Re: ANON: CHAT: How times have changed (reply)

Subject: Re: ANON: CHAT: How times have changed (reply)
From: David Lettvin <dlettvin -at- YAHOO -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 12 Nov 1998 09:59:50 -0800

Excuse me. Nothing personal but . . .
The software manual is not a separate cost center. Its value is tied
directly to the product as part of the user interface.

I am not just talking about help files. I include manuals, release
notes, tutorials, and any other peripheral documentation that helps
the user run the program.

In many cases the manual is the first thing that users see and the
first thing they complain about. It is certainly obvious to them that
a failure of the manual affects their impression of the usability of
the entire product. Ask your technical support department how many
queries they get about information that users cannot find in the manual.

In his wonderfully curmudgeonly book, "The Frozen Keyboard: Living
with bad software," Boris Becker says: "You buy two things when you
buy a software package: (1)the software and (2)the means by which you
learn to use it. I call those means the "information package." The
information package is pointless without the software and the software
is unusable without the information package."

This is getting even less distinguishable over time. As our
documentation migrates on line, the writers become software
developers. They have to go through the same design, revision,
usability, and QA processes that coders do. For some of us, there is
another challenge. The products we design are a symbiotic blend of
statistics and the information necessary to interpret them. In other
words the program and the documentation are no longer distinguishable
as separate entities.

It bothers me that although we are communicators, we fail to persuade
ourselves of our own status, the importance of our work and how deeply
integral to the software and the user-interface it is.

Perhaps it's time for some kind of straightforward marketing
initiative to increase our self-respect and inform others of the
changes our field has seen, and continues to see, and of the level of
expertise required to make information, not just available but

I have to go rant at someone else for a while, but if anyone wants to
discuss this with me, I'll be happy to take it off line.
Honi soit qui mal y pense.

Get your free address at

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