Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
Using blogs for Help
Jenny, of The Creative Tech Writer, picks up on Social Cues in Help Navigation and explores the idea of using blogs to create or augment help systems. I think allowing users to comment on the documentation is a fascinating idea, and one put to good use in some Open Source projects. (See PHP documentation and user feedback.)
The problem of how to screen, edit, and integrate comments is huge. Most companies wouldn't allow it to happen without close oversight, and making a convincing business case for adding this could be tough. Using Trackbacks, where the comments are hosted offsite by their authors, would be another simple solution, but would be an even harder sell. You'd literally be opening up your documentation to annotation by anyone, at anytime.
But aside from annotations, what if previous users left some indication of their success and rating of the Help, without modifying the content? Following the "social cues" idea more literally, if you see that other folks looking for a specific topic tried these searches, read these topics, and rated their success high, that would help you refine what you want to look at. Most rating systems are closed -- they provide feedback to the authors -- but I'm thinking about a rating system that is for fellow customers.
Or, more subtly, think about a library book shelf. Before you are three books about, say, sewing. One is slightly pulled out and has a visibly worn and cracked binding. The other two look like they've never been opened and might even be a little dusty. That's a social cue that one of these books is really popular and is clearly worth a peek. Can a concept like that be applied to onscreen Help, and would it be useful?