Re: documentation going away

Subject: Re: documentation going away
From: Bill Swallow <techcommdood -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 17 Jan 2012 10:00:44 -0500

Documentation is "going away" for several reasons, either combined or

1) Perceived value. You know that age-old mantra "no one reads the
manual"? It's sunk in. People believe it to the point of it being
embedded in their subconscious, but then complain when they can't find
info. And when they look for info, they're not inclined to look for a

2) Product culture has changed. The way people interact with things
(to keep it generic) has changed. No longer to the vast majority of
consumers and users buy something, pull out the documentation, read
it, and then start using the thing. The common workflow is get, use,

3) Focus has shifted to usability. While this is a very good thing,
there's a dangerous false corollary that accompanies that shift: the
more usable something is (and "usable" is very loosely defined across
the board) the less we need to document it. This may be true to an
extent, but I argue that the type of documentation and the way it is
provided must shift. from what I've seen to date, this hasn't happened
across the board, and rarely is documentation also designed and tested
for usability along with the product.

4) Tightwad economy. Every company is still trying to operate leaner.
Entry level jobs are still on the rise, and many knowledgeable people
(not just in techcomm) are now "overqualified" for the jobs. This
doesn't mean that the quality of writers being employed at these entry
level points are lower, but they're starting from scratch with
knowledge and experience, lacking that which a more senior level
person can add. Further, companies that see this missing link often
hire back seasoned workers but in more supervisory or visionary roles,
limiting the number of opportunities for these folks, and further
augmenting with consultants whose advice may or may not be adopted
long term.

5) Social media schizophrenia. If you haven't seen a shift from
consumer experience to fanboy experience yet, you won't have to wait
long. Companies are making a mad dash to engage with their public, and
as with any mad dash, other important things are left to the wayside.

6) Failed ROI realization. Back in the late 90s and early 00s there
was an upward trend in technology investment that would make (among
other things) content authoring and publishing quicker, easier, and
more consistent. Many companies rashly invested without doing their
homework well, and as a result, many are still not seeing the return
on their often heavy investments. Workers blame the tools, management
blames the workers for not leveraging the tool (generally speaking -
there are exceptions). Regardless, money has been invested and lost,
and companies now fear or are otherwise hesitant to reinvest in
something new or different.

7) Lack of visibility. "Content strategy" is highly visible right now,
but if you ask any executive, the vast majority tie that to a
marketing focus and not tech comm. Why? Because the marketeers have
latched onto the buzzword and built a marketing strategy around it. If
you want to see an upturn in the amount, quality, and perception of
tech comm, then you need to market the value of it better, whether
you're a consultant, manager, or employee.

Bill Swallow

Twitter: @techcommdood

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