Friday, January 28, 2005

Your Product is a Conversation

Here's what I've been reading lately: Cluetrain and Hughtrain. Cluetrain is an insane rant which nevertheless manages to sneak in some real wisdom. Hughtrain is an insane rant that's nevertheless quite entertaining and contains funny pictures and has potty words.

The insight here is that the Internet is turning markets into conversations. My first question, as a tech writer, is "where does documentation come into the conversation?" And the answer as it turns out is four posts down. Documentation is what extends your product into the conversation.

Think about it this way: at what point does your customer enter into the product conversation? For a lot of them it's the first time that something's broken: they need to go to your web site to get a driver, or they search a message board to resolve and issue. For other customers it's before they buy. It's when a user goes to epinions to read a review; it's when a big company does an evaluation and a pilot. It might be in the greater context of a solution offering, which is really a conversation about how to solve a problem.

What does this mean for the tech writer? It means that the documentation is part of the user experience, and should be treated as such. Every manual, whitepaper, and UA doc you write is going to be someone's first conversation with your product. I have to admit I find that thought humbling, but also invigorating.


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