Everything is too much

For the last few months, the team have been rebuilding and restructure our content. We’ve ditched the idea of ‘guides’ for now (although we will revisit those early next year) and after a lot of hard work we are starting to build out new groupings of content. The process has involved a lot of analysis, and we’ve had a few nice little wins on the way, for example; we started using Mindmaps as a way to visualise the content and will be rolling them out as part of our normal planning in the future.

This is the 1000 feet view of what we are building:

And that’s not quite everything…

It’s been a long journey to get to this point, and I admit I have some fear that all of this information is too big to know.

However, we know that the majority of people use search to find content in our system (we publish to WebHelp and host on a developer community website) so I’m confident that with our new structure, which includes a lot more signposting and navigation, the content will be much more usable.

One of the mindset changes was moving away from worrying about product manuals as a construct, it’s very freeing but also quite scary. That said, there has been a lot of work in validating the approach we have taken so we are confident in the approach, even though there has been more work than we originally anticipated (do not under estimate the creation of navigation topics).

Will it work? I think it will, although I’m aware there are likely some gaps that will be exposed that we will need to fill. We will try and plug those as we go along of course, but once this is in place we can start to look at other content. As I mentioned previously, we provide other content types (PreSales overviews of the product, for example) and at some point next year we will go through this exercise on that set of information as well. Thankfully it’s much smaller!

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Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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I can completely relate: Yes, it is scary, but also liberating to get out of the frame of mind of siloed manuals. The good thing, I’ve found, is it’s mainly a one-time learning challenge until you get into the habit of chunking content. On the other end awaits a much more flexible (and dare I say: reusable) content set that is maintainable more easily than the previous content silos.

As an antidote to the “too big to know” fear, I recommend Weinberger’s earlier book, Everything is Miscellaneous. I’ve applied some of his principles to help systems in a blog post: http://kaiweber.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/top-10-what-users-want-to-do-in-help/

Mindmaps are a great idea. What do you use to create them? I agree that getting rid of guides makes life a lot easier. – but I think it’s important to give users that chronological ‘story’ that is sometimes missing in modular help systems….but more signposting sounds like a sensible antidote.

Getting out of the manual mindset is definitely the first step. The next step, though, is to get out of the hierarchy mindset. The danger is that if you start thinking an planning in terms of a hierarchy that you will end up creating Frankenbooks (http://everypageispageone.com/2012/02/24/frankenbooks-must-die-a-rant/).

As your mind map shows, a large content set can rapidly become too big to know, at which point neither the reader nor the writer will have the best experience trying to traverse it via a fixed hierarchy.

The alternative it to focus on creating true Every Page is Page One topics and using metadata to link them together along any and every significant aspect of the subject matter.

Look at any large information set, such as Wikipedia, YouTube, or Amazon, and you will see that it is not organized hierarchically. It is flat, highly filterable, and highly linked.

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