Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Does third-party help count?
A thread on the always-excellent TidBITS-Talk mailing list discusses a "report card" for Mac OS X. Editor Adam Engst gives the documentation a "C" grade, and in the process brings up an interesting point.
"I think I'd give Mac OS X a C for documentation and help. A D, in my mind, would imply it was actually wrong in a lot of cases, rather than just being overly simplified. Plus, I bump it up a bit because there is a lot of good information out there from third parties, if you can find it." [Full Message]
This never occurred to me before, but if we're objectively evaluating how well documented a product might be, should the universe of third-party documentation be excluded? From the customer's perspective, how much does it really matter if the bulk of the documentation is not "official?"
I think TiVo is an example -- it comes with adequate documentation and help screens, but there is a whole world of information on the Internet, very little of which repeats anything that TiVo officially provides with the product. This is wonderful, but it doesn't reflect poorly on TiVo, Inc., as far as I'm concerned. In fact, it makes my TiVo unit even more useful.
Another example is Photoshop. Amazon lists nearly 500 books, there are probably hundreds of Web sites, and, gee, entire conferences dedicated to "documenting" the product. And Adobe ships a large and seemingly-complete printed manual inside the box, as well as a full help system.
So, given the Internet resources and vast array of "For Dummies..." books, perhaps the next step in documentation is effectively uniting all these sources for the benefit of customers, without regard to their source. I get the feeling that some view the official and third-party sources as being at odds with each other, which is hardly the case.