From print documentation to online help to documentation on mobile devices, user assistance documentation has come a long way. However, documentation always began at the technical writer’s end with inputs from the subject matter experts.
Even though audience analysis has always been a part of the documentation development life cycle, very little did the end users contribute when it comes to the information and its flow in an end user document. Neither did they ever get a chance to recommend changes or influence restructuring of the documents.
The advent of social media is expected to bridge this gap as more users get a chance to voice their opinions. When you try to access online help for Adobe Photoshop or any of the Adobe products, you are directed to their online Help. It offers the features that prompt you to let them know if the procedure was helpful. Added to this, they also include a Community Help and Support link to a page that provides more information and helps establish dialogue with other users in the Adobe user community. Microsoft always encouraged the use of the interactive Help systems.
One of the recent ways to encourage user-generated content is requesting feedback in the form of comments. Allowing this has many advantages as follows:
Wiki-based content is already successful in the realm of open source environments. While most companies cannot afford to leave the control of their information to everyone, they can exercise tighter control on who edits and updates the content on the basis of feedback from everyone. Community contributions – in the form of comments at the end of procedures or discussions in forums – always help technical writers gather perspectives and additional information from the end users.
Atlassian, a software company based in Australia, pioneered the concept of tweeting its release notes. Every new feature or bug fix is sent as a twitter feed. Thus, users get a chance to retweet or comment as necessary. Sarah Maddox, also warns us about the probability of the tweet or hashtag being hijacked by someone to post nasty comments. Curation, however, is very important.
Refraining from being threatened by the new avenues of social media, technical communicators need to play a bigger role in gathering information from all the new channels, organize, restructure, and present the information innovatively. Going further, technical publications as a group can be built to organize all the information flow from the organization with the community to deliver accurate, up-to-date information.
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