March 2104 - by Stephen De Kalb, Head of Marketing @ TP3
There’s a story doing the rounds that begins with this question: If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about life today?
The answer: “I possess a device in my pocket that’s capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man.”
In the quarter of a century since Tim Berners-Lee wrote his first paper about what was to become the World Wide Web, the internet’s become a global system of interconnected computer networks, 155 million or so websites, and nearly 3 billion users.
Living on that system is information—lots and lots of information. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, as much as 966 exabytes’ worth of information. For those wondering what an exabyte is, an American university estimated that all the words ever spoken by human beings could be stored in text format in, wait for it, only 5 exabytes.
The written word, or text in the form of documents, has been the primary method of storing information since the days of the world’s first library, the ancient Library of Alexandria (300BC-30BC), and today accounts for the lion’s share of information on the estimated 570 websites created every minute.
Now, let’s jump back to those days of Tim Berners-Lee’s first paper and compare that phenomenal growth of the internet with the ability (or inability, as the case may be) of organisations, both private and public, to create, present and share their documents on the internet.
Even before the internet was commercialised in the 1990s, users wanted to exchange documents confident in the knowledge they’d arrive looking the same—including text formatting and images—to recipients regardless of whether their operating system then was Windows or UNIX, their application software was WordPerfect or Microsoft Word, or their hardware was IBM PS/2, Apple Macintosh, Commodore or TRS-80. Several software vendors raced to develop ways to share electronic documents, a standard format called the Portable Document Format, or PDF, was agreed upon and one product from Adobe, Acrobat, rose to prominence (even beating out another Adobe product, PostScript).
With that, the ability we take for granted today to read, create and share electronic documents was born.
Coincidentally, about this same time TP3 brought its information management expertise in the print world to bear helping customers improve the information, including documents, on their websites, intranets and online repositories and knowledge banks.
OK. Fast forward and return to today and, while the carrier and repository of business information (the internet) has expanded and grown exponentially, many organisations have lagged behind in the race to make that information accessible, instead locking information away in PDFs, or Word files or PowerPoint presentations for that matter, on a file server.
It’s true that PDFs have many business advantages:
- they can be viewed on almost any device
- once downloaded they can be viewed without an internet connection
- information they contain can be made largely secure using passwords and permissions
- and most everyone knows how to use a PDF.
On the downside PDFs and other document types are, from the moment they’re downloaded from a website, beyond updating by the business that created them. This makes it nigh impossible to ensure employees or, worse still, customers have the latest, most accurate information.
When it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO), or the process of increasing the visibility of web pages in searches on, say, Google, PDFs need to properly “optimised” or they won’t rank high in search results. Even worse, they might not be found at all. And only recently has it become possible to easily edit PDFs, thanks to the latest version of Microsoft Word and various PDF editors.
Contrast that with placing business documentation online to make it simple for employees to find it when they need it and for clients to find what they want when they want to make a purchase. That’s largely because online documentation equals instant access; one click and the latest version can be available.
Another benefit of this approach is searchability. With the use of unique identifiers, or code hidden within the document, what’s found in a Google search is exactly what employees or clients need, no more and no less, saving everyone yet more time.
And every day new technology—such as Markdown, a plain-text formatting tool that makes it easy to write text that easily translates into the language of the web, HTML (HyperText Markup Language)—removes remaining obstacles for businesses wanting to create documents with the internet in mind, while still providing for printed documentation for those requiring it.
Yes, it would be difficult to explain to someone from the 1950s that today we enjoy anywhere, anytime access to the internet’s world of information and from a range of devices, including those that fit in your pocket, glasses or wristwatch, and soon may even be worn like a ring, shirt or even hairpiece.
It would also be difficult to explain why some organisations have squandered much of that technology to the detriment of their employees and customers at a time when their competitors’ online documentation is dynamic, visual, relevant, accurate, secure, engaging and easily accessible on the internet, the greatest communication tool the world’s ever seen.
A question that same person from the past might ask could be: “If today’s business information is only as valuable as it is accurate and accessible, why are so many organisations still stuck in the documentation management mindset of the 1990s?”
If you'd like to find out how we can help improve your business productivity with our documentation services, please call us on 1300 658 388.