Twitter and Tech Communication

Twitter is an interesting tool. In case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard of it, site Twitter is a social networking tool that lets you share updates (or tweets) with the world. People can subscribe to your twitter feed, visit this and will see your tweets (mixed in with the tweets of anybody else they follow). The limitation, though, is that an individual tweet must be 140 characters or shorter.

I follow lots of technical communicators and increasingly I’m seeing people reach out for help on the software they are using. That is really cool in some ways. I follow several writers, and I know several writers follow me. If I’m having trouble with a piece of software, I can pose a quick question, and one of my followers might have the answer I need.

There is a limitation, though. Since an individual post is limited to 140 characters, it is hard to give a detailed description of the problem I’m experiencing, and it is likewise difficult for somebody responding to give a detailed description of the possbile solutions. While technical communicators generally prefer brevity, you must be able to at least be comprehensive.

Today one of the people I follow asked a question about MadCap Flare and wanted to understand the conceptual difference between togglers, drop-downs, expanding text, and pop-up text, and wanted to know what the use cases were. I don’t mean to pick on this person, but it provides a good example for an issue I’ve been thinking about for some time now. See, I know quite a bit about these four features in Flare, and can provide a good explanation with use cases are. The trouble is, how can I do that in 140 characters?

Even if I dedicated a separate tweet to each of the four features, I’m still quite limited in what I can say, and how can I provide an adequate explanation and use case in such a short space? Plus, if I were to dedicate four tweets, I begin to clutter up my twitter feed responding to a single Twitter user, which is bad form and carries on a coversation that most of my followers probaby aren’t interested in.

I’ve seen several Flare users get product support from MadCap employees using Twitter, and I think that is nice for a quick question with an easy solution. Twitter, however, is not a great format for a detailed question that required specific exampled and detailed answers. In such cases, the best solution is probably to go to a related email list or forum where you can ask the question in enough detail that experienced users can provide helpful results.

Twitter can be a great tool, and can help people get answers quickly. However, when you have a question and need an answer, you probably ought to consider your question, and determine what channel is best suited for the type of answer you need. That may or may not be Twitter.

, , , , ,

2 Responses to Twitter and Tech Communication

  1. Craig April 20, 2009 at 6:32 am #

    I heard about it. I also resisted it until this past weekend. Just another thing to waste what little free time I have. Then a fellow technical writer recommended it. Said she landed a solid contact and possible freelance work from Twitter. She emailed a mini-tutorial on Twitter, along with directions on setting it up to seach for projects that might be to one’s liking. I signed up. Who knows what might happen?

  2. Louis Marascio April 23, 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    Paul, interesting post. Something I’ve seen other folks do is use the website, http://a.longreply.com/, to post longer messages to Twitter. The real value of Twitter is creating ad-hoc social connections and communication channels. I’ve been able to meet and speak with a hugely diverse group of folks via Twitter that I would never had interacted with before. The short message length ensures that Twitter’s core value stays at the forefront, but when you need to offer that longer explanation a.longreply.com is a great way to do it.

    Take care,

    Louis Marascio
    http://twitter.com/marascio

Leave a Reply