What does Stack Overflow’s success mean for traditional User Assistance?

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.

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Proving your technical content is the most important content on your website

In yesterday’s post, How technical content on the Web is turning traditional marketing strategy on its head, we discussed the importance of technical content to today’s marketing funnel. You might be thinking, show me more evidence.

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How technical content on the Web is turning traditional marketing strategy on its head

Kathy Sierra famously summed up most marketing departments’ approach to content in this slide:
kathy sierra - How we treat customers

To paraphrase her, the website and brochure are a thing of beauty, while the user manual is a thing of boredom.

Today, the way people use the Internet means this approach to marketing needs to change

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Webinar: Towards an Agile authoring methodology – learning from Lean

Agile programming has grown in popularity and it has led to new challenges for those involved in providing user assistance for those applications. So is it time for technical authors to develop an equivalent method for developing content for these projects? Is it time to develop an “Agile authoring” methodology? Also, if we want to move away from a hand-crafted approach to developing content and towards a more engineering-like approach, what can we learn from the latest techniques being applied in manufacturing?

Such a method needs to complement Agile programming, but it may be a mistake to take Agile programming as the starting point for developing it. The developers of Agile drew upon the principles of Lean manufacturing, and perhaps technical authors should do the same.

In this webinar, we will explain how the principles of Lean manufacturing can be applied to developing and managing content. It’s a way of writing that focuses on maximizing the value to the user and minimizing waste. It involves measuring the processes and value of what has been delivered so that iterative improvements can be made over time.

This webinar will be hosted by the Society for Technical Communication.

Promo code: WS030513

Register for Towards an Agile Authoring Methodology – Learning From Lean

New design models for providing end user Help

Ray Gallon has recently completed a series of webinars looking at new models for providing end user Help (A Cognitive Design for User Assistance).

In the third webinar, Ray looked at how people learn today and he suggested a new approach for the future. He used The Common European Framework of Reference for Language‘s description of people’s levels of competences to outline the different ways organisations help people to learn.
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Webinar: Planning User Documentation When You Are a Startup Business

In conjunction with The Society for Technical Communication, we’ll be presenting the webinar Planning User Documentation When You Are a Startup Business on Tuesday, 19th February.

In this presentation, we’ll look at how to plan a user documentation project when you’re working for a startup technology company. Working in this environment gives you the opportunity to work “from a clean sheet,” but it also has its own challenges of working in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment.
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Webinar – Planning user documentation when you’re a startup business

We’re currently working on 40 minute webinar on:

  • Planning user documentation when you’re a startup business

If you have any questions on this topic, you can email these to us prior to the event. We’ll do our best to make sure we address them in the webinar.

Send us an email with your question

Details on the date for this webinar will be published in the Events section of the Cherryleaf Web site.

 

How can you tell if it’s only beginners reading your user guides and online Help?

One way of checking to see if only new users are using the technical documentation for a product is to check if there a correlation between the number of users reading the user documentation and the sales of the product.

For example, if the product is following the classic “Bell curve”, and users only need help at a certain moment in time, then the number of users should follow the same pattern. You should see a rise and fall in the number of readers:

Rogers' technology adoption curve

Rogers' technology adoption curve

You can use analytics (and Web analytics in particular), to measure the number of users of any online documentation that you may have. If you don’t currently use Web analytics to measure your user documentation, then an alternative is to use Google Trends to see if there is a correlation between the number of people searching for help for your product and the number of product sales.