Perspective


I first heard "Born to Run" as a senior in high school. Soon after I heard it, I bumped into a good friend of mine in the halls between classes and said I had heard this great new song. When he asked what it was, I told him "Born to Run".


"Yeah? Bruce Springsteen. It's not new. It's been out for a few years."


News to me. Who knew that Frankie Goes To Hollywood had done a cover? In fact, Welcome to the Pleasuredome had quite a few covers on it right beside the original tracks that had appeared on MTV.


"Listen to the original. Frankie's version is garbage." Later that week he loaned me a scratched-up vinyl Sprinsteen album which I threw on my father's turntable. The turntable reserved for Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck and Charlie Parker. He wouldn't notice.


So I heard the original, and the rest of the album. Bruce rumbled out the lyrics and the E-Street band backed him up. It is a classic, I suppose, and deserves a room in the Western Canon and a spot in the retro-trendy playlist at Starbucks, but it isn't the Born to Run to me. The new-wavy, electro-synth version sung by the guys in Frankie Goes To Hollywood is Born to Run. I heard it there first and appreciate the arrangement over that of Bruce's. And even though Frankie was a flash in the 1980's pan, I still spin the album (cd) at least once a month. 


Perspective. If you are hooked on the John Connor's version of Beethoven's 9th, you will be surprised listening to the same symphony directed by another with the same complement of instruments. You may be more surprised when it is played with a "period" orchestra and instruments. It is the same -- the lyrics play out the same -- but different in that crescendos rise more slowly or rapidly, trumpets play out with more or less force, that slight pause before the fourth bar in the first movement is longer or non-existent. It is all a matter of perspective and depends largely on the first version you heard. And if you have seen A Clockwork Orange, you know that movies and other media can dramatically alter your perspective.


How does this apply to software documentation?


When approaching the BizTalk Server 2006 documentation, an individual reader has a vast set of experiences that shape her perspective. For example, she may have 10 years of enterprise integration experience working with legacy systems in the healthcare field and expects to find plenty of information about processing and transforming hierarchical flat-files, routing based on small sets of data elements, batching and debatching, and functional acknowledgements. She may also have biases against specific applications, patterns and practices and will tend to downplay content that emphasizes solutions with those components. This is her perspective. It is a different perspective from the newby, the seasoned professional looking to study for the BizTalk Server 2006 certification exam, or the consultant looking to solve a problem at a small accounting firm.


Readers have a conception of "workflow" and "enterprise integration" even if they don't use those labels. Each reader has a perspective and most have heard about and worked on projects with "content based routing", "mapping", "translation", security and the like before. When they approach BizTalk Server, each expects a different riff on the same tune. For readers with no EAI experience, they still open the docs with a perspective that the product "links systems together", "reduces foobars" and other snips from the press, marketing material, magazine articles, and user groups.


Do we capture enough of these different perspectives in the general documentation?  More importantly, does it make sense to write individual documents geared for a specific perspective? In other words, does it make sense for Starbucks to offer me a CD consisting of songs covered exclusively by bands in the mid-80's versus a compilation of the original artists or covers sung by folk singers from the 60's? Does it make sense that we offer BizTalk content geared for the healthcare consultant, the newby with little EAI experience, the newby with years of workflow software engineering experience but no BizTalk experience, the XML expert, the mid-level C# developer or the mid-level Visual Basic.NET developer?


It probably does.


MTV did sell me on Born in the USA even though I never bought the album. So Springsteen fans, don't fill my email with hate mail. And I do own a couple albums by War but not Gerry and the Pacemakers. So relax.

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