Prelim Bloopers

Documentation and Support

For billions of people with smartphones today, and relatively simple needs (Facebook or Twitter posts, Instagram photos, and the like) that are satisfied by simple Apps, documentation and support is usually not a big problem. But people who are actually creating new and important tasks, or doing more complicated and productive tasks, don't have such an easy time of it, and can be frustrated by complexity or poorly-designed user interfaces or other problems.

Documentation standards are highly variable. Because of its potential effect on health, the pharmaceutical industry has a set of guidelines called Good Documention Practice. Would that the technology business had a similar set. In contrast to virtually every non-technology product, which seems to have some form of User Manual (usually a pretty good one), technology products have documentation ranging from nothing at all to very complete. Increasingly the sellers are turning the job over to their customers; it is as if the inmates are now running the asylum. They offer some sort of forum on which customers ask questions, which hopefully are answered correctly and completely by other customers. One of the most flagrant examples is the Codex (and most of the crowd selling plugins) for WordPress. And the "WordPress for Dummies" book sets a new low for the often-low quality of many " ... for Dummies" books. By contrast, Microsoft has historically had comprehensive company-prepared Help screens (though they have been arguably a necessity due to the complicated functionality of their software).

Customer support is at least as bad as documentation. Mostly, it is more noted in the breach than the observance. Shouldn't this be a part of doing business? The customer is either paying cash for the product or accepting a fire hose of advertisement flow. It is mostly limited to a more-or-less sophisticated Frequently Asked Questions list. If these don't work, an email service or interactive semi-real-time chat can be a big improvement ... depending on the knowledge of the individual at the seller. In rare cases, usually for expensive products, there is telephone support (which should normally be good ... if the wait is not too long). Our experience is that frequently third-party sites (e.g., some of the largest publisher of news) do a better job with basic questions than the product sellers do.