Normally I like to write positive stuff and I really love Uxmatters.. it's a great site. BUT, the recent article PDF Manuals: The Wrong Paradigm for an Online Experience, from my perspective is pretty much everything that's wrong with Help today. Of course, I'd love to know what you think of my opinion.
The article is like bad help. It's too long. It's too dry. It has no narrative, and it's written for the kind of people that like to read manuals. I'll admit it, I'm one of them, but I'm aware I'm the small minority. The pictures are boring. It has no characters, story, or SEX to it. And it's text, text text. The lack of any comments [edit: some comments have now been added] on the article makes me question how many read the full thing.
A Cultural Heritage
Meet Rupert. Rupert is computer programmer and writes Help files for Automated Teacups Inc. Rupert loves to read long bits of text. When he's looking for something, he clearly knows what it is he is searching for, and how to describe it in a text form. His mind can unravel trees structures, and disclosure-triangle based maps with ease.. in fact he finds it easy to remember large maps of where stuff is in his head. He also doesn't mind jumping around between chunks of text, because he always knows how to get back to where he was due to this innate and learned ability.
It is these skills which lead him, and those like him into the computer industry in the first place. And inside this environment, these particular skills have strengthened.
Rupert doesn't understand why people simply don't READ what he WROTE! Pictures don't excite him as much as text. He choses usage examples like computer hardware or servers. His Help documents wouldn't ever use "favourite puppy database" as an example.
Rupert has done a wonderful job. Without these minds, computers would never have got created and optimized in the first place. Now it's time for the next step, to optimize for 'average' humans.
"HELP" should, and could be...
- Somewhat wiki-like
- Searchable images and video. With actual people in it
- Entertaining to browse.. to find out things you didn't know you were looking for
- Much more integrated with the application itself*
- Text-chat enabled
- Easy to keep above all other apps
- Easy to subscribe to
- Vastly easier for the creator to update, even if video/image heavy
I'm sorry Mike, but your article is dangerous, because it instills a feeling that Help is "almost there". It's not.
* The earlier Mac OS's Help would draw a thick red pen around the buttons you needed to click when explaining a particular topic
[NOTE: oops, comments were off. Now back on. :-) ]