By Scott Abel | STC Associate Fellow
Technical communicators must be well-versed in a variety of disciplines in order to deliver the types of documentation experiences customers expect and desire. It’s no longer sufficient to be a great writer. To provide value we must adapt and evolve our skillsets beyond knowledge of the written word.
Take video, for example. Cisco estimates that by 2022, online videos will make up more than 82% of all consumer internet traffic—15 times higher than it was in 2017! And while those consumer video traffic statistics are impressive, consider that 59% of executives say they would rather watch a video than read text.
These trends are one big reason why, in this month’s installment of “Meet the Change Agents” column, I introduce you to Wouter Maagdenberg, a man on a mission to make “publish to video” as simple and ubiquitous as “save to PDF.”
Scott: I’m always on the lookout for innovative and disruptive ideas that can help technical communication professionals improve the way we create, manage, and deliver content to those who need it. I was super-impressed when I learned about your idea to make “publish to video” as simple and ubiquitous as “save to PDF.”
Before we learn more about that, tell our readers a little about yourself and your connection to the technical documentation industry.
Wouter: I started my career self-employed while in university, which evolved into running my first web agency. We specialized in servicing the music and sports industries and soon dealt with managing and publishing a lot of images and videos. In those early days of online video, we even started to stream live events, such as matches, races, and concerts. As a result, I started a separate activity to develop and reuse the needed technology. This was in the pre-YouTube and early social media era, and very limited bandwidth was available. Some time later, businesses started to become aware of the power and opportunity of rich media and video, so my company made a shift and became more enterprise focused. At one point, I decided to sell this media asset management technology firm to a bigger LSP/technology vendor for expected growth opportunity, and it led to my introduction to structured content.
I was impressed by the intelligence of structured content creation and management, but I was also a little bit disappointed by the limited output and publishing flavors, especially compared to the world I came from….and that made me think.
Scott: You founded a company called TXTOmedia that you hope will make publish to video as simple and ubiquitous as save to PDF. Briefly describe your company, and tell our readers what technical communication problems your firm solves.
Wouter: Yes, TXTOmedia (pronounced “text-to-media”) rejuvenates the way enterprises purpose their structured content. Our technology enables these organizations to create, publish, and maintain rich-media-based publications—such as how-to videos—based on their existing structured content, in an automated way, and in most, if not all, languages in which their content is available. The real solution that we bring to the table, however, is to optimize search results to make it easier for audiences to find the information they require instantly, in a way that they like to consume it.
Consumers, as well as maintenance engineers, often say they prefer to watch a video over reading text. Search engines have noticed this trend and are increasingly serving up video answers to search queries. Video answers are convenient to consume, and they rank highly in search-engine results pages (SERPs). By adding video to existing multi-channel, customer support channels, audiences get what they want and deserve—high-quality, up-to-date instructions provided in a convenient format, in-sync with other support materials, and provided by the most trustworthy source: the brand that created the product.
Scott: An increasing number of technical communication organizations produce video documentation, instructional videos, and explainer videos, as well as product simulations and demonstrations. Production of video has increased dramatically since 2017, when only 11% of those we surveyed said they created video technical documentation. More recently, 66% of technical communication teams surveyed by The Content Wrangler in 2019 produce video documentation but only for some of their products. 19% of those surveyed say they craft video instructions for all of their products.
Survey respondents provide a variety of reasons for why they do, and don’t, produce video documentation across their product lines. One of the most common reasons cited was appropriateness. What type of technical documentation content is best suited to be automatically transformed from text to video?
Wouter: Procedures, frequently asked questions, and safety instructions work pretty well, in most cases. It’s about providing to-the-point answers to everyday questions and problems in the native language of the consumer.
Scott: While I can imagine a variety of creative use cases for publish to video capability, I wonder if some of our readers might find it difficult to determine whether their content would make a good fit for this approach. What types of content are the perfect fit for publish to video?
Wouter: There are several options, such as animated and live action videos, but also HTML5-based interactive sliders, which are optimized for mobile use. Animated videos and interactive sliders that provide installation and maintenance instructions for tangible goods perform very well, both in the B2B and B2C arenas.
In this light, we see a lot of opportunity for improving the delivery of instructions associated with machinery, automotive, consumer goods, and electronics. For live action videos and sliders containing this content, the automated creation and localization of explainer or how-to video (or e-learning courses) can be mapped to specific elements of the existing documentation, allowing us to repurpose those components of content as soon as recorded video fragments are available.
Scott: I tend to think of TXTOmedia publish to video as a perfect fit for those technical documentation teams that document tangible products—physical items like consumer electronics, clothing, computer servers, airplanes, automobiles, medical devices, machines, or construction equipment.
Can you provide an example of how a company might publish instructions for assembly, maintenance, or repair from text to video?
Wouter: We typically connect our cloud-based TXTOmedia service to a component content management system (CCMS) and leverage procedural content produced in DITA XML or another structured format. The content most often contains text, images, metadata, and sometimes references to other rich media sources. TXTOmedia technology is set up to understand the relationships between those elements and is instructed to reuse and transform these elements in an audio-visual way.
Scott: There’s no shortage of good ideas in the information development sector, but each of these new-and-improved ways of producing content usually require us to change how we work. What are the requirements for content that can be published automatically to video?
Wouter: Video is all about audio and images, right? So interesting video can only be automatically created by extracting images and text from procedural information. We leverage assistive technology (text-to-speech) to systematically transform text to audio, so a conversational way of writing text is required. Generating attractive and useful video automatically requires the source content to contain sufficient and appropriate images or video fragments for repurposing in the resulting clips. Images need not be created by expensive marketing and branding agencies, and video fragments need not be filmed in Hollywood-style. In order to be of value, images and video snippets must only be useful for the context, clear, and concise.
Technical writers become familiar with these new formats easily, and TXTOmedia also checks whether the media maturity of the content is right.
Scott: In order to help our readers understand what you’ve developed, tell us where TXTOmedia sits in a typical technical documentation technology stack. What types of hardware is required to run it? And is it a plug-in, a helper app, a platform, or something else?
Wouter: TXTOmedia is a 100%-SaaS offering. It’s a platform, so there are no hardware requirements on the customer side. TXTOmedia works like a plug-in to your CCMS, or it can be connected via sFTP to provide speech-to-text and video-rendering capacities. TXTOmedia works similarly to third-party, PDF-generating technology.
Scott: What are some of the typical challenges that technical documentation teams must overcome when attempting to publish to video from existing legacy content? Are there some things about legacy content that might need to be adapted to make the whole process work as smoothly as possible?
Wouter: There are several common challenges. Sometimes we see beautifully structured content, but it lacks imagery, so there is a need to add illustrations to the source content prior to being able to automatically produce video output. At other times the way the text was written was not conducive to being read aloud, so it needs to be rewritten in a more conversational style.
Another typical challenge is learning to write in a topic-based manner, not in the traditional narrative style familiar to those accustomed to producing book-based content, like instruction manuals. To make automated video generation work seamlessly, we need to produce, for instance, safety instructions for each topic that can be reused only where needed, instead of published at the beginning of a user guide or technical manual.
Scott: I’ve heard you say that technical documentation teams can publish to video even if they don’t produce DITA XML content. As XML provides additional metadata at a granular level, it’s a perfect fit for automatic transformation from text to video. But how does publish to video work with organizations that produce unstructured, non-XML content?
Wouter: It’s best to start with structured, predictable content, but this can also be a form or template that is filled via third-party systems. Think of product information, digital assets, learning, and customer relationship management systems. Doing so allows us to deliver content for a variety of use cases, including eLearning, HR (helping employees to complete annual tax, insurance, and healthcare paperwork). It also allows us to leverage taxonomy and customer data to generate personalized videos on the fly.
Scott: How might publish to video help us personalize technical documentation experiences?
Wouter: When technical content is combined with customer data, automating the production of personalized, how-to videos is possible. If you know which customers use what products, we can combine this information and produce a video that is relevant and that explains the exact features required by the individual consumer being served.
Scott: While creating video documentation is seen as increasingly important by most technical communication professionals surveyed by The Content Wrangler, less than half of technical communication shops that currently create video documentation localize it. Among those that do, 47% localize some of their video documentation, while 23% adapt all of their video documentation. Nine percent say that they plan to do so in the future.
How might TXTOmedia publish to video help us localize technical documentation experiences?
Wouter: First, it is cheaper to create and maintain localized videos using our technology, and second, since companies often have already translated this content into the languages of all their markets. If the system understands the document structures in one language, it understands it in all the available languages.
Scott: What are some other use cases for publish to video?
Wouter: As well as making localized videos available for all products and topics, TXTOmedia also generates HTML5-based sliders at the same time, optimizing the mobile experience of instructions in online and offline environments. And how-to and explainer videos can be used by both customer service teams to support existing customers and the marketing team can use them to stimulate sales. Making these types of videos available to prospective customers prior to the purchase of a product helps them to make a decision.
Scott: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about TXTOmedia’s publish to video capability?
Wouter: I hope we take the hassle away around video creation, maintenance, and the associated costs so that people are less reluctant to start creating videos. I also hope that people understand that, like everything, you start small, optimize, and then scale the solution.
Scott: I’m afraid our time is up. Thanks for making time to share with our readers your innovative approach to creating video documentation automatically at scale. I appreciate your passion and dedication to providing examples that our readers can understand and put to work.
Wouter: Scott, thank you for taking the time to discuss what TXTOmedia does and what value we add to todays’ businesses. If people want to learn more, or even test-drive our solution, we are open to providing a demo or to showing sample video based on their own content. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org and our website is txtomedia.com.
Wouter Maagdenberg (email@example.com) started his career in 1996 with a specialized web agency for the media, music and sports industry in Amsterdam. He focused on streaming media and continued to develop rich media software. In 2011 he sold his technology company to SDL. Today Wouter focuses on the auto-creation of video and other rich media content. His company TXTOmedia delivers solutions to transform existing content into rich media such as animations and video for today’s screens, AR, and VR.
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