‘Any technology you use should be “Googlable”‘. These are the words of Bill Scott, VP Engineering, Merchant | Retail | Online Payments at PayPal, as reported by the amazing Sarah Maddox. (I say amazing because Sarah manages to lucidly and intelligently blog just about every conference session she attends. Having just helped cover the LavaCon conference, and not achieving anything like Sarah’s level of productivity or swiftness, I can only marvel at her ability.)
As a technology requirement, I have not heard this stated quite this way before, but it makes total sense. The rationale is extremely simple. Per Sarah’s report:
When you hit a problem or want to learn something, you should be able to search for and find the solution.
Well, yes, so you should. Pretty obvious once you think about it. But it is worth reflecting on some of the key words in that sentence.
First, “search”. “you should be able to search for and find”. Not open the manual and find, but search for and find. Search is the default now. If search does not return it, it might as well not exist.
The first time I drafted the last sentence of the previous paragraph, I wrote. “You have to be able to search it.” That’s how we are used to thinking about it — a document, help system, or website must have a search function — but that’s wrong. Search is not something you do to individual information products. It is something you do to the world. You don’t find the docs and then search them. You just search. As Nick Kellet noted in his LavaCon keynote
Search is not a feature. Search is a market.
Search, in other words, is not a feature attached to a tool, a system, a documentation set, or a website. Search creates the marketplace in which every tool, system, documentation set, and website finds its audience or fails to find it.
Second, “solution”. “search for and find the solution,” not “search for and find the documentation.” The reason that you want to search the Web is that it is a place to find solutions. There is no sense in the word “solution” that there is a limit on the places or the people who might provide solutions.
Documentation is one of the places solutions might be found. But solutions might also be found in blog posts and podcasts, and forums, and YouTube videos and StackOverflow topics, and communities where you can ask a question and get an answer.
The user does not care which of these they find their solution in. A solution is a solution. There was a time when people assumed that if you wanted the solution to a problem with a particular technology, you looked in the manual for that technology. That is not the assumption anymore. The assumption today is that you Google for a solution.
As David Weinberger says (Too Big to Know):
We seem to be making a cultural choice—with our new infrastructure’s thumb heavily on the scale—to prefer to start with abundance rather than curation. Include it all. Filter it afterward.
This is what it means for a technology to be Googleable — not that you can search for documentation, or for content, or even for a subject, but that you can search for solutions. This is the essence of what the Web is: the combination and integration of all these things, of content and of community. The Web is a colloquium, and you search it as one.
Documentation can contribute to making a product more Googleable by providing more and better solutions as part of the overall set of solutions. Documentation can also act as a seed pearl, because the more Googleable a technology becomes, the more use it attracts and the more use it attracts the more problems are discussed and the more solutions are posted online, making the technology more Googleable.
Documentation can also help pull more of that traffic back to your company’s site, where you control the message and have the opportunity to develop and sustain the relationship with the customer, leading to long term revenue enhancement.
People sometimes tell me that they don’t need to worry about making their content work on the Web because there is no Web community around their product so people will not look for their content on the Web.
In other words, their product is not Googleable. If so, that company needs to pay attention to what Bill Scott is saying. If their technology is not Googleable, a lot of people are not going to want to use it. (If fact, they may not even know it exists.)
How Googleable is your product?