The downside of social documentation

Sure all the cool kids are doing it but is collaborative, social, conversational product documentation really the best way to meet your customers’ needs? Despite the buzz, Web 2.0-based documentation can act as a roadblock to getting your content to your readers.

Ellis Pratt at Cherryleaf has a good summary of some of the problems experienced by organizations that had made the move to wiki-based documentation:

  • Users were struggling to find information they wanted.
  • The wiki-based user community platform was incomplete, out-of-date and incorrect in places.
  • The content was the most viewed content of all the literature her company produced, but no-one wanted to take responsibility to manage the content.
  • The Documentation team did not “own” the community content, but whenever there was an issue, they were asked to fix it.
  • Users saw it as official information, but the organisation saw it as unofficial information.
  • [Management] didn’t want to spend the team’s precious time editing user content at the expense of writing new official content.
  • They had a continual battle with content spam.
  • It was hard to migrate content between the formal and informal documentation sets.

Some of these issues can be addressed organizationally, and others must be addresed by infrastructure. Many of the features of traditional publishing that we have come to take for granted (namely, predictable, repeatable navigation) have been crippled or lost in the movement to adopt “good enough” publishing tools and strategies.