Interview with Peggy Harvey – The Future of Documentation: Adobe Community Help

RJ: Peggy, thanks for agreeing to speak with me today. I’ve gotten to know you well on Twitter, but for my readers who don’t know you, please tell us about yourself.

Peggy: Hi RJ. Thanks for inviting me. I’m currently a full-time student, working toward my M.S. in Technical Communications at North Carolina State University. I started out as a Technical Writer in the software industry in the late ’90s, then moved into a Proposal Manager position and worked on the marketing/internal sales support side of things for several years. I wanted to get back into technical writing, though, so when I had the opportunity to go back to school a couple years ago I took it in order to catch up with the field of technical communication. I’ll be finishing my degree this fall and am looking forward to getting back into the field as a professional.

RJ: Sounds like an exciting time in your life. Something I’m really excited about is Adobe Community Help and I was glad to see that in a recent presentation you delivered on “Enabling User Interactivity” you mentioned it several times. Can you share with us more about your presentation?

Peggy: Sure. The full title of my presentation (and the 7000-word paper that went with it!) was, “Enabling User Interactivity with Documentation.” I looked at how companies use social media and Web 2.0 technologies to enable interactivity between users and documentation, including how companies are engaging users in conversation—an idea I got from Anne Gentle’s book, Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation.

I defined user interactivity as the marriage of user-generated content (for example on blogs, wikis, or forums) and companies listening to and interacting with the content in some fashion. I talked about why enabling user interactivity is so important for companies today and discussed some of the issues companies need to address when it comes to user-generated content, including trust, credibility, audience, and accuracy.

I then explored how companies are enabling user interactivity and how they’re addressing the issues associated with it. I looked at three companies specifically: Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe. While Microsoft and Apple engage with users through more traditional question/answer forums, I found Adobe takes a much more encompassing (and I’d say more interactive) approach with Community Help.

RJ: I agree, there’s so much to like about Adobe Community Help, and at Adobe, we really see this as the future of delivering User Assistance and a way to bring entire communities together around our products and services.  We are also doing something similar in the Help of Adobe Technical Communication Suite 2. In a recent article you wrote, you described Community Help as the future of Documentation, can you share with us your take on what makes this new platform exciting?

Peggy: I think the future of documentation is in search.  Over the past decade companies have scaled back considerably in the amount of printed documentation they provide, partially due to cost and partially because users simply aren’t reading user manuals as much anymore. In my presentation I included a quote that said 50% of people go to Google before calling a company’s customer service department, and I think this applies to documentation as well. The reality is that people are turning to search engines to find answers to their problems.  Adobe capitalizes on this trend by providing a one-stop shopping experience for user assistance. By including both Adobe and user-generated content in the search results and incorporating a broad range of media formats, Adobe Community Help presents users with more options and a better chance of finding the exact information they need.

RJ: I agree with you in that search and user-generated content are two key trends in Technical Documentation and I’m happy to see that more people are beginning to notice that both are tightly integrated into our Adobe Community Help. Another exciting feature is the ability to add a comment to a Help topic and also rate topics from 1-5 stars. How do you think this will benefit the social aspect of Help?

Peggy: Great question. When it comes to user-generated content, trust can be a big factor. With official product documentation, you trust the content because you know where it came from. User-generated content, however, doesn’t always have that kind of credibility behind it so you can’t always be sure if the content is tested and verified or just someone’s idea that may or may not work. Comments and rating systems allow users to share their experiences with other users, making the material much more useful in the long run.

I really like that Adobe opens up comments and ratings on the product Help documentation as well. While credibility probably isn’t a factor, sometimes a topic simply isn’t able to address everything a user needs. Allowing comments provides a great way to extend the conversation about a particular topic, giving Adobe employees and other users an opportunity to clarify questions or address concerns users have about the documentation, all in the context of the documentation itself.

RJ: Excellent and I too agree that in today’s social media world all of these community-driven features are extremely important to the User Assistance experience. And because Adobe Community Help is built on Adobe AIR, we were able to incorporate commenting, ratings, auto-updating and many more features and since our Adobe applications are available for Windows and Mac, a single Community Help AIR application can be deployed across multiple platforms and soon across mobile devices, too.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for your time and your insight, and congratulations on your recent Sigma Tau Chi award from STC.

Peggy: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure talking to you about Adobe Community Help.  Adobe is really on the front lines when it comes to user assistance.  As I transition back into the professional world I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on Adobe for future innovations in this area.



  • Ed Martino

    Very good analysis on the future of help. Search is clearly key and RH-AIR is a winner!

  • Phil Cowcill

    Good article. I like what Peggy is saying. There is a down side to this. I was on a plane once and I needed to look up the order of parameters for a Flash function. Well – no luck. So after I landed, I downloaded the Help PDF for Flash. What’s on line for help and what is in the PDF are two totally different documents.I also had some difficulty with the online search. Although this seems to have improved, I recall getting enteries from “UltraDev” when searching fro some material for Dreamweaver. I think the checkbox for this version only helps.I do like local help files instead of having 100% of the help files online. Faster loading and 100% access time. I’m not a fan of HTML help (browsers are slow). Maybe migrating help as an AIR application????That being said, I also really apperciate the effort Adobe is making with its Community. There are times when I don’t think Adobe is listening (talk to an Authorware user) but there is a solid effort there. Keep up the good work.

  • Amy

    People have to use Google to search the Livedocs because Ion is truly atrocious for finding anything and it’s the only way Adobe provides for searching their products’ help.Ion is essential, however, for finding out how to do anything in Flash, because its docs have huge gaping holes.

  • I’m so happy to see my book inspires a research paper like this – thanks, Peggy, for mentioning Conversation and Community, and thank you RJ for putting it on your Adobe blog.My favorite Adobe innovation as a user of Indesign has to be the ability to search Community Help – Love the integration and innovation, keep up the great work.

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