Online Documentation via Blogging
By Wes Ahles and Larry Hennis
It is quite common for companies to have documentation to go with their products. Every household appliance, cellular phone, software, and home computer comes with some sort of documentation or manual to support it. Electronic documentation is included with software in CD form, or from the internet. Now users can go to a company website and get forms of documentation with their software download; still there is a lack of interactivity with this online documentation. If a user needs some online documentation without the download file, or needs questions answered, it can be very difficult to do so. Consumer demand has prompted companies to use blogs for personal interaction.
Windows Mobile Reference Documentation Update uses for blogs for online documentation (Johnkenn, 2007). In 2006, this blog had several postings regarding the updates documentation for Windows Mobile technology. Here, users could access documents and see what changes were made in the documentation. For example, the most recent posting talks about the updates to Windows Mobile Software Development Kit that is forthcoming. There is a table for the topic areas that will be updated and it gives descriptions of what those changes will be. The blog has several of these types of postings, and each post includes an area for comments from the users for webmasters to answer.
Another website that makes use of a blog is Vista Sense, a Microsoft site that relates stories about the Vista product (Guy, 2007). There are entries about not only upcoming products, but problems with Vista Sense, upgrades, and details about the products offerings. Like the Windows Mobile blog, this blog also has an area for users to comment on posts. In the November 30, 2006 post, "Choosing the Right Windows Vista," several users made comments and asked questions concerning Vista, and blogmaster Vista Guy answers them. This is a great example of a company showing interactivity with users through the blog.
Despite the manner in which some companies use blogs to convey online documentation, there are some that could use improvement. MDSN.com has an online blog that has posts about available product downloads and other news bites about MSDN products (Microsoft, 2007). Although this blog leads to pages with documentation—such as linking to a page about Windows Server 2003 Pack 2—this is one example that could use more posts from readers. While it is good to have posts about the company, there should be more focus on documentation. Perhaps MDSN could have a separate blog devoted to the actual products/documentation, while the main blog details the company’s stories.
There are several other sites that companies could use as examples for improving their blogs. The BizRules Blog has an FAQ section which could be used as a good base for business blogs (Ask, 2007). Each posting tackles one or more questions, and answers the questions with a combination of text, graphics, or links to other online information. This is a perfect example of what an online documentation blog should display. Another tip can be taken from the Network Documentation website (NetDoc, 2007). Their postings include promotional videos, which is another form of graphic documentation that could be incorporated into blogs. For users who learn better by seeing than by reading, an instructional video could be significant. Both of these are sites that companies could emulate in order to improve their blogs.
The rise in online documentation gives companies the opportunity to reach users in an entirely new way. They can now interact with their customers, giving them the support they need. Blogging can be a key step in the future of online documentation. Users have come to expect more from company websites such as more help, morefeatures, and more ways of connecting. Blogs are a way of meeting most, if not all, of these expectations.