Portmanteau: Something New Together
Optimization through collaborative creation
Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. Calvin and Hobbes. Penn and Teller. Time and space. Peanut butter and jelly. Some things are just better together.
As a term, “crowdsourcing” was coined in 2005 as a portmanteau (I love when I can legitimately use that word!) of “crowd” and “outsourcing.” By 2017, creative crowdsourcing started becoming specialized across content and ideas (eYeka, Crowdsourcing Report 2017). Many of today’s top brands use crowdsourcing for things like ideation, trials, and market research. At Microsoft, we’ve substantially evolved in how we create products and content — today, engineers collaborate on open-source code and writers collaborate on open-authored content. This new way of working pulls us beyond the era of traditional tech “community” and experts who give us feedback about our work, to an environment where we’re able to actually create content together with engineers, customers, and influencers.
I can think of many examples where an idea was made better when other people joined in, whether it’s science, art, music, chemistry, cooking, architecture, etc. Likewise with words — so many fun portmanteaus, like blunch (the millennial update for brunch), bromance, spork, and liger. What fun!
Remember this scene from Apollo 13 where duct tape and cardboard saved the day? The team in Houston saw the CO2 levels rising around the astronauts and noted that they were soon going to have a problem with carbon dioxide poisoning since there weren’t enough filters on the spacecraft. Faced with one of the most challenging problem-solving exercises in history, a group of scientists had to figure out how to “put a square peg in a round hole” before the astronauts ran out of oxygen. And they did! With plastic bags, cardboard, parts from a lunar suit, and a lot of duct tape. MacGyver would be proud.
While tech is becoming smarter and multi-dimensional, people desperately want the UX to become easier to use. There’s always something new to try or learn, even when I’m not interested or prepared for it. So, how can content teams scale their work when software is continually renewing itself with updates and new features? The info we recently created is quickly inaccurate or obsolete because a feature has been fixed, improved, or removed. Likewise, new goodies are continually arriving. How do we let you know about them without interrupting your workflow?
Our answer: create together.
Here’s how this collaboration is working for us:
We recently published content about Windows Machine Learning. The engineering team contributed to the strategic messaging, draft content, and APIs. The writers helped with the storytelling, reviewed and edited the content, produced multimedia, and amplified the content through social channels.
As a result of this collaborative effort, our customers received timely info with greater accuracy, and satisfaction for this content is trending higher than other content sets.
We’re also collaborating directly with customers who share feedback on our content. In the example below, a customer identified a scenario where they needed more Machine Learning instruction. Our writer quickly responded to the customer, connected with the engineers, and worked with them to create specific content to address the information gap.
This new method for creating and collaborating on content may strike some as bold, or even audacious. I prefer we call it…bodacious. 🙃 By embracing co-creation we’re able to identify new perspectives and approach our content holistically.
Here are four insights for how we’re addressing this era of collaborative creation:
What: Everyone is an author
- The best people to share info about a technology or UX are the software engineers who created it.
- Content teams provide experts where expertise makes a difference. We focus writing talent on essential info that describes how to enable strategic scenarios.
- Now we create more with code — sample apps, code samples, snippets, etc. We provide editorial expertise to guide quality and coverage, while representing the appropriate business strategy.
How: Create in a collaborative environment — a new business model for content
- Content teams reduce friction by building tools and designing processes that make it easy for engineers to update these new forms of content.
- We respond to product and customer needs using data and an agile content creation model.
- We engage the community to help curate and maintain content.
Who: Writers, engineers, trainers, agents inform content strategy
- We’re growing our skills to think creatively about content strategy in a collaborative environment.
- Writers are expanding their scope and span of control to work across products, not just across audiences or features.
- We are looking across broad scenarios and connecting end-to-end experiences.
Culture: Share values and goals across products
- We’re focusing more on horizontal experiences, and less on vertical tech silos.
- We’re facilitating more creative collaboration and dwell less on total ownership.
- We’re writing more code along with words, focusing less on deep tech details.
I hope these ideas will be useful to you in your own career journey, particularly as you create with others. I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights in the comments, perhaps after you’ve had some time to chillax or relish some other forms of edutainment. And just for fun, check out these other great examples of portmanteaus.