Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Enabling Interactivity with Users

I imagine to most of my readers today's title doesn't make much sense. I've decided I'm going to talk about some struggles I'm having with the hope that it will clear my mind. No, not personal struggles, I'm talking about struggles I'm having with a particular project for school. My struggles range from figuring out how to frame the project in the first place to determining how to go about actually doing it.

The project involves looking at how companies enable interactivity with users when it comes to documentation. (Thus this post's title.) I don't know about you, but when I'm trying to figure out how something works I often can't find the answer in the online help. (I haven't seen a printed manual in a while now so we won't even go there.) So where do I turn? To Google, of course, to search the plethora of information known as the Internet for the answer. More often than not I'm successful (though depending on the complexity of the problem it may take a few hours of searching), eventually finding the answer I need on some obscure Web page where someone somewhere had a similar problem and thankfully shared it in a public post. But what if companies—or more specifically technical communicators—harnessed the vast amount of user knowledge out there and integrated it into the official documentation for products in some way, providing users with a more central place than the untamed Internet to find the answers they need? Just think of how much better this would make users' experiences with products, knowing there was a single place they could go to solve their problems!

This may sound like Utopia but some companies are using social media tools today to engage users and interact with them. This is primarily being done in the realm of marketing and public relations but it's also spilling over to customer and technical support forums. What I'm not so sure about is whether that knowledge is being captured effectively and integrated in a manner where people with the same problem can easily find it. I don't really have the means to investigate that aspect of things with this particular project so I think I need to stop at the point of determining how companies interact with users and look at its potential value. I'd really like to close that loop (as I see it, anyway) of evaluating whether any of the user-generated knowledge is incorporated back into the documentation, but without insider knowledge I just don't know how I'm going to do that.

So that's where things stand. As I've been working on this post I've been looking on the Web and reading some articles, trying to put some structure around whatever I'm going to do. I'm also waiting to hear back from my professor regarding an e-mail I sent him yesterday on all of this. The bottom line is in two weeks (yes, two weeks) I need to have a 15-minute presentation put together that answers my questions and describes what I found. And, as with all projects I do, I'm determined to do it well. I'll let you know how it turns out.


  1. that's very interesting. it's a whole new realm, very complicated i am sure! and i agree, usually my Q isn't in the FAQ's... i generally have to dig for it... and trustworthiness is an issue sometimes. anyhow, good luck! i am sure you will do well.

  2. Froggity, you bring up a good point regarding trust! That's definitely an issue wherever social media is concerned. We've discussed that quite a bit in my Social Media in PR class.

  3. Sounds like quite a project! I am really looking forward to how you tie it all up because it is a fascinating subject.

  4. this is definitely a hot topic right now. my (current) company just hired a computer guy to build our extranet where clients will be able to find out the status of samples as well as download reports. i certainly plan on using interactive capabilities with my business. oh, and good luck with your project!

  5. Allison, Dr. Wifey: Thanks! Heard back from my professor, he said my ideas make sense so I *think* things are starting to take shape. Only two weeks to put it all together so they have to!


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