The Long Tail and Why Docs are Frustrating

It is often a matter of some perplexity to technical writers that more and more people seem to prefer searching the Web rather than looking for information in the documentation. It is perplexing because information found through a Web search is of variable quality, sometimes hard to navigate, lacking in authority, and has to be picked out of a big pile of fluff.

Why would people prefer to search the sprawling mess that is the Web when they could look in the neat, authoritative, well organized documentation set? Shouldn’t they, at least, look in the docs first before turning to the Web? read more

Social Media is not a Ship, it is the Ocean

Ship on the OceanSocial media is not a ship, it is the ocean. This, it seems to me, is the key to understanding what is going on and what it means for professional technical communicators.

Writers complain that community content is of poor quality, unreliable, badly written, etc. etc. as if it were something that could therefore safely be ignored. This is like complaining that the sea is sometimes rough. So it is, but it is still the sea, and we can still only sail upon it and take our chance with the weather. If we try to pretend it does not exist, it will simply drown us. 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

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?

The petrified forest

A document may be flower, a rock, or a tree. That is, it may bloom for a day and be dead tomorrow, like a newspaper. It may last forever and never change, like Pride and Prejudice or King Lear. Or it may grow and change over the course of a long, if not endless, life like, say, the way a technical manual should, but usually doesn’t.