Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
Who needs Help when you have the Web?
In "Microsoft Complains About Complacency, But Who Is at Fault?" (Wall Street Journal, Sept 22, 2003, B1) Lee Gomes writes about Microsoft's tendency to follow trends instead of breaking new ground. To this end, he predicts that searching will be their next "new" feature:
"You can see Microsoft moving on to new "innovations." When someone has a problem with Windows, who uses the built-in Help feature in Windows anymore? Most people just go online and look for the answer with their favorite search engine."
Cohen's point is not about documentation at all, but the casual and matter-of-fact assertion that "nobody uses Help" makes it just as obviously true as the frequency of having problems with Windows. Ouch. This is a meme the documentation industry can ill-afford.
Documentation has always been the last resort of desperate people. It's usually consulted only if you can't find a coworker to help you out. The emergence of the Web doesn't replace documentation, it just gives you more friends to whom you can turn first. Which puts documentation further down the list of useful resources.
Oops. I just agreed with Gomes. Don't spread it around, OK?