I’m always on the lookout for examples of social media tools used to write and maintain online help. One trend I think I am seeing is the use of blogs as the basic release notes for new features in products, especially web applications. Examples are new Google Calendar features and SmugMug, where the entire blog is dedicated to Release Notes.
I’ve also found the Jing online help is written and maintained in Movable Type, a blogging tool. Many blogging tools can be used as content management systems, and it appears that Jing’s writers see blog engines that way too. There are lots of nice built-in features that they are taking advantage of – a nice Search field at the top of every page, and the Categories link at the bottom of each help topic give a nice collection of topics. There’s only one “table of contents” for the help system, and that’s the top page, but it works nicely as a site map. The overall effect is a very simple and elegant user assistance or support system. One detail I did discover while trying out the site, though, is that the MT search engine did not find hits for a search on “mpeg 4″ when the topic titled contained MPEG-4.
The use of a blog overall seems like a great idea for release notes – give your product some Google juice and search power as well as generate buzz for new features by giving other bloggers a well-understood infrastructure to link to you and give your entries trackbacks. If your release notes contain a lot of bug reporting or issue fixes, I’m not sure a blog is a good match since that’s not exactly a positive spin on your product release. Then again, sometimes transparency and honesty is the best policy. What do you all think?