RE: Content Distribution (Was Re: Manual and Online Help)

Subject: RE: Content Distribution (Was Re: Manual and Online Help)
From: david -dot- locke -at- amd -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 4 May 2001 15:15:06 -0500


In a sense the idea came from Ed Weiss's Creating Usable User Manuals. He
uses a matrix of tasks and needs vs. roles, and proposed that content be
allocated to roles and that role specific manuals be written. Regardless of
where you stand on Weiss's modular text ideas, the distribution matrix was a
significant development by itself. The content distribution can be extended
to include all the content organizations and content devices developed by
those organizations. The matrix was task analysis-based, and hinted at the
lifecycle of a task analysis.

Then, I ran across a referral in the MS Word 5.0 or 5.5 manual way back
before Word for Windows. In it the writer wrote about the ability to do
something, but did not describe how. Instead, the writer told the reader to
call technical support and ask for more information. I had hit a content
allocation boundary. And, the referral strategy is one of exclusivity. Only
a few people would make the call. Once they did they were the beneficiaries
of having expertise that other people did not have. I was an expert, a loyal
customer, and someone that referred people. Technical support sent me a fax
tip covering the technique we discussed on the phone. And, the content came
from technical support rather than Learning Support, the MS organization
responsible for manuals and training development.

Then, you can look at Elaine Floyd's Marketing with Newsletters, 1st ed.,
not second, and in it she describes her RISE framework, which tells us that
every document would have recognition, image, specifics, and enactment
(contact info) content. It's amazing how many documents that get best in
show do not have these functional features. The enactment requirement is
satisfied by contact info, addressable response devices, and an integrated
marketing communications (IMC) database. The contact info directs someone to
a specific post office box, phone number, email address, or web page. If the
contact devices sort responses, recording contacts in the IMC database is
easy, and measurement is likewise easy. A newer book on distributed content
is Attention, by Ken Sachin.

Then, on the training front, the usual coverage is 20%. And, in reference
training, the content references the user manuals without reproducing the
content. Going back to the task analysis, in companies that hire human
factors/UI designers, the task analysis originates with them. Then, TWs go
back and create another, and trainers create another. Just getting the task
analysis used across these organizations would save money, and demonstrate
content similarities. In addition, shipping the appropriate parts of this
task analysis to third-party developers along with the APIs would go along
way to reduce costs and improve technology evangelism.

I worked in a company that sold training. The executive that pushed that
strategy did not support the development of documentation. But, even when he
pushed training, it was written without the input of an instructional
designer. Instead, sales engineers wrote it. They ignored the learner's
psychological states and this in turn scared the trainees. This company
didn't sell much software, because the training scared the users. And,
writing documentation for this guy was hell.

One of the problems with trying to arrive at an enterprise-wide,
content-distribution strategy is that an organization will typically
fragment responsibility for post-sale content among three competing
organizations: doc, training, and technical support. The strategy decisions
can include sales lit, sales training, marcom, events management, sales
engineering, and field engineering. Usually, everyone does their own thing.
These days you also have certification program development, third-party
vendor support, and curriculum marketing elements to content with. But,
there are huge cost efficiencies to be gained across the enterprise document
set if someone sees that it exists, understands the relationships between
them, and leverages those relationships.

No, there is no one book on the subject. But, I've thought about these ideas
for about a decade. If you want me to expand on any of the ideas described
here, I would be happy to do so.



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