A Technical Writer’s Christmas List

Santa Claus Reads His Christmast ListI saw Santa in the mall this weekend. The line was long, but I THOUGHT about it. I know I’m too old. I know he would NOT appreciate me on his lap. I get all that.

But I WANT stuff.

I want Technical Documentation stuff. Not products, mind you:


I know the shopping mall Santa can’t give me the cutting edge, cloud-based social media savvy Technical Writing features I crave. So I dreamed up a Santa who could. A Santa who would let me climb up and give him a blue sky list of what today’s Information Developer’s need to compete with the torrent of up-to-the-minute content flowing through the social web.

In my dream, I scampered on to the giant lap of TechComm Santa and asked for not one but TEN (10) things. So, for your dreaming pleasure, here is my TechComm Top 10 Christmas List:

  1. I want 100% cloud-based authoring that works with all browsers. It should have an easy (web form?) way to let me know what structure I can (and can’t) use and it should write the needed markup (DITA XML, etc) in the background while I type. It shouldn’t query a database with every key stroke, forcing super slow round-tripping. It needs to be as fast and easy as the WordPress blogging tools.
  2. I want 100% cloud-based technical review workflow, connected to the browser authoring tool, that can be used from anywhere the internet is available. I want reviewers to be able to comment, suggest edits and deletions right in their browser.
  3. I want 100% cloud-based translation management, where a machine translation pass can output a queue of content chunks for l10n review to a translator in any country.
  4. I want 100% cloud-based XSL rendering, with the ability to add outputs of all types (ePub, iPad, iPhone, HTML 5, PDF – you name it) and schedule the frequency.
  5. I want the published output to be available to customers who are seeking self-service technical support, and thus, be SEO optimized.
  6. I want each topic to have a flat, discreet URL so that Tech Support staff can tweet the URL when a Twitter inquiry comes in from a customer.
  7. I want customers to be able to comment on or suggest edits to each topic so that the effectiveness of the content improves over time.
  8. I want the generated content to have social sharing capabilities, such that the author (or ANY reader) can publish it to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Digg (you name it) to share it with their social graph.
  9. I want robust metrics on each piece of content, showing me who accessed it, when, from where, and on what device and, if they tell us, how effective they found it to be.
  10. I want iPhone, Droid and iPad apps that provide access to ALL of this functionality, so I can edit and republish in real-time, on the fly, as new information comes in.

So there you have it: My 2010 Technical Writer’s Top 10 Christmas List.

Did I ask too much? Can I ask for MORE? Can I ask YOU just TWO questions?

  • Which of these 10 do YOU want most?
  • What ELSE is on your TechComm Christmas List?

16 Responses to “A Technical Writer’s Christmas List”

  1. I know I’m geeky cuz this list kinda makes me 🙂 But seriously, it’s a beautiful list for many reasons. There are the tech reasons, which others will comment on. And there is the reminder that you can dream. You can tap into your creativity, run free like a child, and imagine GREAT THINGS. And that is the start to designing and creating them. Here’s to 2011! *ho ho ho?*

    • A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re past your deadlines!

      Thanks for making me grin this morning, Mary! I know it’s going to be a great year for our field. Glad to have met (and SUNG with) you and yours at LavaCon.

      Happy New Year!


  2. Tristan,

    Two questions come to mind:

    1) What would be management’s top-ten list relative to tech writing? If they’re the ones signing the checks on POs, what would be the key items driving their purchase decisions?

    2) How closely aligned are the two lists; i.e., yours and management’s?

    As a general comment, I think the full flowering of your ideas will come when the current crop of junior managers becomes the senior leadership team at Fortune 2000 companies. In the present age, vendors–Astoria Software included–already deliver production-quality solutions for items 1 through 5 on your list. However, it will be in a future age when a new crop of senior manager will have fewer concerns over privacy of content (items 5 through 8 on your list), the validity of customer contributions (item 9), and the value of creating, editing, and consuming content on mobile application platforms.

    Writers and customers can see the future; vendors can make it a reality. Will management buy it?



    • Hi Eric,

      So happy to find my Christmas list made it to a real life software vendor! Techcomm Santa is REAL! I confess – though I’ll always self-identify as a technical writer, my current position (digital strategist) has a focus on the interplay between documentation, support and social media. I was a writer for years and a manager for more, so the profession is a core part of my current work. But, because I work in the Chief Technology Office, I focus on vision – more strategy than tactics. Thus, my list is not necessarily what the average writer in the field would ask for to complete TODAY’s work. My list is what someone looking two years ahead is asking for, not AS a writer, but on behalf of the many writers I currently support and work with. Any vendor ready with features 6-10 within a year will be well-situated, in my opinion.

      Many documentation managers are so focussed on hitting their near-term targets that they haven’t had time to consider life two years from now. TechComm’s customers are changing much faster than TechComm management practices. It is my prediction that a tidal wave is coming that will wash away most conventional practices leaving only content that is personalized, focussed, findable and socially targeted through a graph of related user recommendations. I don’t know if the average manager would agree with my prediction: Time will tell. But those that see ahead in the same way and take proactive steps may find themselves well-placed for future impact.

      I am delighted by the dialog and so grateful for your questions and contributions!


  3. Happy holidays, Tristan — I’m having trouble keeping up with all of your great blog posts! Thanks for providing a wish list that provides much food for thought for all who work in the technical communication profession — including writers, editors, graphics specialists, trainers, managers, and many others.

    Item #1 on your list is my greatest wish…and it touched on a couple of visions I have. I’m sure that on first glance, these sound like pie in the sky, but I’m not giving up on them no matter what!

    First, that information can move easily among us, those we work with, and our customers — regardless of the platform, operating system, or tool we use.

    Second, that we can realize the tremendous potential of mobile technology not only to access the functionality we need, but to be able to focus on the work we do and who we do it for — not where we do that work, or with what tools.

    Once again, many thanks for all of the insights you have provided in 2010. And one more wish of mine…that 2011 is a better one for all of us and for the profession we love.

    • Thanks Lori,

      I did get bit by a blogging bug this week! Thanks for your perseverance and steady encouragement.

      According to Eric Kuhnen in the comments on this post, Astoria has items 1-5 today. This will be cool to see. I wasn’t aware anyone was offering full cloud-based authoring, tech review and l10n as an integrated package with no desktop components. That would REALLY break some barriers.

      It’s been such a great year and next year will be even better!

      Happy New Year!


  4. Oooo, I want everything on this list, Tristan!

    I want always-on access to the products I document. No fuss, no muss. Just there when I’m ready to write. *sighs wistfully*

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and your family.

  5. Awesome list Tristan! A lot of these things have been on my list for a while now too. But not just for Tech Comm. My vision includes bringing these tools to the rest of my corporate colleagues as well. To allow them to more easily find, reuse and share content from a simple browser login. (corporately secured of course). I’d also like to see a huge growth in corporately distributed portable devices (iPads, stoics, net books). It feels like the paperless society is (finally!!!) actually in sight! 

    Thanks for your many great posts, your energy and enthusiasm Tristan. It’s always uplifting and inspiring. Happy holidays and wishing you a great 2011.

    • Awesome, Lu!

      Sharing is very much in the holiday spirit, right? Sharing great content, and tools, throughout the entire enterprise: What a great contribution for TechComm to be able to make!

      I appreciate your encouragement, Lu, and I’m glad these thoughts have been of value to you! Our field is going to have an epic year in 2011!

      Merry Christmas!


  6. Hi Tristan: Santa asked me to apologize for him. He told me
    to tell you that he knows that you have been very very good all
    year but you just didn’t give the elves enough time to get your
    gift ready. Santa and I am working together to deliver you all that
    you wished for by next Christmas… Just to let you know, Santa
    didn’t come through for me either this year. To me true
    single-sourcing begins at the point of CREATION, at the SOURCE. So
    I asked Santa to make Enterprise Single-Sourcing a reality for
    everyone who writes content; from the engineer to sales, training
    to customer support, corporate and marketing… a single-sourcing
    solution that all will embrace, adopt, and USE! Maybe this year if
    we work really hard and are very very good we will both get what we
    are hoping for… PS: You’re never too old, or too big, for Santa’s

    • Hi Cynthia,

      Tell the elves that I apologize for the late notice. (Their SLA must have changed – They didn’t used to need more 72 than hours – maybe they need to put more maple syrup on their pasta?)

      After reading your message, I can’t WAIT to hang my stocking NEXT year! 🙂


  7. You may want to hang it up early…

    BTW, we must have watched that movie at least 5 times during the holidays this year alone!

  8. That must be one GINORMOUS stocking.


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