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The Future of Documentation: Adobe Community Help
2010, Q1 (March 29, 2010)
By Peggy Harvey, Membership Manager, NC State University STC Chapter

(Editor's note: This article is reprinted with permission from Technically Speaking, the NC State University STC Chapter newsletter. The article was adapted from a paper Peggy did last semester for ENG 512 entitled, “Enabling User Interactivity with Documentation.”)

Peggy Harvey
Peggy Harvey
Once upon a time, the first place users turned for help was to the user manual that came with the product. Today, even if a printed manual exists (which it may or may not), the first place the majority of people turn is Google. People expect to find the answers to their questions online, and Google has replaced the user manual as the all-encompassing solution for users’ problems.

Adobe, maker of FrameMaker, RoboHelp, and other tools that technical communicators use, has taken advantage of this trend and harnessed the power of Google by creating Adobe Community Help. Adobe describes Community Help as:

“[Bringing] together Help, instruction, support articles, videos, blogs, and examples from Adobe and community experts around the world. The Adobe custom search engine helps you find the best content available whether it's produced by Adobe or its user community. Results from online product Help are included whenever you search Community Help.”

Adobe Community Help is much more than just a question-answer customer support forum. Instead, it’s a new way of looking at documentation, incorporating the idea that documentation is any type of information that guides users. Adobe’s approach merges user-generated content with the official product documentation, allowing users to search both systems simultaneously to find the answers they need. This one-stop shopping is similar to typing a query into Google with one main difference: Users can have confidence that the search results are all under the Adobe umbrella, avoiding issues associated with the legitimacy of information on a third-party site. (The Adobe Community Help search function is, in fact, powered by a customized Google search engine.)

The type of information Adobe provides in its Community Help also differs from traditional ideas about documentation. Community Help draws from a wide array of media and resources, including videos, tutorials, tips and techniques, troubleshooting, blogs, articles, forums, code and design examples, and traditional Help topics.

Adobe Community Help content is created by both community members and Adobe personnel. Many of the community members who contribute to the Community Help are Adobe Community Experts: Adobe customers who share their product expertise with the worldwide Adobe community. Adobe Community Experts are active contributors to the Adobe community, both within Adobe’s Community Help environment and outside of it. Recipients of the title are selected specifically by Adobe as those who best exemplify the program fundamentals of product proficiency, enthusiasm, and professionalism towards Adobe and the customer base.

Far from being an “anything goes” type of environment, Adobe takes an active role in Community Help and doesn’t take all of the user-generated content it receives at face value.
Adobe Community Help is fully moderated by Adobe and industry experts, and comments from users help guide other users to answers. Far from being an “anything goes” type of environment, Adobe takes an active role in Community Help and doesn’t take all of the user-generated content it receives at face value. Instead, the sites searched by the default Community Help search engine are hand-selected and reviewed for quality by Adobe and Adobe Community Experts. Adobe experts also work to ensure that the top search results include a mixture of different kinds of content, including both user-generated content and results from the official product Help.

As documentation models and users’ expectations continue to change, Adobe recognizes that users are sometimes the source of critical information. Adobe’s method of embracing user-generated content has enabled them to expand their content base while still exercising control over the content users receive. Adobe Community Help also allows Adobe employees to keep their finger on the pulse of their customers and deliver the information users actually need. This is the future of documentation. Adobe Community Help is a great example of how one company is leading the way.

Peggy Harvey can be reached at paharvey at ncsu dot edu. End of article.

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