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Interview with Teresa Mulvihill, LiveTechDocs

TCW: Teresa, thanks for agreeing to chat with us today. Before we get started, could you tell our readers a little about yourself and the organization for which you work?

TM: I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in International Communications and Technology from the University of Washington in Seattle. Over the last twelve years, I have designed and worked in XML publishing systems in the US, Canada, Spain, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

TCW: We’ve heard a lot about your new project. What is LiveTechDocs? And who is the target audience?

TM: LiveTechDocs is an online collaboration service that makes it easy to share, browse, and review XML-based documentation projects before publishing to PDF or any other format. The service currently supports DocBook XML.

The service is targeted at companies using XML single-source documentation. We believe that both small-to-medium sized businesses and large firms alike will save costs and improve quality by managing their documentation review process on LiveTechDocs.

TCW: How did LiveTechDocs come about?

image TM: While working for a large international company that used a derivative of DocBook, I grew more and more frustrated with the inefficient way my documentation was reviewed. A PDF would go out to reviewers and they would return their comments in all sorts of media (Excel, email, PDF comments), identifying the text in various ways (PDF page number, printed page number, chapter/section titles). When two or more versions were roaming through reviewer’s hands the situation got worse. In the end, I was spending more time linking the comments to the correct text and removing duplicates than I was correcting the text.

My MBA, software-developer-of-a-husband listened to my complaints and developed the solution to my troubles with LiveTechDocs.

TCW: What types of functionality does LiveTechDocs provide writers?

TM:

  • Once a project is setup, writers upload, and publish their XML documentation on LiveTechDocs for reviewers.
  • Reviewers add feedback directly in the XML documentation, which removes tedious hours of work for the technical writers.
  • The online collaboration system allows for easy tracking of unresolved issues with dashboards and emails.
  • Writers never have to worry about which version a reviewer is looking at or if another reviewer had a similar or conflicting comment. It’s all there in the XML.

TCW: What types of functionality does LiveTechDocs provide tech do managers?

TM: LiveTechDocs removes most of the hassle associated with documentation project management.

  1. Managers get a clear overview of the project status at any time (opened issues, issues fixed, and completion status) with the dashboards.
  2. The review process is fast and transparent as it is online and reviewers can see what other reviewers have commented.
  3. Managers use the simple workflow to archive comments, re-open them or collect more information.

TCW: What types of projects would be ideal to run using LiveTechDocs?

TM: Any XML documentation project really, but it is ideal for projects requiring a thorough review process, especially for reviews from different departments such as R&D and Marketing.

TCW: In your experience, what are some of the common misconceptions technical writers have about tools?

TM: Technical writers and technical documentation managers often fall into the marketing traps set by software companies. Before purchasing expensive tools they believe the sales pitch that it will “solve all their problems”. Oftentimes, installed software has hidden costs and creates headaches in setup, training, and usability with non-technical writers.

TCW: Does LiveTechDocs support XML?

TM: LiveTechDocs was built for XML. Currently, the beta version supports DocBook 4.x and we are working on DocBook 5 and DITA.

TCW: The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is a hot topic right now in technical communication circles? How can LiveTechDocs help folks who plan to use DITA?

TM: DITA is an XML architecture and therefore in the same boat as DocBook when it comes to non-technical writers reviewing the documentation. Reviewers want to review in a familiar interface (MS Word, PDF or HTML) not XML. LiveTechDocs allows technical writers to use the benefits of DITA and still let reviewers comment in their comfort zone.

TCW: Many technical communication departments would make the move to structured XML content management if they could afford it. What does LiveTechDocs cost?

TM: The beta version is free so I encourage companies to try it out. LiveTechDocs will be provided as an on-demand, subscription based application. The benefits for companies are multiple: free to try, minimal investment, and you only pay for what you use.

TCW: Some technical communicators struggle to make the business case for change. How might a technical communication pro make the case for adopting LiveTechDocs? What are the quantifiable benefits?

TM: Quality, efficiency, and savings.

Quality: Reviewers see the documentation in an interactive interface and provide more informed comments as they can see other reviewers’ comments. Project managers can track issues and ensure all are resolved before publication to the public.

Efficiency: The comments are integrated into the XML. Technical writers do not waste time investigating the source of a comment.

Savings: No costly and time consuming software install. When LTD is not used, it does not create a cost.

TCW: Are any organizations using LiveTechDocs today?

TM: LiveTechDocs beta was released a couple of months ago and we already got great feedback! A European software firm is using it to handle three technical writers in three different locations. Software companies and technical writers ran trial projects that confirmed the strong interest for such a service. We are using the feedback collected to improve how our service works. At the end, we believe in community feedback to build the best product!

TCW: Where can our readers who are interested in this new initiative keep track of your efforts? Is there a website or blog for the project?

TM: Our website includes a blog that covers many of today’s top technical communication issues.

TCW: This is certainly an exciting project. Is there anything you’d like to add?

TM: If you have not tried it out yet, register at the LiveTechDocs website, it’s free! We offer an online demonstration and a tour of LiveTechDocs on our website and appreciate hearing feedback from potential customers.

We value very much the feedback from those in-the-trenches of XML documentation. Feel free to contact me via email.

TCW: Thanks, Teresa. We really appreciate your time and effort.

TM: Thank you for the opportunity!

Editor’s Note: Don’t miss Teresa Mulvihill at Documentation and Training West 2008. She’ll be presenting, DocBook vs. DITA: Will The Real Standard Please Stand Up?