Posey's Tips & Tricks
Are Technical Documentations Becoming Less Common?
While you can find a how-to video on almost any topic, the text-based technical instructions and tips seem to be disappearing as time goes on.
Last week I received a phone call from a friend who wanted to know if I knew how to perform a particular task in the Active Directory. After talking my friend through the task, he commented that he had been all over the Internet trying to find the information, but didn't have much luck. I told my friend that I was surprised that the information wasn't easier to find because what he was working on was something relatively simple. He responded by saying that the technique is probably online, but that it seems that fewer and fewer people are posting descriptive technical articles, and that Internet-based tutorials are increasingly becoming video based.
I didn't really think much about my friend's comment at the time, although I have been noticing the same trend myself. For example, I recently wrote a series of posts on PowerShell advanced functions. While I was writing the post, I wanted to confirm one of the details, and could not find a Web page to answer my question. I eventually found the answer in a Microsoft Channel 9 video.
This got me wondering if my inability to find a text-based page answering my question was a coincidence or if it was part of a larger trend. And if there really is a trend in which content authors are moving away from text in favor of video, then why is it happening?
Unfortunately, I couldn't find any reputable statistics on the volume of text creation vs the volume of video creation for the purposes of technical documentation. As such, the only thing that I have to go on is my own observations. I have definitely noticed an increase in the volume of IT related videos lately, but the written word still seems to be alive and well. Consider that this month alone -- I have written 13 pieces of content for 1105 Media. That breaks down to seven posts for my Posey's Tips and Tricks column, two feature-length articles for Redmond magazine and four posts for AWSInsider.net. I'm sure that there are other tech authors who are writing just as much material as I am.
Personally, I think that my inability to find a text-based answer to my PowerShell question was a coincidence, not a trend. As someone who spends their day researching technical subjects, I can tell you that there is no shortage of technical documentation on the Web. Given the fact that the written word has been a primary form of communication for thousands of years, I don't see it going away. Even so, I can think of at least three reasons why video may be gaining popularity.
The first reason why video may be gaining in popularity is that videos are easy to create. Writing is a tedious and time-consuming process. It takes much less time to create a video blog than a written blog post.
A second reason that may account for the seeming increase in video based content is that the way that we consume content is changing. This is especially true for the younger generation because of their preference for mobile devices.
To give you a better idea of why device preference makes a difference, consider that last night I had to read several text book chapters for a class that I am taking. I was working from a digital copy of the text book, and read the chapters on a computer with a 27-inch monitor. By the time I had finished, several hours had passed and my eyes were definitely tired. So with that in mind, imagine what the experience might have been like had I been using my smartphone. It probably would not have been practical to read 100+ pages on a small screen device. Video may be a better medium for consumption on such devices.
Video also lends itself better to those who like to multitask. Reading requires focus, and while it does require some degree of focus to watch a video, video lends itself to multitasking, whereas reading a book does not. I have seen my nephew for example, answering text messages and doing who knows what else while a video plays in the background.
Finally, a third reason why video-based technical content may be becoming more common is because typing is more challenging than it used to be. While it's true that I once wrote an entire book chapter on my phone, that's not what I'm talking about. I own several laptops and they are all equipped with the "chicklet-style" keyboards. Maybe it's the way that I type, but all of these machines have a chronic tendency to omit keystrokes. Although laptop keyboards will work in a pinch, they aren't really conducive to writing long articles (neither are on-screen keyboards found on phones or tablets). I usually use an aftermarket keyboard or dictation software when I write. Conversely, almost every device has a camera these days, and video can be recorded on demand.
As previously mentioned, I am not predicting the demise of the written word, nor do I have anything against video-based content. For the time being, I think that at least as technical content goes, video and text-based content will continue to exist side by side.
Eventually, I think that we will probably see something of a merger between the two formats. I took an online class last year and most of the class was based on video. The thing that made these videos unique, however, is that they each had an embedded, time stamped transcript. The transcript was searchable, and you could click on any word in the transcript to go to the exact spot within the video where the word was spoken. This type of format would be great for technical content because it would provide all of the benefits of video, but with the searchability of text.
In any case, I see little evidence that the written word is going away. Instead, I think that the ways in which information is digested are evolving, just as they always have.
Brien Posey is a 20-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.