Why documentation and community really matters for softwares

When it comes to acquire and install a software, just focusing on the actual features, the price and the latest releases is clearly not enough: Community and documentation are two element that one must not overlook.

So you’re curently looking for a software, hesitating between different solution. Your friends, colleagues and sales people tried to push you in one direction and in another, everytime putting the light on different features, on why the software is more powerful, why it is easier to use than the others in the same category, why this user interface is more intuitive and so on.

No one is generally running out argumentation and everyone generally has a strong opinion on which should be chosen.

Documentation and community really matters.

Think about it.

You’ve just paid for a new software – which generally means paid for licenses. Which will be the first step of its introduction ?

Well, having a developper – or several – working hard on its setup, installation and fine-tuning. Despite having some support from consulting agencies, your developer will have to go throught the doc, read it and understand most of its essential working mechanism to be able to succeed in its setup.

This is the famous *RTFM* part (“Read The F*****g Manual”) .

And guess what will be the first delivery if the documentation / community is not clear enough or detailled enough ? I guess you understand. The developer won’t be thrilled about this project and might forget some interesting parts, won’t leverage all the possibilites of the product and try to shorten this setup phase to move on a to a more interesting topics – according to him. The final output will be quite deceiptive and the person in charge of the setup will not “teach” the project manager correctly on all the possibilites he has when it comes to use the software.

Developers are no magicians – even if command line and weird code might make people think about them in this way. They are humans like everyone and no one likes when you don’t fully understand a project – and you’re almost on your own on it. They have being thrown a project where basically they will have to rely on their own to succeed. They also love learning and understand how each piece is actually working: the more the documentation available is, the happier your developer will be, believe me this is a fact.

It’s ok to have a “bad” documentation as long as you have a great community.

Not all companies have good documentation. Unfortunately not. But some compensate by their amazing community: a lot of content and explanations or strong ambassador who never lose a single occasion to answer questions or spread the knowledge.

A community in this sense is to be understood in its broad acception. A community can be compouned by a forum, by a special hub maintained by the software editor but also by active and independant experts: blog writters sharing advice, return on experience, pieces of code, set up recommendations, a strong participation on website like stackoverflow.com where people help each other, the existence of several pieces of code on github – in the case of an open source software for instance.

A great software with cool features and killer engine will find it hard to challenge a long-time launched software benefiting from a wide community and complete documentation – unless this new software is so cool and backed-up financially to do it. But this doesn’t happen everyday.

The community will not only help developers, but end-users too. Think about it. When your sales people, analysts or marketers will want to really use it to carry out tasks and do their job, the first thing they will do when facing an issue will be … googling it and looking for an answer. Bloggers can share how they managed to successfully use such or such features and at the same time “teach” your end-users at almost no cost for your company.

No need their to pay for a training set since most of the training will come “naturally” by reading articles on blogs, watching tutorials on Youtube and so on. Paid training sessions can be boring for some users. Or partially meeting one’s needs. Whereas as ad hoc and very specific training from blog, videos, stackoverflow can be extremely profitable from a time / money point of view. If you use everyday a software and have been through this self-service training path, you’ll understand. In most of the cases, it allowed you to go far beyond what just the documentation or an”official” paid training would have brought you.

WDYT?

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