Too Big to Browse; Too Small to Search

Findability continues to be the bete noire of technical communication. This may be a parallax error, but it seems that findability is more of a problem in technical communication than in other fields. The reason, I suspect, is that many technical documentation suites are too big to browse but too small to search.

I have commented before on the somewhat counter-intuitive phenomenon that on the Web it is easier to find a needle in a haystack (The Best Place to Find a Needle is a Haystack). This may be counterintuitive, but it is easy enough to explain: search (if it is any more sophisticated than simple string matching) is essentially a statistical analysis function. A search engine works by discovering a statistical correlation between a search string and a set of resources in its index. read more

Tech Comm’s Place in the Choir

All God’s creatures got a place in the choir
Some sing low and some sing higher
Bill Staines

Birds on a wire

A place in the choir

Traditionally, technical manuals have been written as if they were the only source of information on a product. Of course, the manual was never really the only source. There have always been neighbors, friends, colleagues, retailers, user’s groups, and professional associations to learn from as well.  But access to these other sources of information was not universal, and those groups themselves had to learn from somewhere — information had to propagate through the network before it became available to the ordinary user, and the propagation was usually quite slow. It was reasonable, therefore, for users to look on the documentation as their principle source of information, and it was reasonable and necessary for the documentation to be written as if it were the sole source of information on a product. Not any more. read more

Approximation, Correction, and Tech Comm

Charge of the Light Brigade

Charge of the Light Brigade

At the Battle of Balaclava, an order reached a brigade of light cavalry to take the Russian guns. The general who sent the order was referring to a small artillery position that had been abandoned. But the commander of the light brigade could not see those guns. He could only see the main Russian battery at the end of the valley. He charged, and the light brigade was cut to pieces. The Charge of the Light Brigade can tell us something pretty interesting about the development of technical communication today. read more

Is Help 2.0 any different from Usenet 1.0?

This afternoon, I watched Scott Abel’s webinar What’s Next? Socially-Enabled User Assistance, Interactive Documentation, and Location-Aware Help. It was a tour de force tour of the past, present, and potential future of computer mediated help. But despite all the cool stuff that Scott covered — and he covered a lot of cool stuff — I found myself asking this: how is Help 2.0 different from Usenet 1.0?