Thursday, June 27, 2019

GUI Information 4.0 Tools: A Proposed Feature Set – Comments

PRELIMINARY

In my article about a proposed feature set for GUI Information 4.0 authoring tools in the Summer 2019 issue of Communicator, I requested comments and feedback on the subject. I present those comments in this follow-up article as I received them, with no editing except to shorten a few due to space limits. The comments appear below in roughly the order in which I received them. I prefaced each comment, or set of comments, with the author’s name and Twitter handle in bold. (If you’re struck by the seeming lack of organization of the comments, remember that this is a tweet-stream.)

I also added a few comments of my own in response to a phone conversation with one of the commenters. Here, with no further discussion, are the comments.

The Comments

Cruce Saunders @mrcruce

What should next-generation authoring look like now that we have 1,000s of permutations of media, content-types, browsers, channels, contexts, & formats? A difficult & valiant question to try to answer! Added some thoughts to a recent article. A thread for further comment.

Authoring rarely ever happened consistently in one GUI, even for small companies. In an enterprise, authoring is the single most diverse environment within content lifecycle process and technology. Content can be acquired in dozens of ways in a single department!

We should never assume an ability to conform large populations to a single GUI authoring platform. What typically happens in such enforcement scenarios: “cheating”. No GUI, especially one that wants to be so feature-rich, ever meets everyone’s needs.

So content gets built elsewhere and then PASTED into the GUI (often by someone else), where gets further manipulated. And one hopes, enriched with metadata. Or, publishing systems just get built around the GUI for various authoring groups that decide not to use it.

And the well-intentioned standard authoring regime falls into a chaotic mess of manual content transforms with no accountability or traceability. Most enterprises today live in some form of this mess.

Even when some smaller silos create some most consistent coherence (e.g. #techcomm), none of the related content sets are compatible. The answer, [A] believes, lies in aligning structural & semantic standard patterns across disparate authoring, management, & publishing systems.

All that being said, we do need to advance the state of GUI authoring. Vendors are working on this in product roadmaps. The biggest area of interest to me is essentially today’s attempts at “What You See Is Semantically-Markup Up Content”.

GUIs that *as the author types* suggest semantic associations derived from an organizationally-standardized taxonomy or ontology provider. This is effortless and invisible...machine-prompted, author-empowering.

The same sort of in-context editing, coupled with machine intelligence, can also help to prompt additional annotation useful for content targeting.

Another area of interest are GUIs in which a “sidecar” toolbar powered by artificial intelligence provides authors with in-context structured snippets for reuse and inclusion, based on the content of the material being authored.

Or, the sidecar suggests portions of text that might be reused by others. And providers authors the ability to apply metadata or discussions to individual snippets, or molecules, of content. Of course, these sidecar tools can be made to perform MANY other functions.

In my view, any vendor authoring product, and any related interface, needs to embrace schema application & portability to matter long-term. Companies desperately need to be able to move content around. But this is not possible without schema alignment across systems.

And that is impossible without authoring interfaces that incorporate a structural schema. I’d like to see more friendly blank-canvas interfaces (‘Word-like’) that incorporate an ability apply and manage schema-driven templates, beyond just standardizing styles.

We can see many attempts at schema-based GUI authoring, especially in the plugin market, where Word-to-DITA has been something pursued for some years.

One of the biggest areas of need, and most challenging, is the development of graphical user interfaces that support multiple variations of the same content within a single authoring process.

Personalization based on user type and state, and device or environment states, is something that many authoring processes need. And as we feed our customer experiences with ever-more contextual data, authoring for human or machine-meditated variation becomes essential.

The good news is this has also been pursued for some years, and the heuristics have been explored in multiple production environments — mostly in Customer Experience Management #cem platforms.

But there's plenty of room for innovation here, because "variation authoring" interfaces have not yet been perfected or mass-adopted. It's still a blue ocean space and vendors can distinguish themselves here.

There’s more to say, and much more to discuss, but the future of authoring is a very deep rabbit hole. And a worthy exploration. Take a look at more ideas from Neil Perlin (@NeilEric) in @ISTC_org Communicator or via the #info40 blog post here:


James Mathewson @Mathewson_CS

The challenge is context. Content is only meaningful to the degree that it is relevant in context. How do you build an authoring system that helps writers grasp digital contextual cues and write relevant content using those cues? Modular content grows this problem exponentially.

Scott Abel @scottabel

Maybe our efforts would be better spent getting corporate leaders (those afraid of being displaced by disruptive innovators) to understand the need to become information-enabled. Authoring tools are created (and updated) in response to demand. The demand is simply not there — yet

Neil Perlin (in response to Scott Abel’s point above)

A fair point. However, in the early days of help and the web, GUI tool development went on - often in odd or even wrong directions - even as the technology was spreading. Better IMO to become information enabled AND create the tools for doing so at the same time.

Cruce Saunders


The sea change is coming. Both customers and vendors are driving the evolution. One hand washes the other. Celebrate the innovators, wherever they sit.

Mike Atherton @MikeAtherton

+1 for context and structure. Something akin to a headless CMS is a good start, but rather than a bare bones experience, illustrative device and platform-specific templating to show authors how their work may appear.

And more importantly, since we're moving from a centralised publishing environment to distributed 3pp (AMP, Instant Article, other API) then explicit support and guidance ('recipes' if you will) from platform owners.

Aaaand a new mental model. The print analogy refuses to die and doesn't help separate content from presentation. A better analogy might be radio waves.

Neil Perlin (in response to Mike Atherton’s previous point)

I'll bite. Why radio waves?

Mike Atherton (in response to Neil Perlin’s point above)

Because the information transmitted is intangible, device-agnostic and everywhere at once. And because the same technology can emit frequencies designed for humans and frequencies designed for machines. I didn't say it was perfect :)

Cruce Saunders (in response to Mike Atherton’s point above)

Mike's 'radio waves' is similar to how I see content. Anything that can be available in multiple states, places, usages at one time is very different than tangible one-time published artifacts. It's 'information energy'. ;) But it's more durable even. So, we do need new frames.

Real device, type, user, context agnostic contextual preview or simulation is a holy grail. Even think it should be source agnostic. I actually believe there's an entire missing product category here. Rendering simulation & collab is something more than just another feature.

Mike Atherton

It's not even about being WYSIWYG 2.0 (i made that up), but what's missing from the structured content rhetoric is solid criteria for *how and why* to make specific structural choices. Bringing home context of use may help.

Actually @eaton

I think "next-generation authoring" has to assume that beyond highly data-driven fill-out-the-form stuff that CMS devs have already (kind of) solved… content will end up consisting of 1) Narratives, 2) Components, and 3) Assemblies/Aggregates…

…And also has to assume that workflow/responsibility for each of those modalities will require different tooling. You talk a little about this downthread but I think there's too much attention paid to UI and not enough to contextualied UX in the content editing/mgmt space

Then the big mind-blowing piece is that a huge percentage of what we would call "narrative" is spread across multiple pages/screens/artifacts for final delivery. Some of the journey/experience management stuff starts touching on that, but…

Mark Demeny @mde_sitecore


Great thread and summary from @NeilEric as well. It's a hard one to resolve (esp. over Twitter). Even putting aside the harder questions of content lifecycle, reuse, transformations for specific channels, etc. you get into questions of appropriate tools and interfaces very early.

You'll often hear "I wish my simple to use CMS was better at structured/headless content" similarly, you'll hear the opposite complaint of vendors that have a bias toward structured content but sacrifice page layout or authoring experience.

As I see it, there are 3 fundamental conflicts with content lifecycle; - Distributed vs. Centralized (with tools, author roles, team, geo etc.) - Structured vs. channel-specific - Creation agility vs. reuse (via better findability, analytics, etc. - more lean to the former)

And personalized/contextual content is a problem *layered across all of these*. It could be that a specific region, or an analytics team is responsible for acting on that - so I see that as not a distinct problem, but related to and complicated by the existing conflicts.

Jan Benedictus @JanBenedictus


Structured Content Authoring, Component Based Authoring etc. are often mentioned - by leaders ; but “what problem do we solve” is not articulated. We have to go from “strategic talk” to Tangible Benefits to explain Why. Today we are at @DrugInfoAssn to do so for Pharma #dia2019

Ray Gallon @RayGallon


Check out #nemetics as another vision close to these ideas. cc @toughLoveforx @ddrrnt

Two Additional Points of My Own

Mark Demeny noted correctly that I gave scant coverage to issues of governance and workflow and sign-off control.

I’ll add that I barely mentioned the effect of Information 4.0 on technical communicators. The increased technical and management complexity may drive some of today’s practitioners out of the field. That’s been predicted with every new technology and, to a degree, is true but most practitioners adapt. What’s different with Information 4.0 is that even the base level of technical and management complexity is far higher than earlier disruptive technologies like word-processing in the 1980s and the web and online help in the 1990s.

Summary

The comments section may seem rambling because it largely matches the structure of the comments and responses. But I left it that way to show the wide range of thought about the technical, structural, management, and even philosophical issues. Once this article appears in Communicator, I’ll add it to the Information 4.0 Consortium blog and the Hyper/Word Services blog, and will add more posts as I get more comments.

So, now what? Is there a next step or has this just been an interesting discussion? That will have to be the subject of more discussion by members of the Information 4.0 Consortium. Stay tuned.

About the Author

Neil is president of Hyper/Word Services (www.hyperword.com) of Tewksbury, MA, USA  He has four decades of experience in technical writing, with 34 in training, consulting, and developing for online formats and outputs ranging from WinHelp to mobile apps and tools ranging from RoboHelp and Doc-To-Help to Flare and ViziApps. To top things off, he has been working in mobile since 1998 and XML since 2000, and speaking and writing about Information 4.0 since 2017.

Neil is MadCap-certified in Flare and Mimic, Adobe-certified for RoboHelp, and Viziapps-certified for the ViziApps Studio mobile app development platform. He is a popular conference speaker, most recently at MadWorld 2019 in San Diego, CA. Neil founded and managed the Bleeding Edge stem at the STC summit and was a long-time columnist for ISTC Communicator, STC Intercom, IEEE, and other publications.  You can reach him at nperlin@nperlin.cnc.net.


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