As a technical communicator, what tools comprise your toolset? What advantages do they have over other tools? What one dream tool would you add to your list (something you’d like to learn)?
Interesting set of questions because this time next year, I could be listing yet another set of tools.
The Tools I Use
I think at the basic level, I have the Microsoft Office suite in my toolbox. I have played around with Open Office and though the ribbon design of the latest Word bothers me to no end, I still favor MS and its programs. Aside from the Office suite, there are two other programs that I have used for years, in many of their incarnations: MS Expression Web (formerly Front Page) and Paint Shop Pro. I’m not sure why I never gravitated to Adobe Photoshop (I’m suspecting price played a factor), but I have been a PSP fan since the late 90s when I used it and Front Page to make some pretty awful websites.
There are many social media tools that I like to play around with, too. I’ve been a user of both the Blogger and WordPress platform for several years, and have become a WP junkie. Each new update of their software makes the usability of the product that much easier for me. I use my Twitter (a lot) and used to play with Plurk, but it lost favor the more I read up on Twitter and used it. I don’t know if spaces like Facebook or BlackPlanet.com or MySpace (though who really hangs there anymore) count as tools, but a lot of companies and organizations have their own pages in these spaces to promote their wares and to keep in contact with their customers, so I would argue they are. I also use Delicious to bookmark sites, but recently, I fell into Amplify, a site where you can save and offer an opinion on a web page (or site) and “shout it out” to Twitter, Facebook, etc. About a year or so ago, I started using Audacity to create podcasts, and I use the PodBean platform to upload and share those podcasts and make them available through iTunes. In the end, for me, a lot of this social media tool use is about playing around with whatever I can get my hands on and then selecting those tools that I use well and that benefit my goals.
Three tools that I currently use that would definitely be in my “Can’t live without–for now” list are One Note, Google Docs, and Google Wave. I’m not surprised I love One Note because I’m a fan of notebooks and tabs, and One Note is a compilation (if you choose to make many) of notebooks and tabs. Whenever I have a big project to complete, like a novel, I use One Note to organize every component of the book, from images to character descriptions, from outline to chapters. I have used Google Docs a lot in classes, and I find it a lot easier to maneuver when doing group projects than say a slew of e-mails going back and forth and having to discern which document is the latest. And Google Wave, I could write a book on how much I like it. I used it initially to create groups to share sources, and currently I’m using it to hold chats and “group therapy” sessions with other writers who are working on projects while trying to handle the goings on of everyday life.
Adding to the Toolkit
Many of the tools I want to add to the kit come from Apple and Adobe. In Dr. Rice’s New Media Rhetoric, I used iMovie to edit video, and I really enjoyed it. I’ve only ”played” with Final Cut Pro, and although I’m not an Apple fan (I could be the only one), I think learning these two software programs would be beneficial to me. Acrobat is really the only program of Adobe’s that I have a firm working knowledge, and now just about every document I create gets PDF’d and marked up. I would like to learn more about Dreamweaver (played with it), Photoshop (used it in Dr. Rice’s class), and Premiere. These are the “industry standard” tools, so it makes sense to have working knowledge of them. I have some interest in learning Flash, but considering I’m not a fan of many pages that use Flash, it’s one of those programs I can take it or leave it.
Above and Beyond the Call of Duty
Scripting languages. Yes, I said it. Having working knowledge of scripting languages seems like a great tool to possess. The actual viewing of and manipulation of those languages, however, frighten me. I have knowledge of HTML and actually remember coding by hand in Notepad back in the 90s and using my big The Web Page Design Cookbook (publishing in 1995!) to develop web pages. I know a little bit about XHTML and CSS, but I would definitely like to have some understanding with say PHP and AJAX.
Update :: 7.6.2010 @ 1:30 p.m.
Have to give thanks to Liz because she reminded me I left one tool off the list, and I blame it on the late-night writing of the blog post!
SECOND LIFE. I didn’t add it, and I should have. I joined back in October 2009 for a class, and from December on, I became a fairly frequent user of it. I won’t tell how many pictures I have on my laptop of the various transformations I’ve had since then and all the places I’ve gone or things I’ve done while there. SL is definitely a tool to have considering our move (not really a move considering we’re “there” already–more about getting deeper into it now) into digital culture. And considering how much text, content has to be developed and connected between SL people and between products and SL people, it’s definitely a place where a TCer could make a mark.
My best friend runs a few businesses on SL and I’m starting a bookstore (and more). To get anything to function in these spaces we need scripts to run things and we need a well-written note card. Note cards are a hot commodity in SL. If you walk into a shop, you get pushed a Welcome Card. If you buy an item, often there is a note card that explains what the item is, how it is used, and who to contact if things go awry. Sometimes, to communicate in deeper “conversations” with people, some SLers opt to write a long note card and send it to a user instead of IMing their thoughts.
I belong to a sorority on SL, and that part of my SL life revolves around effective note card writing. I’m community service coordinator, so every month there is a meeting where I have to write an agenda and send it out to the group, I have to write “update” memos and letters, and I have to contact organizations (usually via note card) regarding activities we’d like to do with them. It sounds funny sometimes, talking of things on SL as if they are real, and after reading Longo’s article, I wonder if it was silly to immerse one’s self into a virtual environment as much as I have, but then I think about the fundraising event my pledge line did on SL for Fibromyalgia and all of the “real” people who I know that sent money for the cause or who expressed their own battle with the illness, and I realize that I can safely answer “yes” to the question that Longo poses in the middle of page 148: “Can virtual social connections established within human+machine culture satisfy our human need to connect with other people?”
It’s all about the context and the purpose of the connection.
Pretty long update, eh?
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