Create User Documentation – Is this really what we’re doing?

One of our business partners, Dr Alan Rae, has written an excellent report on Web 2.0 early adopter research.

In partnership with Brunel University, Alan’s company has been talking to some early adopters about how they have been using Web 2.0 techniques to punch above their weight.

Again, it raises issues that relate to how technical authors might use Web 2.0 technologies to engage (or not) with their audience.

Here are some quotations from Alan’s article. My comments are in brackets:

“They (early adopters) learned to start with on-line conversations, develop trust, build collaborative partnerships which spread the costs of customer acquisition and use the tools of Web 2.0 to build and deploy an on-line knowledge base of testimonials and examples of their work to build credibility and attract interest and referrals…

But the most interesting thing of all is how individuals – often in their second or third careers and often one man bands – use the collaboration implicit in web 2.0 to rapidly develop their own knowledge of how to exploit these tools – a knowledge denied to their corporate counterparts by the IT department and the rigours of having to compete with each other…

Contrast this with the situation in the corporate and public sector ghettos where the worker bees huddle behind their firewalls drinking skinny latte and answering emails…

Because this is the other difference. In the “official” world the role of the IT department is to keep everything locked down in the interests of security…

If a sufficiently large section of the population gets its information and does its business in an informal and creative way, how does the corporate marketer (or technical communicator), ensconced behind his firewall communicate with them?

This seems to be a key fault-line in many areas of life at present. There is a discrepancy between the official world of security, audit, tick-box and prescription on the one hand and the behaviour patterns for learning, communication and doing business that people adopt when they are able to drop the bureaucracy and behave honestly, immediately and creatively.”

His project will produce a workbook and workshops based on the case studies later in the year. Our report on applying Web 2.0 to technical communication is here.



Having said all that, there’s still a role for centralised “official” information.

Having hundreds of people ask the same questions time and again on a forum (how do I…?) is massively inefficient, and exposes the organisation to non-compliance issues.

Web 2.0 technologies offer ways of repackaging and re-presenting the official information in lots of different and more usable ways. For example – RSS, Tagging, portals (such as Netvibes, Squidoo, Yahoo Pipes)


Ahh it’s that old nut isn’t it.

Separate your content from the tool and it doesn’t matter what whizzy new way you choose to share the information, as long as you share it in the way the user wants.

If they want it by RSS feed, let them have it.

As a side note there is an element of ‘being more open’ implicit with a lot of this stuff, and a presumption of continuous updates. Static information is ‘old’, dynamic and updated information is ‘2.0’!

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