Microsoft has announced the preview release of its documentation service, https://docs.microsoft.com, which currently provides content for its Enterprise Mobility products.
“We interviewed and surveyed hundreds of developers and IT Pros and sifted through your website feedback over the years on UserVoice. It was clear we needed to make a change and create a modern web experience for content…For years customers have told us to go beyond walls of text with feature-level content and help them implement solutions to their business problems.” (source)
The key features are:
“To improve content readability, we changed the site to have a set content width.”
“We’ve also increased the font size for the left navigation and the text itself.”
Including an estimated reading time
Adding a publication date
It is now based around sections on evaluating, getting started, planning, deploying, managing and troubleshooting
Shortened article length per page
Responsive Web Design
“Every article has an Edit button that takes you to the source Markdown file in GitHub, where you can easily submit a pull request to fix or improve content.”
To provide comments and annotations on all of the articles
Although it doesn’t mention it in its announcement, Microsoft has also made changes to the style of its topic headings and content. There’s frequent use of words and phrases such as “protect”, “discover” and “understand and explore”.
We’ve yet to look at the site in detail, but initial impressions are very positive.
“Lately we’ve been asking ourselves “what else could we do to improve developers’ lives on the internet?”. Jeff’s original announcement of Stack Overflow said this:
There’s far too much great programming information trapped in forums, buried in online help, or hidden away in books that nobody buys any more. We’d like to unlock all that. Let’s create something that makes it easy to participate, and put it online in a form that is trivially easy to find.
Stack Overflow has made all of that a lot better, but there’s one area that is still hanging around: Documentation. Just like Q&A in 2008, Documentation in 2015 is something every developer needs regularly, and something that by most appearances stopped improving in 1996. We think, together, we can make it a lot better….
…We’re hoping we can improve documentation, not just move it under the stackoverflow.com domain.”
It will be fascinating to see how this project progresses – what issues they encounter, how they tackle these, and if the solutions work.
This was a surprise, as Atlassian has been a strong advocate for having user comments appended to user documentation. Sarah Maddox, when she was working at Atlassian, posted the reasons why the company encouraged comments on her personal blog:
Last night, I saw Joel Spolsky speak at a London Enterprise Technology Meetup, held at the London School of Economics. Joel is one of the founders of Stack Overflow, a hugely popular question-and-answer website on the topic of computer programming. He also claimed in a blog post back in April 2000, no-one reads manuals (see our article If no-one reads the manual, then why bother?).
So I asked him about his thoughts on the relationship between question-and-answer sites like Stack Overflow and traditional user documentation.
Last night I saw presentations at the Content Strategy London Meetup from Rob Hinchcliffe (a community strategist), and Sara Treewater (Content project lead for Citi Private Bank’s Web and Mobile team) in which they both mentioned relationship marketing and how it was influencing content strategy.
If your marketing and sales strategy focuses on developing a relationship with your customers and prospects, it makes sense your pre- and post- sales content (such as user documentation) sustains and builds relationships as well. Joe Gollner has called this “relationship content”. This may mean giving people an opportunity to comment, and supplement, your user documentation. In other words, moving from a monologue to a dialogue.
This can be challenging for organisations, particularly for those where there are compliance and regulatory considerations. However, there may be little choice but to do this. Rob Hinchcliffe said in his presentation that, today, content is everywhere. There are unofficial information sources where Google will direct users, if you do not provide content that’s relevant and useful.
If this relationship goes further, you can gain a significant insight into how each individual customer and prospect behaves, and start to disrupt your industry sector. We discuss this in our latest post on the STC’s Notebook blog (we’ll post a link once the post has been published).