Examples of blogs as online help and release notes

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?

7 Comments

  • February 6, 2009 - 1:29 am | Permalink

    Dedicating a blog to release notes only makes sense if you have relatively frequent releases (as many web apps do). Otherwise, the blog gets stale. At my company, releases are announced on the general company blog (which has various other kinds of postings), with a link to the release notes. This allows the blog posting to have the happy-new-feature stuff, while providing quick access to the nitty gritty for those who care.

  • February 6, 2009 - 3:26 am | Permalink

    Putting release notes on a blog calls for clarity. Maybe too much clarity. Release notes on a blog is basically releasenotes on a timeline, meaning everyone knows whether you’re behind schedule, and to what extent, how many bug fixes do you carry out and how many patches do you release over time.
    It takes a lot of courage to take this direction and I’m not sure what could be the benefits.

  • February 6, 2009 - 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Mixing paradigms, are we? Yes, I’m all for social media, and blogs are about the quickest way to publish information apart from wikis. Release notes are a piece of documentation from the old paradigm that also brought us the User Manual and the Errata Sheet. I think with more social media, there will be more online information available in other and multiple forms. Maybe the next step for the release note is an interactive page that includes ratings and links to sites for prerequisite software among the more traditional pieces of content.

    Actually, as we move away from desktop apps and toward Software as a Service (SaaS) or toward a subscription model where the updates become more continuous and there aren’t apparent version releases, the whole notion of a release note might not need so much visibility. But thanks for keeping up with this.

  • MaJ
    February 8, 2009 - 4:43 am | Permalink

    This post got me thinking about what the social media trend means for the language of online helps.

    The language of blogs is different from the language we’ve traditionally associated with user documentation. I wonder what the friendly, chatty type of language of instruction-in-a-blog means for audiences with a limited English proficiency? How easy or difficult it is to understand the meaning of instructions? (Of course, there are lots of animations, so the users are not forced to read anymore.)

  • February 10, 2009 - 12:18 pm | Permalink

    @MaJ I have a copy of Ginny Redish’s book, Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works, and she encourages web writers to “talk” to your site visitors, show that you are a person, and emphasizes that “good writing is like a conversation.” I think the more online instruction we write, the more we should strive to answer questions, engage readers, and think of our writing as an asynchronous conversation. Besides, it’s fun!

    I do agree with Bill, Avi, and Janet, that only certain products would call for blogs as the deliverable – frequency of release, amount of transparency expected by the users, and ease of access to the info are certainly part of the assessment.

    @Bill Albing – I am ready to mix paradigms and trying to discover where it’s happening around us. :) I’m working on a book about the power of blogs, wikis, and social media tools for online user assistance and documentation and always looking for examples. These were three or four I recently found.

  • May 7, 2011 - 8:23 am | Permalink

    It makes perfect sense especially when you have a situation where you own gmail and you own blogspot what a perfect way to distribute updates, and keep users apprised.

  • May 28, 2012 - 6:53 am | Permalink

    Web based help desk software, help desk tracking, support tracking software and software for help desk It track, report, and improve on your customer satisfaction.

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