How often does a technical communicator get to be the hero? I got my chance recently. Well, the real hero is a mindset that I share with all technical communicators.
Here’s what happened. The other day, Kaia Communications operations director Will Fleming and I were wrapping up our second meeting of the morning, sitting in his car with his Bluetooth system transforming the vehicle into a conference room. The catch: This technomagic required juice from the battery. By the time we finished the call and Will turned the key to convert the conference room back into a car, all the engine could muster was a tired rattle.
Uh oh, I thought. It’s been ages since I tried jumping anyone’s car from my Prius. And last time it took some head-scratching to decipher what my manual said. I love my Prius’s ingenious battery design … until I try to do something I know how to do only in a standard way (and even then only with crossed fingers). My Prius, a 2007 model, has two batteries—one in front that helps make the car go and one in back that makes the car start. I knew there was something tricky about where you hook up the jumper cables, but I couldn’t remember what the tricky part was exactly.
Then it came to me. Last time I was in this situation—November 11, 2016—my documentation instincts had kicked in. After figuring out, eventually, how to connect my jumper cables, I had whipped out my phone and snapped a photo. That photo captured everything I would need to know if I ever needed to quickly get a rattling engine purring again.
Had I stopped there, I would have basically thrown a needle into my haystack in the cloud: 9000 photos, all of them accessible from my phone. I knew that my Prius-jumper-cable photo, like any content, would be useless if I couldn’t create a way to find it in time of need.
I considered two options.
Option One: I could favorite the photo immediately by clicking the heart icon.
If I had gone with this option, this is how I would have found the photo later:
- Open the Photos app.
- Click the Albums icon.
- Click the Favorites card.
- Flip through my 40 favorited photos until the battery cables catch my eye.
Yes. My children, my sister, and I are adorable. And yes. That is the most outrageous wall of hot sauces you’ve ever seen in a kitchen.
Back to our story. Favoriting works. Nothing wrong with that approach. Still, when you’re stranded on the road, you want to hook up your jumper cables right now. I decided to use the mighty (if mostly invisible) findability tool, the one that makes a tech writer’s heart go pitter-pat: metadata. I was in exactly the kind of situation that prompted internet archivist Jason Scott in a 2011 tweet to declare metadata “a love note to the future.”
Granted, favoriting a photo applies a kind of metadata. But I wanted metadata text.
Unfortunately, the iOS Photos app (Are you listening, Apple?) doesn’t provide a way to add metadata text to photos. I had to wait until later that day when I got home to my laptop. There, I opened the Photos application, selected my hero-in-waiting photo, clicked the info icon (the “i” in the circle), and added this description:
“Prius battery cables hooked up. (These terminals are in the front for the 12V starter battery in the back.)”
In case you wondered earlier how I remembered the exact date of my previous battery breakdown, the date was in the metadata, as you can see here.
Luckily, even though the Photos app gives people no way to add metadata text on the phone, it does let us search for metadata text on the phone. So, the other day, as soon as I nosed up to Will’s car and hopped off my trusty steed … I mean, hopped out of my little blue PZEV (partial zero-emissions vehicle [indulge me; tech writers have to slip in at least one acronym per blog post]) … I pulled out my phone and did this:
- Opened the Photos app.
- Clicked the magnifying glass.
- Typed “battery” in the search box.
Boom! The photo was in my hand, filling the screen with its anxiety-busting details.
That’s what we talk about when we talk about the right information in the right place at the right time.That’s how technical communicators roll.
Will later texted me, “Hey Marcia I thought you might find it interesting that the first three articles I pulled up in my Google search said that you could not jump-start a car using a Prius.”
Are you listening, Google?Google+