I’m pondering the 1998 article, Pages Must Live Forever (from Jakob Nielson’s Alertbox) while documenting the content aging report in MindTouch 2010 (Read the spec here, read the user guide here).
With redirects helping stave off link rot, it seems that we can fulfill the wish behind Kristina Halvorson’s plea not to allow the web become like the junk-filled planet in Wall-E. Instead of piling up old versions of pages, the links stay fresh while the content might age a bit, like a fine wine.
For help content, I can list reasons that older content might be just fine, no need to send off alarms.
- Software that has classic features that were well documented in the first place, those pages can be static.
- Pages that haven’t been updated but are still oft-visited I would consider to be fresh, not stale. As long as the comments don’t indicate a problem with the content, it can be considered fresh.
- Depending on how well it’s resourced or energetic it is, your writing staff and community can only add a finite amount of content per week (or month). So the percentage of old content may be higher than the percentage of new content. That ratio is probably okay as your site ages. The mark the report sets is two years (24 months), then the content might be “old.”
- Depending on the scope of the aging report, an older product would have older help pages. Filtering helps you tune in the grouping of pages where you might be concerned about stale pages.
Two years would be a long time in a web application’s life, but perhaps not so long for an enterprise application. As usual, the answer to “Must Help Pages Live Forever?” is “It depends.” The real question that I’m trying to answer is “When are Help Pages Stale?” I believe two years is a valid and reasonable line to draw. What do you think?