When Publishing Becomes Experience

What it means to be a writer at Microsoft

Ah, remember reading?

Maybe my nostalgia is a little unfair. I bemoan the fact that no one reads books anymore — as I scroll through Twitter on my iPhone (or as my curmudgeonly side likes to call it, my Future Box). I collect endlessly from secondhand bookstores and could live inside Powell’s, and yet, as I write this, my Amazon account is filled with books in wait, books in transit, books sitting on my porch in unassuming bubble mailers. I feel as if I’m chasing my fourth-grade Scholastic Book Fair; a forever bookworm caught in an unrecognizable, super-connected world.

It’s in this paradoxical mindset that I find myself as a UX writer at Microsoft. I’m part of a scrappy, lovely team of journalists, screenwriters, video producers, and poets who painstakingly apply their craft to your User Experience. In fact, it’s that pervasive, tech-y, buzzy, does-this-phrase-have-meaning-anymore? term User Experience that recently turned our organization on end. A small change that reverberated through the hallways and left us writers saddled with a quasi-identity crisis.

Our organization’s name changed from Content Publishing to Content Experience.

Take a breath, writers. We can certainly understand your existential concerns. What do you mean we’re not publishing anymore? What does experience even mean anyway? Where’s that point of intersection between tech, language, and life?

Publishing is dead! Long live publishing!

It turns out, Content Experience is a better way to describe what we’re doing here. While I’ll admit to a certain degree of exhaustion with the word — I’m immersed in the tech industry not only as my job, but as a resident of tech-booming Seattle — experiencing is exactly what we’re doing in our digital lives.

We are immersed. We are engaged. We are experiencing design and the words we interact with. That little Future Box in your hand is delivering a continuous stream of micro experiences. So is your PC, and your tablet, and your VR headset, and your Xbox, and your smart watch.

It’s precisely because of all that clicking, tapping, and viewing you do every day that we as writers need to not just publish words, but to really consider them. We think of you always, dear customer, because we are you. We hate being frustrated. We like human-speak. We revel in the joy of clarity. We want to help. We want to make you smile. We want to have a beer with you and ask how your day’s been.

Happily, we’re able to do all of that through Content Experience. We are, of course, still publishing in the technical sense of the word. UI strings inundate our content management systems; they move from writer to designer to localization to engineer, where the words finally fall gracefully into place for all the world to see. The wheels turn over; the cogs churn in the machine. But it’s the notion that there’s something more behind all that — something human (hi!) and thoughtful that’s trying to make your digital life a little easier, a little friendlier, a little clearer.

So let’s get a beer and talk about life and books. We are, after all, still writers.

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