Where does your Help sit on the technology adoption curve?

The technology adoption lifecycle model is a popular model for describing how products rise and fall in popularity over time. Many organisations use it to help them plan their position in the marketplace, as few can spread themselves successfully across the whole of the market.

If we look at the technology adoption curve for the different forms of User Assistance (UA), what would we put in each of the different stages? Additionally, what does this mean for the people producing it?

The four quadrant “wheel of sales” adaptation of this model, developed by Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens, is useful way to categorise these sectors:

Stage 1 – Birth

  • This is for organisations  who want to be first, who have bought into a dream, and who like being revolutionary.
  • The technology is new and revolutionary, yet primitive. Products are capable of only a few basic tasks. The appeal and value is limited, but if it is successful it will give its users a real advantage.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Augmented Reality, game-based Help and DITA, perhaps?

Stage 2 – Fast growth

  • This is for organisations who want a state-of-the-art solution. They want better performance and are willing to pay to get that.
  • The technology advances, often dramatically and in big jumps. These advancements increase the options and complexity. Implementation is often tailored to each situation. The technology still has many sceptics.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: DITA, Affective Writing techniques, AirHelp, User Generated Content and Web 2.0 based Help, perhaps?

Stage 3 – Incremental Growth

  • This is for organisations who want a reliable, accepted product, and may want some adjustments to fit their situation. They have experience of using the technology and have definite opinions about what they need.
  • The technology is accepted by the majority and is in widespread use. Although it continues to advance, improvements come in small steps. Products become feature-rich.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Web-based online Help, collaboratively authored Help, adaptive Help and screencasts, perhaps?

Stage 4 – Maturity

  • This is for organisations who want a standard product at a great price. The want no hassle and a quick result.
  • The technology is standardised and has near-universal acceptance. Advancements are few and far between, and may be resisted.
  • The products are simplified, commoditised and the technology is frozen.

Which UA technologies fit into this stage: Windows-based Help, PDF manuals and FAQs, perhaps?

What does this mean for the people producing online Help?

If your interest lies in creating state-of-the-art solutions and you’re working for a company that wants basic online Help for the lowest cost, then there’s going to be some tension. If the organisation is creating something revolutionary, then perhaps so should the User Assistance. If an organisation is in stage three, then perhaps the User Assistance can give them an incremental edge over the competition.

Do you agree with those categorisations?

What have we missed? Let us know what you think.

The “risk challenge” for businesses emerging out of the recession

The fear of risk seems to be growing in significance within organisations. According to Intellect, the trade body for UK technology companies:

Operating risks have changed significantly as a result of prevailing economic conditions over the past 18 months. Companies have been under severe economic strain and are focused on adjusting to a drastically changed economic and regulatory environment.

While concentrating on revenue protection and cost reduction measures, companies have not recognised that their risk and impact profiles may have changed substantially while their resilience has deteriorated. 

Intellect states these changes have had a significant impact in a number of areas:

  • Political and corporate instability brought about by the economic downturn has brought with it heightened levels of operational risk for organisations
  • Organisations are required to process, store and secure rapidly increasing amounts of data, which itself poses a huge risk.
  • Outsourcing has been widely embraced as a way for businesses to streamline operations whilst maintaining levels of service
  • The ‘domino effect’ of supply chain problems means that every organisation is at risk from the recession, both in terms of financial performance and operational continuity.
  • Limited capital investment in many organisations has made ‘manual’ services more attractive to CFOs.

The ‘domino effect’ of supply chain means clients are expecting less risky solutions from their software and technology suppliers. Where a software vendor could adopt a “no documentation” or “less documentation” approach six months ago, this is becoming less acceptable to customers.

Indeed, Google has been criticised for only offering user forums to assist  Nexus One mobile phone users and for failing to provide decent user documentation with Google Wave.

There is also a greater need to document processes and procedures, in order to mimimise the risks listed above.

User documentation is in some ways comparable to insurance: sometimes seen as a grudge purchase and something that can be avoided … right up to the point with things start to go wrong.

However, one of the best ways to ensure problems are avoided, processes are followed correctly and issues are fixed is to write it down.

The “Beyond Documentation” Webinar videos

Scriptorium Inc has uploaded the “Beyond Documentation” Webinar Ellis delivered back in August 2009. In this session he looked at the future of technical writing and likely changes to the ways in which user assistance is delivered.

We asked:

  • Are we moving beyond documents?
  • If so, what does this mean for technical communicators?

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

You can see more videos on Cherryleaf’s YouTube channel.


What can Technical Authors learn from celebrity chefs and musicians?

We wrote recently about the Attention Economy and the challenges faced by technical publications departments. So what about other business sectors that are facing similar problems – can we learn from them?

Andrew Savikas has been looking at some of the ways in which the Publishing industry, aspiring young musicians and celebrity chefs have been tackling the problem of getting value from content.

He said:

“The thing that most publishers (and authors) spend most of their time fretting about (making it, selling it, distributing it, “protecting” it) isn’t the thing that their customers are actually buying….Whether they realize it or not, media companies are in the service business, not the content business.”

From the music industry, he highlighted advice from Trent Reznor:

“[W]hat you NEED to do is this – give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s. Collect people’s email info in exchange (which means having the infrastructure to do so) and start building your database of potential customers. Then, offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions / scarce goods.”

Emerging musicians such as Emily Barker have used MySpace to do this sort of thing. Emily has nearly 5,000 followers – not bad for a folk singer from Bridgetown, Western Australia (pop. 2000). Notice also, her last album recording was funded by her fans.

From celebrity chefs, Savikas observed:

“Celebrity chefs aren’t particularly worried that doing TV shows and selling cookbooks describing exactly how to make the food they serve in their restaurants will harm business.”

So what could technical authors do that’s similar? Perhaps:

  •  Publish some free content on the Web, with further information available in exchange for an email address. You could then mail this database of users with news and updates, to increase customer loyalty and engagement with your products. These email addresses could then be passed to your Marketing department – some people may actually be prospects rather than customers. 
  • Offer premium “products” in addition to the standard downloadable manual or online Help. This could be personalised training over the Web, or a series of animated movies. The Technical Publications content could as a feeder for these additional services.

Help files – A question of trust

Last month, Forrester Research released results from a survey on how much consumers trust different sources for information. They didn’t include online Help or knowledge bases in the survey, so we don’t know how well or badly they would have come out in the survey.

They found independent (non-corporate) information were the most trustworthy sources. Top of the list was information contained in emails sent by people we know. Interestingly, the survey showed that only 16% of consumers trusted corporate blogs and only 33% trusted wikis (such as Wikipedia).

Commenting on this report, Dominic Jones has claimed that, for corporate blogs in particular, “it’s ALL about credibility and trust.”

So are Help files credible and trustworthy?

How could online user assistance be made more trustworthy and credible? If the independent sources for information are the most trustworthy, should online assistance contain links to independent, external sources of information?

The research shows that message board posts are trusted by only 21% of consumers, so would user generated content be seen as independent, impartial and trustworthy?

Josh Bernoff of Forrester wrote a post about corporate blogs in which he stated that blogs themselves are not the problem, but rather consumers are being turned off by how companies are using them. I would have thought that would be true for other online tools such as forums, online Help and knowledge basis.

However, I can’t help feeling that online user assistance is one of the most credible information sources provided by organisations, and that by integrating it more into company Web sites its trustworthiness could be put to greater and more wider use.

PS Happy New Year!