First day at MadWorld 2014

The applicable advice about MadCap products from speakers and staff, the profound discussions about tech comm in general, and attendees’ enthusiasm to share and learn from another make MadWorld 2014 a perfect combination of a tool-centric user workshop and a “regular” tech comm conference.

The hip Hard Rock Hotel adds a flair of giddy excitement – after all, some of us 200 tech writers are a little too nerdy to feel comfortable when they’re treated like rock stars… 🙂

The welcome event started with a tongue-in-cheek video: MadCap’s signature cartoon figure Simon has become addicted to – the horror! – inline formatting. His brave MadCap colleagues stage an intervention to save him… I hope this video will soon come to a Youtube channel near you because it’s a lot of fun to watch!

At MadWorld 2014 welcome event

Product Evangelist Jennifer White introduced many of the MadCap key players in attendance, then MadCap CEO Anthony Olivier welcomed us and encouraged us to join the “MadCap family” to learn and network.

To turbocharge our authoring, Nita Beck showed us how we could bypass some of the pretty, but slow-to-use Flare ribbon features for faster alternatives:

Nita Beck's session at MadWorld 2014

  • Custom templates for topics and snippets can include  much of the recommended structure and formatting. Filling in such a template saves the time to manually reconstruct such structure and formatting in just about every template.
  • Contributor can be used by tech communicators as a low-distraction alternative to Flare for initial drafts which keeps many of the more complicated features of Flare out of the way for the time being.
  • Keyboard shortcuts for many Flare features are faster than doing the same with the mouse.

Pattern recognition elicited a lively Q&A session from the capacity crowd in my presentation. We found that, whatever patterns we recognize, they generally depend on their context in which the retain meaning. From there, we branched out to discuss information architecture and user experience design and how they also rely on patterns.  We also tried to tease out the pattern why my slides had broken the nice arrows and replaced them by the average sign in all places – but one!

Flare projects can support a scalable content architecture, as  Lynn Carrier showed. She described her employer’s project of introducing single-sourcing with Flare to cope with 3000 pages of docs per writer per year. The keys to her successful project were:

  • Ownership to involve all writers and tap into each writer’s skills and interests to assure them they weren’t writing themselves out of a job.
  • Infrastructure to make sure they have the tools and processes in place to create the deliverables in the structure and quality they customers need.
  • Reuse to ensure the most efficient way to single-source content, they carefully mapped out where and when to use snippets, conditions and variables. Conditions are heavily applied on folders and topics move around in the folder structure so they are available for the products and versions where they are needed – and only there.  They use few variables because in-sentence, they create problems during translation.
  • Publishing based on TOC templates and target templates ensures consistency in structure and easy maintenance.

Since we have very large projects as well, this was a very valuable session which gave us lots of ideas how to use Flare’s reuse and template features in a corporate environment. Lynn will have another presentation on the second day to show how a wizard enables customers to compile exactly the documentation they need into a PDF. This is something we’ve long thought of doing, so seeing her solution will be a great inspiration for us!

Face-to-face support beats written documentation any time which is why the “hospitality suite” is so great. It’s like walking into MadCap’s helpdesk as if the smartest MadCap users were your colleagues in the next room.

A good balance between sessions and networking opportunities allowed us to trade quirky, but powerful solutions around Flare that users have come up with, to trade career stories and make new friends among a group of technical communicators as diverse and friendly as you could hope to find at any tech comm conference.

Chilling in the early evening at MadWorld 2014

Well done, MadCap, I’m psyched for day two!

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