User Documentation? Hey, It “Worked” For Testing


You’re not going to believe this, but there was a time, before the omnipresent internet, when commercial software makers held back product releases while they rigorously, expensively tested their products.  This didn’t eliminate bugs, but it did tend to push software makers harder to at least aim for perfection before they got the release out the door.  The fixed costs in issuing patches by snail mail, to say nothing of the user grumbling could really hurt a publisher.

To say the least, the aim is lower now.  Today’s testing budgets are smaller even if the user bases are bigger, because the paying customers, all of whom are internet-connected, have been enlisted to do more of the testing.  All those patches released one after the other for download contain fixes discovered by anguished complaints from paying customers as well as by the maker.  Under these conditions, the pressure to reduce testing budgets for consumer software is obvious and growing.  Is software documentation headed in the same direction?

Consider YouTube’s recent call for user documentation videos of YouTube’s own site features.  While user input on documentation is absolutely de rigeur for many if not most open-source software projects, is this the direction the commercial software world is headed?

Yeah, probably – but only as long as the software in question is 1) fun to use 2) not filled with embarrassing bugs that will make embarrassing videos.

In other words, the bulk of the market for traditional documentation isn’t going to disappear.

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