Web Survey

Subject: Web Survey
From: Janice Malone <jmalone -at- RD -dot- QMS -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 14 May 1997 08:46:30 -0600

Hi All,

I recently surveyed the TECHWR-List about the advantages and
disadvantages of publishing user guides on the web in PDF format. The
following are the results of that survey:

Number of Respondents

Twenty people responded to the survey and the following are their
views on whether user guides should be distributed in PDF format on
the web.

% of
Respondents Respondent Views

55% User guides should be in PDF format as well as
other electronic formats. It's the wave of the future.

5% PDF format user guides are too cumbersome to
navigate. Don't put documents in PDF format.

5% PDF format user guides are too cumbersome to
navigate. Create a PDF file for each chapter.

35% User guides in PDF format on an unsecured web site
are not a good idea. The ftp site needs to have
restricted access.

Respondent Comments/Advantages

Overall, customers benefit from web based documentation because of
ease of access to product information. However, the type of
documentation that is placed on the web should be informational,
interface related, or troubleshooting. When web based documentation is
available, customer support staff don't have to spend as much time
faxing and express mailing documents to users.

Web based documentation updates can be produced very quickly as
compared to the weeks it takes to get a hardcopy document printed,
placed into inventory, and distributed.

Respondent Comments/Disadvantages

It's too risky from a business perspective, to put proprietary
technology based information (such as programmer notes, detailed
hardware descriptions, and schematic type information) on the web for
general public viewing without restricting access to the information.
This type of information is great for the intranet, but it gives your
technology too much exposure on the internet, especially if the
documentation is very detailed. A competitor could very easily gain
access to and copy some aspects of your technology or build
competitive products from information provided in the document.

Types of Documentation on the Web

Colleges, universities, government agencies, software companies, and
hardware companies have and/or pdf and html documentation on the web.
The types of documentation available on the web in either pdf or html
format are user guides, application notes, job aids, installation
instructions, how-to docs, white papers, technical manuals, addendums,
and updates.

How the Information is Organized

Generally, web based documentation is listed under customer support.
Some survey respondents also felt that it should be under products.
From a user-friendly perspective, the information should be listed
both under support and under the associated product.

How to Access the Information

The user must be told how to get the Adobe Acrobat Reader, how to set
up their web browser to automatically launch the reader and open the
pdf files, and how to download the pdf files.

Survey Summary

Be cautious of putting technology based information on unsecured web
sites. Most companies publish selected pieces of their documentation
under customer support. However many companies publish mounds of
technical manual type information both in pdf and html format.

It is wise to put a subset of your user guides on your web site as a
user acceptance test. Then take the pulse of your users. If they like
it, give them more.

Janice Malone
jmalone -at- rd -dot- qms -dot- com

TECHWR-L (Technical Communication) List Information: To send a message
to 2500+ readers, e-mail to TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU -dot- Send commands
Search the archives at http://www.documentation.com/ or search and
browse the archives at http://listserv.okstate.edu/archives/techwr-l.html

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