Re: Best New Thing in User Documentation?

Subject: Re: Best New Thing in User Documentation?
From: Tony Chung <tonyc -at- tonychung -dot- ca>
To: Chris Despopoulos <despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 14 Jun 2011 09:56:50 -0700

I love the format of your well thought post! Just a couple of comments inline:

On Tuesday, June 14, 2011, Chris Despopoulos
<despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com> wrote:
> <rant instance=first" mode="curmudgeon">
> Ok, so apps are increasingly becoming web pages.  That means the division between GUI and Doc is blurring.  I haven't seen that exploited very well yet.

The companies that invest money into solid user research are already
doing this. The rest of the world have lofty ideas but zero budgets to
make it work. Sadly, that rest of the world provide the bulk of the
examples we see.

> RE:
> "Video documentation and tools like Adobe Captivate get my vote for Best New Thing in User Documentation."
> Do the math: V = U/(t*b) where V is value, U is understanding, t is ingestion time, and b is the bits.  Video loses out nearly every time.


> RE:
> Social Media -- There may be some value in it (them?), but it's nothing new.  There have been boards and forums since before Al Gore invented the internets.  It's called community.

The difference isn't the medium, but our need to cultivate and prune
such tools so that they are still useful. In most enterprises a wiki
is "write only"; most forums hold too many duplicate posts, often with
conflicting information. What if we were to use this data as source,
compile it, and run it through our standard test procedures to produce
workable User documentation? Bingo: help the user wants.

>I remember getting booted off of an HT Lit forum because I made the unfortunate observation that the only people interested in HT Lit were HT Lit majors.

That's funny! I hung out with some friends who invited me to join an
economics club at their university. I argued I wasn't in Economics,
nor was I in university. I was told, "We need real people in there
> </rant>

> So I'm in the camp with (or similar to) help on demand.  Look at Eclipse help for example (yet-again, nothing all that new).  You load plug-ins, and the docs come along with them.

I love Eclipse help. I customized the output of a system to provide
some cool interaction. I see a lot of potential--but thn again, it is
only helpful if the user's common experience involves Eclipse.
Otherwise, I'd want to figure out how to plug into their common
development environment. This includes both software AND hardware.

> The cloud is happening, and products as such are becoming constellations of distributed nodes.

Yeah. I see cloud services taking off. However they are also cut off
at the nuts by ISPs who impose usage based billing (UBB) on top of
their flakey hardware. The reality is that we are never always
connected. I was so happy when I saw an episode of Burn Notice where
the cell towers fell down during a hurricane so the team couldn't
communicate. That poke at hardware limitations made me forget that the
rest of the action was unbelievable.

> <rant instance=second" mode="frothing at the mouth">
> I also say the Best Old Thing To Kill is task-oriented documentation.  The user community is fully computer-literate by now.  No need to describe how a check box works, that's for sure.  Beyond that, products are becoming so abstract that what people need to know centers more on significance, and less on specific tasks.  Product design has given up on determining the tasks you can perform.  It's more that products map out the task domain.

I agree and disagree. I agree that products are learning to think for
you, and that a lot of user research is applied at the design phase so
the product fits the user's environment (see the top of my reply).
However, that doesn't discount the need for task based writing: Only
now, the tasks are more complex, which you mention below:

>Within that you can do whatever you can imagine.  It's as though products are becoming visual programming languages -- specialized languages, but languages just the same.  ...  So the basics for any product are MUCH simpler...  need much less in the way of task-oriented discussion.

There will always be people who need permission to use their device.
(Those are the Myers Briggs xSxJ folk.) There will also be the power
users who leap without a net (xNxP). My wife and I both got iPhone 4s
for Christmas. I've gotten through a lot of the connectivity features,
but my wife uses hers as a phone, contact list, and web browser. Only
when our new car offered in-dash Bluetooth did she even look in that
direction. The need never arose, now she can't live without it.

> </rant>

More about possibilities: This post from last year features some
concepts that IDEO dreamed up for how publishing could change. This is
the kind of stuff I want to be involved with now:


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Re: Best New Thing in User Documentation?: From: Chris Despopoulos

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