Wednesday, July 3, 2013
When a software development team produces a product, the help for the same is critical. The software may be incredible, but if people do not know how to use it, then the software is of no use. And for every user who is an expert in using the software, there would be 2-3 more who get lost in some part of the software or the other, and are only dependent on the manual or information available on the internet for how to use features within the product. For this purpose, the team spends a fair amount of time to ensure that the help manual is descriptive, and is easy to read. Further, it has to describe the workflows with the minimum of technical verbiage, in most cases meant to appeal to the starting user, and describe all the workflows that are possible in the application (which can make reading a detailed product manual a difficult task). However, even though there are a lot of jokes about people no longer bothering to read the manual or refer to its electronic version on the web site of the product, there are still a large percentage of users who do refer to the manual, and hence companies do ensure that they spend the requisite amount of time on preparing the manual.
There have been changes in preparing the manual over a period of time, or rather in the content. Earlier while there used to be a focus on text and some images, nowadays, there is an increasing focus on also including video tutorials and explanations on different features. Users are very comfortable with seeing video tutorials, and are more easily able to grasp than if they were looking at written text alone (what this means is that the existing text tutorial would be supplemented by video tutorials). However, to prepare video tutorials is much more expensive than text. It takes much more money to prepare a video tutorial (we are not talking about a tutorial prepared by a team member using a handycam - it needs to be more professional), and it is much more expensive to also convert a video tutorial to different languages that the product is released in (if somebody is speaking, then the video may need to be shot again or a voiceover given, or sub-titles used; similarly if screen shots are used in the video, then the video needs to be modified to use screen shots using the language version of the product). Hence it is not an easy matter to think of a number of video tutorials even though it is very useful.
I know some companies that have come up with a way of reducing this cost, but not eliminating it. The company would still create video tutorials, but for a more specific set of workflows, ensuring some reduction in cost. For any product that is somewhat famous, there will be people who have created tutorials for different features and workflows and hosted them on Youtube and other video hosting sites. The company can reach out to such people and talk to them about pointing a link to these video tutorials inside the product for different workflows and features. A lot of people will just be thrilled that the product is linking to their tutorials and will agree (of course, the linking needs to have a step in between where the company can ensure that if the Youtube link goes bad, they can modify the link inside the product to point to a different site). There may still be problems about language versions of these tutorials, but if there is a different tutorial available for the same feature in another language, the language version of the product can use that tutorial - there is no requirement that the same tutorial be used in the language versions of the product.