we create.

Many of us have been used to two sizes and shapes for final output display, (a) standard letter paper size (PDF) and (b) approximate computer screen size for HTML (usually presumed to be horizontal laptop screen orientation.) Obviously, the landscape for content display has shrunk considerably; at the same time that content has become more nimble, being capable of displaying embedded rich media like 3D graphics and video screen capture. Obviously, we need to reexamine how we create and “preview” content before it is delivered in multiple ways. Note: I will be speaking more specifically on this topic in a presentation I am giving at Intelligent Content Conference this week, “Resizing content for the small screen.” Continue reading…

Beyond Pages and PDF: The changing role of Technical Communication

Much has been written about how the job title “technical writer” or “technical editor” is probably out-of-date. Today’s authors and editors of mission critical technical information have taken on new, hybrid roles. This is the perfect week to reflect on this topic as the Intelligent Content Conference meets in Palm Springs February 21st through February 24th.

Adobe is a key sponsor for this event, and I will be delivering an early morning presentation on “Reshaping Content for the Small Screen.”

Content Curation

Tech comm publishers must gather and filter information from ever widening channels and feeds of evolving source material. It may seem a bit like trying to fill water cooler bottles from Niagara Falls. The key to Content Curation is “intelligence”, the ability to discern what is relevant for the product, for the mission and for the intended information consumer.

Scott Abel wrote an excellent blog on Content Curation for The Content Wrangler just over a year ago  that is worth rereading: “Content Curation: Streamlining The Process Of Populating Your Social Networks With Relevant, Interesting and Engaging Content.” Although this blog focuses on social media, it covers the dynamics that are shaping the attention span and expectations of almost any technical content consumers.

Images in motion

A series of progressive, static screen captures is often no longer adequate to engage and inform the tech comm consumer. Since so much of the workforce is being conditioned by hours of viewing YouTube and other video content, not suprisingly, many consumers become impatient having to page through 17 pages of captioned static images rather than watch a 7 second motion capture.

Fortunately, Tech Comm Suite delivers an excellent solution, enabling authors to embed dynamic media (from Captivate and other sources) directly into FrameMaker source files. A poster image will indicate the intent of the motion capture or video, and users can view dynamic motion illustrations in PDF or Help files.

Smaller and smaller screens: ePubs

We’ve all seen the overwhelming statistics of how dramatically iPad, Kindle and other eReaders and full functioned tablets grew in sales late last year. Over the past 18 months, a sizeable segment of information consumers have become adept at and used to finding engaging technical content on their smart phones.

Fortunately, Adobe’s Tech Comm Suite greatly simplifies the process of reducing, reformatting and repurposing FrameMaker source files into multiple versions o simpler, streamlined ePubs format via RoboHelp. Continue reading…

One more reason to upgrade to FrameMaker 10

by Maxwell Hoffmann

During my recent years consulting and managing production in the translation industry, I encountered far too many customers who stayed “stuck” on an aging version of FrameMaker. Usually it was FrameMaker 7.2. In my new role as Product Evangelist for Tech Comm Suite, I’ll be authoring several future blogs which willcover many reasons for upgrading to the current version of FrameMaker from FM7.2. But this blog will touch on just two features that can pay for the upgrade fee by eliminating “lost hours” on manual processes required in out-dated versions of FrameMaker.

Ironically, some FM7.2 and FM8 users have resisted an upgrade because the user interface was radically overhauled in Version 9. Although the new UI can take some getting used to for veteran users, within a few hours you will find FrameMaker’s customizable workspaces hard to live without. One of my translation agency clients witnessed a 15% decrease in post-translation formatting once their project was upgraded to FrameMaker 9 due to the manual steps that were eliminated by several new UI features.

For sake of simplicity, this blog will focus on regular (unstructured) FrameMaker. All features and principles have parallels in XML or DITA editing/authoring with FrameMaker.

After reading this blog, I encourage you to review an excellent blog by Adobe’s Kapil Verma on “Making FrameMaker your “own” — How to customize the User Interface“.

FrameMaker pods: “real-time” feedback on cross-references

Once you start using FrameMaker 10’s pods for displaying unresolved cross-references, (and other hidden text) you may look back on older versions of FrameMaker as if they were cars that lacked a gas gague on the dashboard. Early automobiles over 100 years ago required the driver to dip a wooden stick into the gas tank every so often to find out when a fill up was required. Trying to move back from FrameMaker’s pods’ realtime feedback is like having a modern instrument cluster on your vehicle’s dashboard for the first time. Continue reading…

Returning to the makers of FrameMaker after years in the field

This is my first blog as Product Evangelist for Tech Comm Suite. I have some pretty heavy footprints to follow, since I’m replacing Tom Aldous, who was promoted to lead our sales team. I probably couldn’t ask for a better leader or boss. You see, Tom and I have something in common; we both spent years working directly with customers helping them find a better authoring and content management solution before either of us came on board at Adobe.

Some of you may find my name familiar; I’ve been fairly visible on the FrameMaker scene for many years. Ironically, I was the Product Marketing Manager for FrameMaker before Adobe acquired the product. (I left Frame Technology about 18 months before the Adobe acquisition.) Working closely with the product inventors and pioneer engineers of FrameMaker was a priceless experience.

Continue reading…