“Imitation is the sincerest of flattery.”
It’s a fine line between imitation and theft but, looking around at other documentation sets recently, it’s interesting to see so many common items. Table of contents, numbered lists, signposts and so on. These things exist, and are common, for very good reasons but as we continue to learn about how best to anticipate the growing set of skills our users have when it comes to using information, I’m wondering what will become of these standard, common items we all include in our documentation sets.
Case in point; Recently, whilst, looking at the Atlassian documentation we realised that there were a few nice touches that we could incorporate into our own documentation set. At the foot of every page is a common set of links, something that we think would improve our offering as well.
The only reason we can look to copy that idea is because we host all of our documentation set online (in a similar layout to Atlassian). More and more organisations are going this way yet, so far, most of us are sticking with the old, familiar, tri-pane view we are comfortable with.
Looking at how more and more people use the internet to find information, it strikes me that perhaps we need to be more radical with how we present our information. I’m not quite sure how, but perhaps there is a need for more question and answer style information? Rather than documenting how to use something, concentrate on documenting what to do if it fails? Move away from the table of contents to a more graphical navigation with clear signposting to where information can be found?
Regardless of how, it’s clear that the expectations of people when they use information is changing and if you accept that this new usage model is only going to get more popular then it begs the question… where are the new information interaction ideas? I’m not talking about having a Twitter account, or publishing information to a Wiki, and I think it’s beyond the “every page is page one” view as we seem to be getting away from the notion of anything ever being on a ‘page’ per se, but instead this is a fundamental shift of how we consider, create, and consume information.
Usual caveats apply, of course, as I’m well aware that not everyone will, or should, be looking at this but for those of you who are, what does your future hold? How will you map what you produce now to how your users want to use it, will it be via Facebook, or Twitter, or the new Google+? Do you think you need to consider this? Or not?
The last few years have seen quite a change to our industry and that change isn’t going to stop any time soon so finding answers to those questions may not be easy or, in some cases, possible. However, from what I’ve seen some people are starting to find better ways to allow their information to be used as part of a larger piece, and for me that’s where we all need to start looking.
How is your information used alongside other, competing, sets of information? Do they integrate well or are they still viewed as separate entities? I think we need to include everything from documentation and training material, to sales collateral and the user interface itself. We all need to look at how more and more people are comfortable shifting their lives online and how it’s now common place for EVERYONE to “just Google” to find an answer to their problem. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself how many friends do you have online? and do you trust their opinions more, or less, than your friends when it comes to harnessing specific knowledge?
Quite simply, and this is not a new statement, if you aren’t hooked into the mass of information that is available, you are going to lose out. Which brings me back to my question.
To get properly hooked into people’s online life, I think we may need to change things, so where are the new ideas?