Can online help show “read wear?”

I’ve been re-reading Jakob Nielson’s Participation Inequality essay on useit.com, and the suggestion to some how show wear marks on content struck me this evening for some reason. I guess it’s because I’ve been working on Drupal recently, and discovered that Drupal documentation contains site recipies in the Drupal Handbook. What a nifty idea. Stick with me, these two concepts are related through a recipe and cookbook angle.

Part of Jakob’s treatise on inequal participation in online communities is that you can do little to overcome the typical contribution stats of 90-9-1, although one of the suggestions is to make participation so easy that you don’t even know you’re contributing. Case in point – Amazon’s “people who bought this book, bought these other books” recommendations. Sounds like the easiest contribution ever – data mining and analyzing, then giving the data back to the shopper in an understandable format.

Jakob says, “Will Hill coined the term read wear for this type of effect: the simple activity of reading (or using) something will “wear” it down and thus leave its marks — just like a cookbook will automatically fall open to the recipe you prepare the most.”

What are some similar examples of displaying read wear from the online help or user assistance world? The first example that comes to my mind is a wiki’s “most active pages” feature that shows the page with the most edits. However, the page with the most edits may be more controversial than truthful, so the most popular pages would be more useful than touting pages most active.

How else can you show read wear on a website? You could also show the most searched-for terms when the user searches. Concepts may be more easily connected when you understand what others were searching for.

Or, rather than showing search terms, show the most recently viewed knowledgebase articles or most popular articles. I know I’ve found that useful in the past when searching through BMC Software’s rich knowledge base.

Just like CNN and other news sites offer a listing of the most emailed stories per hour, you could show the most emailed online help topics if your system offers the ability to email topics.

The ability to rate an article is included in many online help systems, and exposing the ratings to the reader would help in determining how “well-worn” a help topic is.

Tag clouds can display read wear as well, as I just realized while looking at the WordPress FAQ starting page – tonight, the largest tag is “Images.”

I’ve distilled it down to popularity, time spent on the page, rating on a page, and number of edits from strongest to weakest indicators. What other factors matter in an online help system?

8 Comments

  • Cat Mc
    May 29, 2008 - 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Hey, am I becoming one of your noisy 1%? :)

    I think your list is good. If I had really sophisticated tools, I’d add some weight for topic placement too. An obscure topic that’s getting lots of long-lasting views is more worth highlighting!

    That made me think, what if we could refine our wear marks a little more? Like, I only want to see pages that other technical writers rated highly. Or I don’t want to see anything popular with system administrators.

    I guess the variables are endless.

  • Pingback: one man writes » Recently Read

  • June 2, 2008 - 8:29 am | Permalink

    Hi Cat, I love my 1%ers! (Is that a word or a text message?) :)

    What a great idea – instead of writers having to tag topics based on an intended audience (which is usually an educated guess), just use the online ID that a readers uses to peruse your help site, figure out their job title from that, and see which topics match up to the job title most often. I think you’re on to something!

  • June 3, 2008 - 7:19 am | Permalink

    I think indicating wear is a great idea, and one I’ve been planning on trying out when I do my grand-blog-redesign. Although that’s probably part of the reason why my grand-blog-redesign project is about three years late in starting… :-)

    I’d add a time-since-last-viewed indicator to the mix too. Kind of like the dust that would build up one something if you hadn’t used it for a while, but would get removed when someone paid a visit to that page.

  • June 5, 2008 - 1:17 am | Permalink

    I use MadCap Flare, and what I do to indicate wear is to use their Browse Sequences and create a ‘three clicks to freedom’ type of front page.
    http://madcapsoftware.com

    Also, what helps is the Feedback Service they started last year. I reviewed it in two of my blog posts…
    http://charlesjeter.com/2007/10/04/

    You get the picture. The Web 2.0 features in the Feedback Service allow users to post their own comments.

    I also think this should be something that the MadCap guys and gals address – I’ll put a link out for them to check it and see what they think about adding it. It would be sort of cool for the Feedback Service to automatically put it up there in a php-like frame or window which updates automatically.

  • June 5, 2008 - 1:18 am | Permalink

    Forgot to add that Feedback Service also has a rating system in it… So that’s a good indicator of wear right there.

    http://madcapsoftware.com/products/feedback/

  • June 6, 2008 - 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Ratings do help a lot, good point Charles. I was purposely vendor-free with this post, but commenters may do as they please with comments. ;)

    Adrian, I feel like I get into paralysis by analysis phase with my blog all the time! LOL Time since last viewed is an interesting metric! I think I’ll see if I can track that on our helpsite somehow, thanks for the idea.

  • Pingback: » Can online help show “read wear?” | just write click Writer River

  • Leave a Reply