Web apps are not products

      1 Comment on Web apps are not products

Matt Haughey is, amongst bloggers, pretty well known and respected. He recently wrote up his thoughts on weblog applications and, as they mirror some of my thinking, I thought I’d expand on this theme here.

The title of the post, Bottom line, all weblog apps suck in some way, was borne of frustration and outlines a few points which, reading between the lines, boil down to the same kind of thing.

Few web applications are at the point they could be considered a product.

Matt talks specifically about weblog applications, one of which I use to power this site (WordPress). I do a little web design in my spare time (there’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one) and have a similar working pattern as Matt; create template then drop in the code required by the weblog application, then tweak, tweak, tweak. I share his bemusement at the way Movable Type is configured, and I definitely agree with him when he says:

My ideal blog engine company would hire some seasoned blogger and technical writer to be a documentation czar, keeping docs up to date when new versions are launched, produce screencasts for introductory users, and provide complete documentation at a stable URL that applies to every version of the product. If an outside site does a better job of collecting and offering templates, a documentation leader should recognize that and link to them in highly visible places. There doesn’t seem to be anyone internal at these companies fighting for the users to make sure they can keep being informed about how to best use the product.

All of my knowledge of WordPress, Blogger and Movable Type (three of the biggest weblog applications) comes from tinkering about in the code, trial and error, and random Google searches. Sometimes those searches will take me to the website of the application, but more often than not they take me elsewhere to someone who has solved my problem already, or has a good solution that could be adapted to meet my requirements.

The information is a far more important to me than the weblog application, particularly as most of those meet my requirements and, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this website, the supporting information becomes the differentiator which will sway me one way or the other.

Let me repeat what I said previously:

Quite simply, products include documentation, support and training, and tell a cohesive story to a potential user. A story that says, yes this product will do X, Y and Z, and if it breaks we’ll do our best to help fix it, and we’ll support you as you learn to use it throughout the lifetime of your relationship with the product (and, therefore, the company).

The really good thing about this situation is that there is an opening here, a wide gaping hole into which a willing technical writer could leap. Most of the weblog applications are open source and would welcome you with open arms. The role Matt outlines is a huge one, but is perfectly within the reach of most technical writers. You know, if I had any spare time I might just try to get involved…

One thought on “Web apps are not products

  1. Dennis McDonald

    Before the advent of open source development networks I could have agreed with you, but no more. Any way you look at it, a web app of any kind — product or not — is nowadays defined by not only its official instances of code, documentation, and support, but by its users and supporters who communicate and extend functionality.

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