17 November 2020

What is Content Strategy exactly?

Have you ever wondered what content strategy is? Do you think you know the answer? If you answered "Yes" to either or both of these questions, listen to Rahel Anne Bailie in the following Content Advantage webinar:


Interestingly Rahel doesn't call herself a Content Strategist any more, even though that's exactly what she's been doing for 30 years. Why does she do this? Rahel says the Content Strategist job title has evolved over time to the point where it is often misunderstood. The end result is further confusion over exactly what a Content Strategist is, particularly among management.

So what does she call herself? How about a "management consultant who specializes in content". This made me sit up, nod my head, and say, "That's genius". Management is able to understand what she does, and it exactly describes what her role is. Talk about communicating at your audience's level.

The bewildering variation of content job titles doesn't help with people's confusion over content strategy. There's Technical Writers, Content Specialists, Localization Engineers, UX Designers, Copy Writers, even Product Content Strategists. The fact that the Content Strategist function is now being divided into sub-sections like "product" demonstrates the issue.

The lack of an industry body for content strategy and there being no formal qualification is also part of the problem. There are bodies like the Society of Technical Communications (STC), but "technical communications" covers a broad base including all the job titles listed above. There are companies and independent consultants that provide training, but it's not compulsory to attend. Consultants like Rahel have built their knowledge through decades of content experience. 

Listening to Rahel, you realize that there is no simple answer to the question of what Content Strategist is. The answer has changed over the last 30 years, and will continue to change during the next 30 years. But there is one ever present constant. The way we produce content may change, but the way it is structured and delivered is key to ensuring it is useful.

30 October 2020

How NOT to write release notes!

Our company uses ADP to automate the payroll of its employees. Each month we just logon to ADP to see our pay and download our payslip. 

Today I logged on to find they had released some UI enhancements. I knew this because they'd helpfully added a banner across the top of the page telling me this. 

What were the enhancements? I don't know. There's no link anywhere to any release notes, blog post, or other useful form of user assistance.

What do I do? Do I just click on that tempting "Try it now" button. It was tempting me like a large candy bar next to a supermarket checkout. I could hear it saying to me:

"Go on. You know you want to discover what we've done, but we're not going to tell you what that is. You've no option but to try it. Ha! We've got you hook, line, and sinker haven't we."

Against all cybersecurity industry advice about clicking links without knowing what they actually do, I clicked the button.

Wham! OK lots seem to have changed, but what? Things have moved. Color schemes have changed slightly. Some data is displayed more prominently. But is that all?

There's another banner at the top. Still no link to anything that could be useful in identifying what has actually changed. Just another tempting sugary piece of candy telling me to "explore". It felt a little like Dr Livingston going off to explore central Africa, not knowing if I'd live to tell the tale.

Ah good. There's a feedback link. Time to calm my inner angst. 

30 September 2020

US Presidential Debate: A total car crash?


"Watching last night's Presidential Election Debate was like listening to two loud radio stations  at the same time."

BBC presenter Jeremy Vine's summary of watching the first US Presidential Debate sums up a lot of what is wrong with debates of this type. The gladiatorial nature of such events leads to accusation and counter accusation. Last night's event definitely fitted that description, with both sides ignoring attempts by the moderator to calm down and let the other speak.

It is hardly surprising they were so aggressive. The prize for the winner of the election is a job for the next four years as the leader of one the largest superpowers. It also gives them a chance to make a name for themselves in the history books. The loser by comparison is almost immediately forgotten about.

Listening to the debate was hard work. The constant sniping and interruptions made it hard to concentrate on what was being said. This may have been a deliberate tactic, particularly from Trump who is trying to reverse the opinion polls which suggest he's a goner. But it takes two to have an argument, and Biden didn't try to avoid a confrontation. So was Biden right to stand up to Trump's aggressive accusations?

It is hard for Trump to do anything different from what he's done before. Everyone knows how he operates and what he stands for. He has his support base who'll not change their view of him, but he needs to appeal to other demographics if he's to win a second term. Biden by comparison is on the up and is widely expected to win the election. So by adopting a similar strategy to Trump in this debate, Biden annulled a lot of the bluster aimed at him. The general opinion of the debate was one of negativity. It was never going to be pleasant to watch, and it certainly wasn't. It was downright dirty and at times deeply personal. 

So with the media almost exclusively talking about the debate rather than the individuals or policy, the question must be asked if the debate was useful. After all, the main reason for these debates is to allow the electorate who may be undecided on which way to vote, to make up their minds.

The problem is, the very nature of these types of debates rarely meets that objective. In fact more often than not it has the opposite effect. Undecided voters frequently lose interest and zone out leaving them none the wiser. The real winners of the debates are the candidate's own supporters, who tell everyone after the event just how well their candidate did.

Maybe it's time to knock them on the head. Either that or get a moderator who isn't afraid to tell a Presidential candidate to shut the feck up! 

08 September 2020

Is Covid-19 a Human Rights issue?

2020 has been a healthcare catastrophe. The spread of the coronavirus has seen hundreds of thousands die around the world, and millions more affected in one way or another. So the question has to be asked, what has covid-19 to do with human rights?

To answer that, you need to start with the basics. Obviously a state can not stop people from getting sick from a virus. It will spread, but a state can take measures to limit exposure to it. What's more it is the responsibility of each state to ensure its population is protected. Also access to health care is a human right. So whilst a government may not be able to stop a virus arriving in a country, they can take whatever measures are available to them to limit its spread. 

So far so good, but what if the ongoing health crisis is used as a means to an end for other objectives. Any action taken must align with international law, be proportionate, temporary, and be subject to independent oversight and review. Additionally, some rights are beyond limits. For example, people must be allowed to speak out if they think the measures being taken are overbearing or insufficient without fear of reprisal.

The global pandemic affects us all in one way or another, but some groups are adversely affected more than others. The obvious groups are the elderly and those from of BAME origin, and the press has focused on the disproportionate deaths in these demographics. But the virus affects people through:

  • Their mental health (e.g. people stuck at home for extended periods with no  social contact).
  • Disability (e.g. wheelchair users being unable to access public toilets that are closed, or changes to access shops / offices due to social distancing measures.
  • Poverty (e.g. people being made redundant, or being unable to work).
  • Refugees
  • Domestic violence brought on by the lockdown.

All action taken by a state to help its population must ensure that these rights are upheld. The problem is some states are using the global pandemic to further their own aims. For example:

  • Poland: Protests by LGBTQ activists of their president's anti-gay rhetoric have been aggressively suppressed by the police, despite the protesters mostly socially distancing and wearing facemasks. See France 24's blog post for more details.
  • Egypt: Healthcare professionals have been arrested and imprisoned for speaking out against the level of healthcare offered. See Amnesty International's press release for more details.
  • Greece: The refugee crisis in the Balkans has seen many arrive in overcrowded camps where they're forced to live in overcrowded conditions. See the International Rescue Committee website for more detail.
  • Elections in over 20 countries are delayed. See the Foreign Policy website for more details.
It is important we call out human rights abuses where they occur. Sometimes world events are used as a excuse for denying these rights. The covid-19 pandemic is just such an event, and we must not allow states to continue with impunity.

31 August 2020

Oireachtas Golf Society: Ireland's "Dominic Cummings" moment

When the UK Government's Chief Advisor, Dominic Cummings, went on a 200 mile road trip to Durham with his family last May, he went against his own advice issued by the government. The country was told not to travel unless absolutely necessary, and to stay at home if they suspected they'd covid-19 symptoms. He justified this trip by saying he needed to isolate after both he and his son displayed symptoms. The symptoms were later proved to be non-covid-19 related, but this was enough for him to drive to a cottage on his father's estate. Our Prime Minister didn't see this as breaking the lockdown rules, but a later "minor breach" did occur. Dominic Cummings drove his wife to Barnard Castle some 30 miles away on her birthday, apparently to see if his eyesight was safe to drive back to London.

The reaction of the UK public, and some of Boris's and Dominic's supporters, was overwhelmingly negative. As a direct result, the UK public's attention to the lockdown rules changed. It was understandable and inevitable when millions of folk had endured mental and financial hardship during the lockdown, only to see a special case being made for the privileged few. Why should health workers have to live away from their families to protect themselves from the virus? Why should elderly relatives not be able to see their son or daughter? Why shouldn't you be able to travel the ten miles to see your boyfriend / girlfriend for the evening?

The saga of Dominic Cumming's trip and subsequent explanation beggared belief. He got away with a mild slap on the wrist, and told not to be a such a naughty boy ever again. Still, it couldn't happen again, could it? Surely people in positions of power would have taken note?

Well obviously not in Ireland!

On 19th August, 81 guests attended a dinner at the Oireachtas Golf Club in Co.Galway, in direct violation of the country's lockdown rules. At that time indoor gatherings were limited to six people from no more than three households. Among the great and the good who attended were:

  • A number of high-profile Oireachtas club members.
  • Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner for Trade.
  • Séamus Woulfe, a Supreme Court judge.
The fallout from this event is still ongoing, but to date has resulted in a number of political resignations including that of Phil Hogan.
Phil Hogan
The astonishing thing about both Dominic Cummings and the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner, is what was going through the minds of the individuals who took part. How did they think that what they were doing was either right or in the spirit of the rules. What's more, did they even consider what damage it could do politically and socially if they were discovered. Maybe they thought they were doing the right thing, Dominic Cummings certainly did, or maybe they just felt the rules didn't apply to them. In Dominic Cummings case, it was arguably a bit of both, and in the case of those at the golf club dinner, the latter.

The end result of these misdemeanors is still ongoing. Some have lost their jobs. Others have lost the respect of the public. Hopefully no one associated with either event suffered any covid-19 symptoms, but it is the reaction of the public that is most at risk. If folk relax their guard against this dreadful virus, we could once again suffer a total lockdown, see the economy nosedive into totally uncharted territory, see millions join the unemployed, and tens of thousands die or suffer longer term ill health as a result of catching the virus.

Now that is worth thinking about Mr Hogan and Mr Cummings.