Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
FMs that customers will R
Over at Creating Passionate Users, the article The Best User Manuals EVER argues that customers will "RTFM," and even pay a premium for the privilege, if the documentation is produced with enough care to make it worthwhile. The article dissects a documentation suite for high-end horse training products and, in the course of the analysis, uncovers many points that lie at the heart of minimalism. For example, focusing on tasks, providing troubleshooting in context with those tasks, and providing "levels" of documentation that are tuned to user's goals and expertise.
It's a fun article, and I agree philosophically with many of the points and techniques, but ultimately I don't get behind the notion that including elaborate documentation with software products would increase the sales or success of a product. Does anyone buy a particular car, television, washing machine, or vacuum because it comes with extensive training, a nice manual, or an interactive tutorial? I think not, and while those things might make you feel warm and fuzzy, they won't drive a buying decision for computers or software either. When documentation is the product itself, as it is in training and book publishing, it's a whole different ball game. Comparing documentation products, with product documentation, doesn't acknowledge the differing business reality and goals that each must satisfy.
Thanks for the link, Nate! See Also: Fourth-Party Documentation.