11 thoughts on “Moving Between the Agora and the Desert

  1. Ellis Pratt

    I think what is happening is that “social norms” (“social proof”) are influencing people.

    If you get feedback on what everyone else is doing (social proof) through the comments and dialogue, then that’s going to be very attractive to people. If you have the opportunity to be listened to (= you have an identity), then it’s even more compelling.

    Can’t you add the ability to comment at the bottom of each Help page?

    1. Tom Johnson

      Thanks for your comment, Ellis. Re adding comments at the bottom of each help page, you can’t do that in Flare unless you have Feedback Server. I’m guessing future versions may provide more social tools, but not at the moment. At any rate, I’m not sure if I want comments below each help topic. It requires a lot of support to respond to comments. I’d rather direct people to the forums for questions.

    2. Paul Pehrson

      I think that one problem with comments at the bottom of help topics is keeping the comments on the topic of the help system. It seems that users often want to rant about perceived missing features, or functionality that doesn’t work like they expect, or some other comment not directly related to the help topic itself.

      If people used comments to specifically talk about the help topic, and provide useful information that is relevant or might be helpful, then that would be a good thing.

      I have watched people leaving comments even on MadCap’s knowledge base (integrated with Feedback server), and it seems that almost universally the comments are really support requests, not feedback on the documentation.

      If you want social commenting on documentation, how do you keep it on-topic so that the comment thread is useful to other users who come after?

      1. Jeff Coatsworth

        Paul, I think it comes down to moderating – which then circles back to what Tom was saying about it takes a lot of support to respond to comments. It usually is a matter of resources – most of us don’t have the time to stay on top of what needs to be added to our help, let alone ride herd on a bunch of thinly-disguised support requests.

        1. Paul Pehrson

          I wonder if it doesn’t boil down to providing a comments form, but including information that specifically states that the comments will be read but not responded to, and providing a link for Support resources. In this case, all comments would be sent back to the doc team, but they don’t need to respond to the individual questions, but can take them in aggregate to make changes to the docs.

      2. Tom Johnson

        My experience matches Paul’s. When users see a comment form, they use it for support purposes covering a variety of topics. It turns the tech writer into a part-time support person (or full-time, if there are a lot of questions). If you don’t respond to the comments, it looks bad. If you do respond, it sucks up all your time.

        If you can leverage the comments to guide your documentation efforts (which you should of course do), then comments can be a big help. But unless you’re able to stay on top of it all, you might have a better experience by routing users to a common forum where other people besides the technical writer can respond.

  2. Mark Baker

    People will take the path of least resistance. They profoundly do not care about your organizational schema, so if you give them a place to type, they will type what they want to type and press enter. The question is, what do you do with that comment once you have it?

    You do not have to preserve their comment in the place they typed it. Just because the comment was typed into a form on a help page does not mean it has to be married to that help page.

    What you could do (if you have the appropriate structure and metadata in place) is to take that comment and insert it into a new forum thread. (Obviously, you need to show the author clearly that this is what you have done, so they know where to find it and where to look for updates, though they should be informed of updates by email, just like any forum.)

    Conversely, if there is a forum thread that develops on a topic related to a help topic, that forum tread should be made visible in some way to a user viewing the help topic.

    This is really a case in point of what I was talking about in http://everypageispageone.com/2012/12/03/time-for-content-management-to-come-out-of-the-closet/. We have to get past the notion that content simply exists where the author places it. Content should appear where it is relevant, regardless of where the author created it. We just have to get past the idea that content is organized by authors by hand. We have to start seeing it as something that is organized by algorithms based on metadata.

  3. Ferg

    One of the most effective ways I’ve found to immerse yourself in user feedback is to monitor your product’s support queue. In some cases, that may be an online discussion forum. In many cases, the organization will have a support team that takes calls from customers who are having problems. Reviewing those support tickets can help identify problem areas that you may be able to help address with help content.

  4. Roger Sharp

    Tom, great article. So are the comments. Forums, user feedback in Help, and wikis all have issues of time, moderation, iffy suggestions & guesses, ineffective search engines, off topic comments, etc.. Service/Support Depts are a great source of direct user needs and, hopefully, Service-supplied solutions. (As a lone writer I tend to rely on the Service Dept first.) Getting any valuable user feedback into the original Help, as you suggest, seems ideal. If there is a way to partially automate this, even better.

    As a user, I always check the Help first (static or not). They have the most authority and it is the quickest. Then if I must, I travel into the agora. It’s just like when I need a spigot washer, I go to the fastest source first. I first go to the corner HW store; if they don’t have it, I go to Home Depot or Lowes, then online to the spigot manufacturer.
    Just because most people go to the big boxes first (i.e., social norms) won’t stop me from going to the fastest, easiest, most authoratative source first, even tho I do end up getting a lot of answers from forums (ooh the pounding).

Comments are closed.