Alerting users to news items?

Subject: Alerting users to news items?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: julie -dot- harrison -at- holset -dot- com, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2006 08:28:30 -0500

Julie Harrison wondered: <<We have a web application used internally, and we created a news area to inform users of changes to the system, scheduled downtime, new features, improved help, etc. Previously we emailed everyone, but received complaints such as "I get loads of email everyday, how am I expected to read it all"...>>

The problem (in my experience) is that about 90% of the e-mail is useless to them, and they've learned that lesson well. As a result, they have no motivation whatsoever to read the mail. Of the 10% that's potentially useful, only 10% is something they'll actually feel inclined to use. If only 1 in 100 messages actually means something to them, where's the incentive to read the other 99?

The vast majority of corporate e-mail is that it's all about the sender, and only rarely about the reader. See the problem? It violates the key principle of technical communication: it's not relevant to the reader. Make the messages relevant and people are more likely to read.

<<... and as we are a large organisation maintaining the list was a nightmare too.>>

Maintaining the list should by no means be a nightmare: any network administrator worth their salt should be able to set up and regularly update an e-mail address called "everyone" in about a minute. Ask their manager to assign them this duty and the problem goes away. Similarly, the Personnel or HR department could be given this responsibility: who knows better than they do when someone has been hired or fired?

<<We've just received moans and groans that people aren't reading it, it's too hard to remember to check to see if it's changed, apparently.>>

Of course they're not reading it. Why would they? If there's a problem they need to solve, they'll go looking for a solution--usually down at the next cubicle--but until they hit the wall, they'll simply plug away, even under increasingly uncomfortable conditions, until the problem becomes unbearable. So long as it works, they won't try to fix it. (It's called "satisficing".)

<<Now we're trying to find ways of ensuring users read the news, or are at least alerted to it.>>

There's no way to ensure that they'll read it, short of having a test each Friday at lunch, and firing anyone who scores less than 75% on the test. <g> The real solution in this case is not to send out information to everyone, but rather to send it out to the key few people who need to know. For example, maybe you only need to send the updates to managers, who can then sit down with their staff and explain the implications of the change only if it's relevant.

If you really need to alert everyone, there's always a solution. If broadcast e-mail messages aren't working for you, perhaps try something like an RSS feed. See, for example, the description at: -1a0fb90c86a6.htm

Alternatively, ask the network administrator to customize everyone's computer so that as soon as it boots, it launches a Web browser, opens an "updates" page, and forces the person to at least click to close the window. They can still choose not to read, but at least they can't claim they haven't seen the update.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Alerting users to news items: From: julie . harrison

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