Is Help 2.0 Hyped?

There’s been a lot of discussion about “Help 2.0” in which users will be able to easily comment on the content you’ve written in a help topic.

The Society for Technical Communication’s Intercom magazine recently published an article titled “Understanding the Help 2.0 Revolution.” I have to admit that I thought the article contained some exciting ideas: for the first time technical writers may have an online dialog with our readers using technologies like web posts and commenting.

In the same vein, author and teacher Clay Shirky wrote a book called Cognitive Surplus. In it, he asserts that North Americans are watching less television and are embracing collaborative technologies like blogs and wikis. Collectively, we can pool our efforts to achieve amazing results. Just look at the colossal effort of web sites like Wikipedia.

But I think we have a long way to go. For all this talk of collaboration, usability guru Jakob Nielsen argues that only one percent of people contribute to a site, nine percent are intermittent contributors, and 90 percent just read the content. So if Nielsen is right, most people are still being passive. Doesn’t sound that different to watching television.

Here’s an excerpt from Nielsen’s web site:

“Blogs have even worse participation inequality than is evident in the 90-9-1 rule that characterizes most online communities. With blogs, the rule is more like 95-5-0.1. Inequalities are also found on Wikipedia, where more than 99% of users are lurkers. According to Wikipedia’s “about” page, it has only 68,000 active contributors, which is 0.2% of the 32 million unique visitors it has in the U.S. alone.”

Granted, Nielsen’s research is about five years old. Maybe more people are now contributing? But I doubt it’s significantly more.

Here`s the bottom line. If you’ve created a web site or help system that incorporates Web 2.0 technologies like commenting, don’t be surprised if you initially receive a trickle of responses from your readers. My bet is that technical writers will need to regularly promote their help systems or web sites to encourage more readers to post their feedback. If you want an online dialog with customers, it`s not just a matter of “build it and they will come.”

Check out Robert Desprez’s blog: http://www.robertdesprez.com/Site_3/Blog/Blog.html