“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).
One of the challenges organisations face is how to create a system that unifies all the different ways its staff communicate information. That’s because conversation (written and oral) can be very different from instructional information.
For example, conversations are often reflective, insightful and repetitive, whereas instructions are typically results-driven, concise and commanding.
We can see from the video clip below, by storyteller Daniel Morden, how the nature of oral storytelling differs from the written word:
If we cannot access both forms of communication, we’re getting an incomplete picture. Somehow an organisation needs to provide the correct form of communication to staff and end users at the right time.
Although Search can provide part of the answer, there’s also a need to provide links to the different “channels”. This means, in addition to technical solutions (which look to unify different forms of information), someone needs to curate and edit the content.
I’m not sure this challenge will ever be fully resolved, but it’s a goal worth pursuing in nearly every organisation.