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Irene Wong reports: <<A few people I know are talking about software
from Rightnow which adds a question and answer capacity onto a website.
It's being sold as an answer to the problem of huge numbers of phone
calls to call centres. Commonly asked questions are noted and answers
are built up from content and questions. I imagine some kind of
artificial intelligence is used in what must be fairly sophisticated
What you're talking about is an automated means of building an FAQ
("frequently asked questions") list. The biggest problem with such
things is that they're like flea markets: lots of interesting stuff,
much of it quite valuable, but you'll have to be more patient than most
people to find what you're looking for.
I've always wondered why people don't devote the same effort to
creating FAQs that they devote to other important forms of
documentation. In fact, I got so pissed off at the generally abysmal
quality of the FAQs I'd dealt with that I put together an article
making several pointed but simple suggestions on how to create a good
one. It's called "Just the FAQs", and will appear in the May 2004 issue
of _Intercom_ magazine. If you're an STC member, you'll see it in a
couple months; if not, you can get a copy via your library or borrow
one from an STC member in your city.
The software you mentioned sounds like a potentially helpful way to
_gather_ the necessary information. But it won't take the place of some
human input into organizing and presenting that information any more
than concordance software can generate an index. No broadly available
software yet exists that understands context and synonyms, and until
such software becomes available, we'll still need humans to organize
and contextualize information.
<<Is this really a useful form of communications where users get an
answer to a fact but may not get all the facts they need as they would
if they read/accidentally glanced at surrounding text?>>
If you design an FAQ intelligently, with a table of contents, topics
organized by subject area, cross-references, hyperlinks, and maybe even
an index, the FAQ can be every bit as helpful as other good forms of
documentation. If, on the other hand, you simply dump the information
online and rely on a search engine, you're going to fail. Search engine
technology is rarely a good choice in my experience; anyone who lacks
research skills--not to mention skilled searchers who simply use
different terms than you use--will fail more often than they succeed,
and will give up in frustration.
--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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