Technical Authors and the right to remix

One feature of Web 2.0 is the idea of the “right to remix”. This means giving people the ability to remix your information and services.

This could impact the documentation department in two ways:

1. Your organisation decides to allow others to remix and “mashup” its application or service. As part of this, the documentation needs to available to third parties to help support their (and now your) users.

2. Your organisation develops software as it has always done, but you still want to enable others to modify and remix your documentation.

So what would be the implications of giving others the right to change and republish your user documents? A few questions spring to mind:

– If your document were to be combined with other information (say training material from a third party) would users have a better product?
– How do you ensure all the safety information and legal disclaimers and retained and referenced in the right places?
– Can the document be remixed? Does it need to be modularised?
– Would/could somebody do a better job at presenting the user information than you?
– What would the impact be on support call reduction and product perception?
– Would they add or remove information?

This is an area where some technical authors and documentation managers will need to establish a policy in the future. If you want to encourage remixing, you’ll probably need to amend your license and copyright agreements to enable people to do this legally. You’ll also need to establish some publishing rules and standards too.

One Comment

John Ellam

A few answers to your few questions spring to mind:

Q – If your document were to be combined with other information (say training material from a third party) would users have a better product?
A – Quite possibly. Many authors do not have experience of writing training materials or delivering training. A professional trainer may be able to convey the message to the target audience better than the original author.

Q – How do you ensure all the safety information and legal disclaimers and retained and referenced in the right places?
A – You cannot do so. You can make a note that all “Important” / “Warning” notes must be kept in the help, but someone may still remove them. I am an author not a lawyer, but if a third party removes my warning & someone then uses my toaster in the bath, I’d like to think that I’m blame free.

Q – Can the document be remixed?
A – Most documents could be personalised for a specific company, role or person.

Q – Does it need to be modularised?
A – It depends on the product.

Q – Would/could somebody do a better job at presenting the user information than you?
A – Definitely, if they know the target audience they can focus on what is relevant for them.

Q – What would the impact be on support call reduction and product perception?
A – This obviously depends on the quality of work done to your documentation by the third party.
If the third party amended it, they would have to support it. The original company could only support their product based on their original documentation.
If they improved it, product perception should improve.

Q – Would they add or remove information?
A – Hopefully they would add personalised information, such as examples of company standard formats.
They may remove unneccesary information, for example if they only use four entry fields on a screen displaying ten fields, it may be possible to may be reduce or remove the information about the remaining six fields.

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