By Ari Hoffman
Like a bubble in water, whose structure is created by the water’s seemingly infinite contact points around it, your technical content will be seen, heard, and experienced in myriad ways that will shape its structure. With augmented and virtual reality, we’ve just started exploring the possibilities of these shapes and touchpoints.
Priming the Mind
Imagine that you wake up in the middle of the night, the room nearly absent of all light as your eyes strain to adjust. Too tired to search for a switch, you stand up and begin the treacherous journey to your bathroom. Every single sense on high alert for obstacles, direction, balance, and efficiency.
Hands and arms extended feeling for something that isn’t there, feet sliding in micro-strides anticipating the hard edge of your dresser, eyes desperately trying to dilate and focus to pick up even the slightest silhouette of familiar objects.
Your hearing is tuned to expert level, your touch is as sensitive as a fresh sunburn, and your optic nerves are working at full force to adapt. Though your brain is only half awake, your senses are working on overdrive, and you’re focused on navigation with minimal pain.
Transport this notion to how field-service agents, Salesforce users, and DIY homebodies will experience your words in the depths of “Contentual Reality,” where context meets content (at midnight).
Building a Bridge to Augment Experience
Hands sweep down toward your head; goggles slide over your eyes; lights, sound, and distance converge. Instantly, you’ve departed into a full-blown sensory experience.
Arriving deep into the structure, on a subterranean floor of a government construction site, a year and a half before ground breaking, you find yourself walking past unfinished walls, shoring, tiebacks, and curing concrete.
You’re an electrical engineer looking for the clash detection that your CAD software exposed (where the systems in your design don’t mesh properly). You need to re-route your conduit to avoid the support beams and ductwork in the lower, highly-secure floors, which are currently suspended over the same space.
Immersion into the virtual space helps you to make sure that your choices are not only aesthetically appealing, but also driven by efficiency and realistic implementation.
To gauge the situation appropriately, the environment is perfectly set to the time and place where the actual construction workers would find themselves while building your designs. In your virtual reality, yellow arrows blink and cycle as they guide you toward the area of detection. The room is dimly lit, full of echoes, and full of debris. You eventually find the clash, the parts glowing in a soft red hue, with neon yellow icons orbiting the area to signify the hidden text beneath each widget that describes the predicted cost of the change order, time delays, and product specifications.
With two hands, you reach up and grab the piping, pulling it down and around the duct, push it back up, and thread it through a two-inch space between the support beam and the corrugated steel floor of the level above.
Instantly, screws, cables, and different veneers start to fly into place and rearrange with each minor adjustment as you attempt different approaches.
To the sides of your hands, dynamic graphs pop up to display specification details, pricing sheets, lead times, and levels of execution probability. Spoken words start to relay concerns, recommendations, and fatal warnings. The voice is all around you, as the rest of your environment loses detail, and just the specific task has refined to absolute clarity.
The voice starts to question your thought process to better guide its recommendations. It asks if you would like to talk to Tim in accounting, because your latest attempt exceeds your budget overage. Simultaneously it displays a virtual holograph of Tim, rotating with all of Tim’s credentials.
Just as it starts to dial Tim, you push the 3D audio icon located at the bottom right of your view corridor. The virtual assistant pauses, giving you time to think, to assess, to stop looking at the virtual clock counting down, with dollar signs signaling when your own time in the virtual space will become too expensive.
The idea blossoms, so you re-engage your assistant and flip the interrogation process back to the job at hand to confirm your brilliant new idea.
Success! Crisis averted, time and dollars saved, and the risk calculation shows that your project will qualify for a larger umbrella policy through your insurance provider. Later in the project, you will use augmented reality, projected with special glasses, to inspect the actual construction and ensure that the team built the design to your specifications.
In fact, your virtual assistant just reminded you that it’s your anniversary in two days, and your husband has been begging to go on a banana boat ride with you since November. The babysitter’s calendar syncs, approves the dates, the Netflix account switches to PG-13 only, and the best airfare tickets available are purchased and confirmed.
Ok, that scenario might be a little more than 10 years out, but it might not. Today, we know that you aren’t going to read a 259-page PDF about your washing machine, or ask Siri to read it aloud to you from beginning to end, just to find out how to untangle the jammed sock at the bottom of the agitator.
We (and Google) know that consumers of content need the right answer to the right product version (often without the right question), right when they’re looking for it. That’s why Google places such a high value on dynamically structured micro-content, with its ability to be rearranged in real time to create snippets of information that are sufficient to solve a problem.
In the interim, we have refrigerators that project light onto the floor so that our instructions have more space to be consumed in bulk. Such solutions are not ideal, however, and as the technology matures, we will see more sophisticated and useful iterations.
We already see field service reps with tablets and phones that can augment reality over parts on expensive machines. They even work on printed user manuals where the devices can project the parts in 3D with the ability to rotate, explode, and magnify inner schematics.
It won’t be long before actual goggles are used to augment motors on cars so the novice mechanic can get in the game. So stay-at-home dads can build complex lighting solutions for their poorly lit kitchens. So teachers can engage elementary school students in ways that stimulate their imaginations, while focusing their attention and abundant energy.
Like the virtual assistant that the fictional electrical engineer used, the product details that the help icons rotated around, and the virtual construction manuals that the virtual assistant parsed while giving recommendations, content will be experienced, not consumed. It will live in space and time, and it will be driven by the atomic nature of our decision-making processes.
So, what does that mean for the technical communication profession?
It’s just about to get really exciting! Your content will breathe new life, and your job will require you to manage the experiences it provides. Content meets context, or as I like to call it, “Contentual Reality.”
Prepping Future-Flexible Content
From the earlier descriptions of virtual and augmented reality, we can see that the context is set, but how does your content support that reality?
If the field-service agent is on site fixing a broken bearing in a military jet stored in the belly of an aircraft carrier, lighting will change. As the agent looks at the part from one angle, she might have a dark and highly contrasted background where the light text can easily be seen, but if she rotates around the engine, there might be a ray of light piercing through the rusted steel hatch, where the color must automatically adjust to contrast the newly presented environment (like your car’s navigation map changing colors for day or night driving).
If you think it’s tough to get on page one of a Google search now, wait until everything is read to us, or even shown to us in 3D. The search-result real estate game will tighten even further, as consumers will have the patience to listen to only a couple of results before deciding.
Think about how this changes the ways we implement accessibility and localization. We need to think about the architecture and experience of our content to ensure that it supports all of our users, wherever they live and work.
Think about writing documentation for a Salesforce administrator who is setting up automation for their sales team. Now, instead of diving into the technical steps needed by each sales agent to successfully automate an opportunity, you will be a walking, talking tour guide in virtual, augmented reality.
You won’t look at cells and formulas there. Each account will look like a building, with each contact in their own room, floors separating role designation, so you can visualize the company’s organization chart and hierarchy. The individual rooms will be split in half, one side representing each employee’s work environment (leather chair, minimal desk clutter, three clocks representing different global locations, and an assistant located just outside their office) and the other side, home life (kids running around, a barking Havanese puppy, and a giant flat screen TV playing the Dallas Cowboys with a stock ticker running across the bottom). Do you think that salesperson will have better insight into how to approach this person? Only if the journey is delivered to them in a way that is consumable, contextual, and driven by information-backed micro-content that can dynamically rearrange to fit the situation.
It’s time to start thinking about the experience your content provides and how to design and deliver it so that the mapping to temporal and dimensional context is focal. What steps can you take now to ready your content for this brave new world? What amazing amalgamations can be formed that allow your content to live in every channel, at every touchpoint?
I dare you to jump head-first into your future-flexible, contentual reality and feel it surrounding your customers’ experience along the way. I dare you.
ARI HOFFMAN (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Head of Customer Success Marketing at Mindtouch. Ari’s mission is to promote the customer’s experience, and MindTouch’s business engagement with that experience, as a foundation for growth. You can find him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/arihoffman.