Cheryl Landes is a technical writer and indexer who sees a changing role for indexers—one that is rife with possibilities.
Today people are consuming content in four main ways: through print, on e-readers, on tablets, and on smartphones. In the past year, more people have been moving towards tablets and smartphones rather than e-readers, since the former devices offer colour and other functionality. Many software vendors of authoring tools are adding outputs to accommodate tablets, and more and more companies are publishing technical documentation that can be read on tablets or smartphones (for example, Alaska Airlines replaced forty pounds of paper pilots’ manuals with iPads). Despite the movement towards mobile devices, however, Landes doesn’t believe that print will ever go away.
Digital content means users are able to search, but searching doesn’t yield the speed of information retrieval or context that an index offers. Indexers have to be proactive about educating others about the utility and importance of indexes, and emerging technologies are providing many opportunities for indexers to apply their skills beyond the scope of traditional back-of-the-book indexing.
Partnering with content strategists
Indexers can serve as consultants about taxonomies and controlled vocabularies, which are key to finding content. (An example of a taxonomy is the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia’s Index to Debates.)
Growth in this area is anticipated as more companies move their catalogues online, particularly in retail.
Embedded indexing tags content directly in a file and allows for single-sourcing, which is ideal for publishers who want print and digital outputs for their content. (Landes echoes Jan Wright in saying that for the past decade technical communicators have been grappling with issues trade publishers are facing now, yet they’re not talking to each other. How do we start that conversation?)
Search engine optimization
Indexers understand what kinds of search terms certain target audiences use. Acting as consultants, they can create strategies for keywording in metadata.
Blog and wiki indexing
This area is likely to grow because more companies are turning to blogs to promote products and services, and they are using wikis for technical documentation.
Possible consulting opportunities abound in this quickly changing field. Facebook’s Timeline and Twitter’s hashtags are both attempts at indexing in social media, but one can envision the need for more sophisticated methods of retrieving information as more and more content is archived on these platforms.