Monday, May 11, 2009

The Freefall and Trainers and Technical Communicators

In several other blog posts, I've posted links to articles about the freefall of the newspaper business and the near-freefall of the broadcast television business.

For those of you who are trainers, instructional designers, or technical communicators, you're probably wondering, "what does any of this have to do with me?"

On the one hand, on an instinctive level, I always figured there was a link. As the commercial industry goes, so goes the custom (private) industry. On the other hand, I wasn't sure, at first, how it would play out.

Then I saw the article, "Customer Service? Ask a Volunteer," by Steve Lohr in the New York Times (Viewed at and the implication hit me like a ton of bricks: user-generated content.

So many of us are excited about Web 2.0 and the opportunity to have users generate content. But if users are generating all of the training and documentation, who needs professionals?

To be honest, I think there IS an answer to that question and some organizations will get it, and value what these two professions--ones in which I have invested years in both academic and industry environments. But I also believe that there's a similarly large group of organizations that will ask "who needs professionals?" and conclude, "certainly not us!"

And that, in turn, could have serious implications for future employment of people in both fields.

Data versus Instinct in Design

In “Data, Not Design, Is King in the Age of Google,” (New York Times, May 10, 2009) Miguel Helft reports the very public departure of Douglas Bowman as Google’s top visual designer. In his blog, Bowman explained that he left Google because:

Google was not friendly to designers.

Mr. Bowman’s main complaint is that in Google’s engineering-driven culture, data trumps everything else. When he would come up with a design decision, no matter how minute, he was asked to back it up with data. Before he could decide whether a line on a Web page should be three, four or five pixels wide, for example, he had to put up test versions of all three pages on the Web. Different groups of users would see different versions, and their clicking behavior, or the amount of time they spent on a page, would help pick a winner.

The article then explores the tenuous relationship between data and instinct in making design decisions and considers the limits of user data in making design decisions.

On a personal note, I’ve seen articles exploring the same issue in Business Week (which covers design better than any business publication), which provide examples from the auto industry of the limits of consumer data in making design decisions. Even soap operas (readers would know I would have to bring this up some time) have failed, in part, because they’re being written to please focus groups, rather than to surprise viewers.

Read the full article at

Another Take on the Freefall of Print Journalism

In “The American Press on Suicide Watch,” Frank Rich becomes the latest in a string of New York Times columnists to discuss the sharp, sudden decline of the print new media. (Maureen Dowd seems to have been writing nearly exclusively about this for a month or so.)

On the one hand, he does not feel that this is necessarily the end of the world, talking about the strong resistance with which radio and movies initially greeted television, a resistance that would eventually fall and a reinvention of both that eventually occurred. On the other hand, he notes with concern that online readers don’t seem too keen on paying for news yet advertising alone will not cover the cost of serious news gathering by Internet-only organizations (indeed, he notes, that Google doesn’t pay for news (it merely links to other people’s news)).

In the process of making that argument, Rich also notes that the distinction between opinion that passes for much of news these days and real news gathering—as well as the impact of that effort on democratic societies.

As an aside, Rich notes a little-reported statistic in the broad media coverage of Twitter: that 60 percent of subscribers drop their subscription after a month. He doesn’t draw any conclusions, though my assessment is that Twitter—like much social media—is still in tire-kicking mode. People want to try it out to see what it’s all about, but we’re still a ways off from long-term, effective uses of it.

Read the full column at

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Why the Internet Is So Costly at the Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott

In “The Price of Staying Connected,” (New York Times, May 10, 2009) Michelle Higgins describes the high cost of Internet service in high-end hotels. In contrast, wireless Internet is usually free in most medium- and low-end hotels.

Among the reasons: money. Differences in the way that hotel chains are compensated for their affilitations with high-end hotels (management contracts, based on revenue) and medium- and low-end hotels (franchise agreements—fixed fees), results in separate charges for Internet at high-end hotels, and free Internet at others.

Read the entire article at .

The TVs I Have Been Waiting for

In “Can Widgets Save the Television Industry?”--one of the articles--in Business Week’s special section on the future of television, Helen Walters describes how the new Internet TVs work.

She described the Yahoo-Samsung TV, which is out now and due on other brands of TVs later this year (and not just in the US, but 17 other countries, but I don’t know whether those countries include Canada), and raves about its clear, nearly intuitive interface. (The only thing that interferes with the intuitive—ness of the interface is that applications (widgets—“ small software applications that offer tailored, pared-down versions of sites found online”) are divided between Samsung-suggested applications and Yahoo-suggested ones, a division resulting from licensing contracts and not the logic of the division.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the convergence of high-definition, Internet, and television before making a significant investment in TV (well—other than shacking up with someone who already had a high-definition TV), and this looks like the one I’ve been waiting for. (But as my partner advises, it also needs to have wireless communication with speakers.)

Read all about the device at

Friday, May 01, 2009


In an April 2, 2009 post on the blog of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, Seb Chan talks first about the people behind the entries in the Wikipedia.  Then he describes how the Wikipedia is the largest referrer of visitors to the Powerhouse Museum website and the implication of that to the museum.  As a result of that, his museum set up a meeting with some keep Wikipedians in Australia.  The museum provided the Wikipedians with a tour of its facilities (including its storage), then described its mission and some of the challenges of using its resources online because of copyright and licensing issues.  

View the entire blog post at