Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
Help is self-service
In "Self-service requires people to deliver full benefit" Gerry McGovern points out that creating an online ordering system isn't enough to guarantee success. Simply putting a catalog and ordering system online ignores the core strengths (and weaknesses) of the web and prevents businesses from establishing personal relationships with their customers. A bad website, he says, can be worst than no website at all.
I think that many companies make the same mistake with onscreen documentation. We've been creating printed manuals for years, but simply removing the paper from the equation and putting "books" on the computer screen ignores the core strengths (and weaknesses) of onscreen Help. And documentation written to succeed in print often just emphasizes the problem areas of Help -- small type sizes, excessive scrolling, and window management hassles.
Just as a bad website can drive customers away, never to be seen again, a poor experience with Help means that customers won't refer to it again, even for another product which might to a better job of it.