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Chapter 5: Conversation and Community. BOB FURU GENEVIEVE JUNGERS MICHELLE BALDWIN. Overview. Blogs provide a way to link to customers, and they also provide a way for customers to link back to you.

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chapter 5 conversation and community

Chapter 5: Conversation and Community




  • Blogs provide a way to link to customers, and they also provide a way for customers to link back to you.
  • This chapter discusses ideas for starting conversations and building on the stages of listening, participating, and offering a platform.
  • This chapter seems to be a do-it-yourself guide for learning to moderate a blog.
listening and monitoring conversations
Listening and monitoring conversations
  • This section describes several ways to learn to moderate or participate in a blog.
    • Writers often make good blog moderators because they read and collect information quickly.
    • Commenting on other people’s blogs is a good way to establish a presence.
    • Joining or moderating customer forums or boards, or reviewing products are good ways to start blogging.
reading and commentating on blogs
Reading and commentating on blogs
  • Gentle believes that reading blogs is the best starting point for blogging. This gives you a sense of the community, how often people post, how long it takes to answer questions, and the key contributors to the site.
  • Tips
    • Read blogs often before writing one yourself.
    • After you gain a feel for the site, start by answering questions.
    • Be sure to disclose your employer.
writing reviews
Writing reviews
  • Gentle is referring to product reviews. She defines social shopping as researching reviews and community member recommendations before purchasing something.
  • To encourage social shopping, read a book that is related to the problems customers solve with your product. Then go to and write a book review related to your product.
    • You could also conduct a search on to see who else is reading and reviewing the books and what problems they are solving.
starting and maintaining a blog
Starting and maintaining a blog
  • Starting a blog is daunting. You need to choose a tool and platform, and then write and maintain regular posts.
  • Groundswell suggests writing 5 entries just to see if you have the stamina to keep up with the needs of a blog.
choosing a blog platform
Choosing a blog platform
  • Readers' basic expectations for a blog include comments, subscription, and easy linking.
  • A website must have a subscription system like an RSS or Atom feed. provides information to compare products.
  • Trackbacks typically work within the same blogging system. Therefore the intended trackback doesn’t appear near the comments in the entry.
  • If you need to design a theme to match your company’s brand, ease of creating or modifying graphics and templates is important.
continuity of posts
Continuity of posts
  • Gentle became verbose in this section.
  • She went into minute detail about how she started her blog. Basically, she proposes that blogs be updated at predictable intervals like every Monday and Wednesday. She mentioned that she started with an internal blog before going public. This gave her a chance to learn about post and commenting frequency, where comments originated, how to respond, and how to grow readership.
continuity of posts continued
Continuity of posts (continued)
  • Again, Gentle seemed to state the obvious in this section by telling you to write posts ahead of time or recruit guest bloggers if you were going to be away for awhile. She did this while on maternity leave, and did not lose readership during that time.
blog examples
Blog examples
  • Technically SpeakingA blog written by technical writers at National Instruments to offer a view of the daily life of a writer.
  • Embarcadero: “Code Gear Information Development”Direct blogging between online help writers and their audience.
  • Atlassion Confluence: A technical writer’s blogA blog written by writer Sarah Maddox to provide quicker service to customers of Confluence
providing infrastructure for customer blogs
Providing infrastructure for customer blogs
  • In many organizations decision to design or provide infrastructure of blogging is performed by the website management, marketing, or sales areas because they can track leads more easily.
  • Sometimes blogging is supported by customer support departments because they have a goal of customers helping customers.
  • Sometimes a blog is started by someone on their own time.
integrating user content into your user assistance
Integrating user content into your user assistance
  • Mashup refers to websites or applications that combine data from different sources in new ways.
    • For example, a wikislice reuses part of wiki as an ebook or in an online help system.
    • Another example is InfoSlicer, which helps teachers create curriculum by downloading and re-mixing Wikipedia articles.
  • DITA technology combines the data because the underlying layer is a DITA map structure.
integrating user content into your user assistance continued
Integrating user content into your user assistance (continued)
  • You need to make sure that the community welcomes remixes of their contributed content and that wiki publishing license allow you to republish content as part of your user assistance system.
integrating user content into your user assistance continued1
Integrating user content into your user assistance (continued)
  • The following tools and techniques enable a mashup of wiki and user assistance:
    • MWDumper extracts sets of pages from a MediaWiki dump
    • Special: Export box from MediaWiki pages lets you export a set of pages based on a category name.
    • Screen-scraping uses scripting tools if the structure of the content is easily determine (like a heading followed by paragraph text).
    • Direct database calls to the wiki database layer.
integrating user content into your user assistance continued2
Integrating user content into your user assistance (continued)
  • Guidelines for mashing wiki content with user assistance content
    • Does anyone understand DITA?
    • Make sure the content is licensed for use in a new deliverable
    • Design the wiki with specific tags for collection
    • Query the database for categories, specific tags or templates, and create a DITA map or similar structure for reassembling content.
integrating user content into your user assistance continued3
Integrating user content into your user assistance (continued)
  • Use a DITA map or similar as a query, get the content out of the wiki database, then turn it into the format needed by user assistance. Import the files into the help authoring tool and recompile the help.
  • Other was to incorporate user content includes using screencasts created by users, searching Google for troubleshooting articles and getting permission to repost them, and incorporating wikis that with the author’s permission and proper licensing agreements in place.
  • (It seems like getting the proper permissions and licensing agreements could be a very complicated and slow process. Would lawyers be needed to make sure everything is legal? What are the consequences if something is used without proper licensing or permission from the author?)
introducing comment and feedback systems
Introducing comment and feedback systems
  • Help authoring tools provide user feedback tools inside the topics you author with the tool.
  • Provide an email link on each page to email a centralized mailbox
  • Use a web form with specific fields to fill out. The form can be sent via email.
  • Google Forms populates a Google spreadsheet with results as responses come in
  • Jive Software and JS-Kit incorporate feedback into many online help outputs.
instant messaging and response
Instant messaging and response
  • If your site has “Live Help” links, consider volunteering to be a staffer for an hour or longer. Some questions are answered by scripted response programs written by artificial intelligence programs for frequently asked questions.
instant messaging and response1
Instant messaging and response
  • Gentle lists several of these programs, including:
    • IRCza, a helper robot that is a natural language chat robot for IRC
    • AIMbots, offered by AOL Instant Messengers. It can tell you when movies are going to show.
    • Artificial Intelligence Mark Up Language (AIML) is an XML-compliant language. It facilitates creating chatbots with various personalities and kinds of knowledge. Connecting a chatbot to a knowledge base of frequent responses might let you offer a virtual conversation with responses to a client.
    • (This stuff is way confusing—does anyone know anything about these programs?)
integrating social tagging
Integrating social tagging
  • You may want to maintain tags on your product by offering tag set related to your product or service. Popular social bookmarking sites are and
  • Many technical writers already have a skill for tagging. They can determine which keywords best describe a link of image for retrieval later.
  • Hundreds of social bookmarking or tagging sites exist. Those most useful to technical writing include:
sharing photos and videos for explanation or assistance
Sharing photos and videos for explanation or assistance
  • Some sites offer desktop tools to capture screenshots or screencasts.
    • Screencastsare videos that show the computer screen and are often narrated with a voice script to explain what is happening on the screen.
  • Photos work well for showing sequential instructions instead of writing them out or using complicate 3D modeling software.
  • Sun Microsystems offers a platform for video uploads and screencasts at
    • Anyone with a Sun login can upload video messages or screencasts to share with the community.