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Help, Knowledge Bases and Intelligent User Assistance
In the previous post I gave a short overview of where we are going: Google and YouTube will replace traditional entry points to your content. User Experience Design (UXD) and Service Design will change the focus to making solutions sensible to users, thus reducing the need for help with simple tasks. But what does this mean for our help system as we know it?
The following is a situation that may be all too familiar to many authors: there are manuals in print, online help, training manuals and a support site with a knowledge base. Fortunately, the print manuals and the help are being single sourced. But what about the knowledge base?
In my experience, knowledge bases are frequently separate applications that are being updated by support consultants. With luck, the support consultants reuse content from the manual, but much too often do these consultants create original material. Material that will never be integrated into the help because the technical author doesn’t know about it.
Let me ask you one question: What is the difference between a knowledge base and help? Is the help more comprehensive? Does the knowledge base contain more in-depth articles on very specific issues? Is the knowledge base linked to the bug report system? Why is it a separate system?
Intelligent User Assistance
The solution: intelligent user assistance. One source with all content that presents the right content for the user using the help. A starting user may see getting started topics while a seasoned veteran will see mostly in-depth articles on complex tasks.
This is not the same as single sourcing. With single sourcing you have one source and you create multiple outputs. With intelligent user assistance it is the hosted help itself that makes the decision on what to show to the user. But all content is there. And even a beginning user can find the in-depth information if he needs it. There will of course be differences between user documentation and API documentation for developers, but types of users will receive the same content. Just filtered to their needs: Targeted and personalized. (SDL is marketing a solution that tries to do this: SDL LiveContent.)
What impact will this have on technical authors? We must rethink our role as content creators. We will not only be creating content, we will all become content managers, content strategists. We will have to manage that content and we bring the content to the end user in the way they need: print, online, mobile, etc.
This requires us to rethink our role. But that is not enough, the content we create and manage will also change. More on these topics in the next posts.