A Comic Alternative to Documentation?

[This article has been cross-posted to Musings of a Wandering Spirit.]

Recently, when clearing some bookshevles, my wife came across this illustrations-only set of instructions she’d prepared back in the late-90′s for our then pre-literate daughter, who’d demonstrated a propensity for (supervised, semi-independent) baking projects.

Having a fresh look at these instructions got me thinking about the use of comics and pictures-only documentation for non-literate and pre-literate users. In this case, the images are rather high-context, meaning, they might be meaningless to someone not familiar with the kitchen for which they were drawn, the equipment being used, and the end-product, in this case, popovers.

However, I can validate (or at least visually confirm) that these instructions—with a bit of practice—did in fact work. Our daughter, a pre-schooler at the time, indeed managed to create the intended product, based on following the image sequences in the drawings.

In the years since, I’ve come across a number of instances where a hardware vendor or app provider chose to rely mainly on illustrations, sometimes accompanied by text, other times relying only on pictures, in providing instructions for end-users.

Though I’ve yet to research the topic in-depth, I find the basic notion intriguing. That is, do we tend to be over-reliant on words, in cases where simple drawings would do the trick? Could we, as documentation specialists, make our instructional products more accessible to those who either have difficulty reading in general, or who aren’t familiar with the language(s) in which we provide wirtten documentation? Instead of—or more likely, in addition to—translating documentation into written languages, could we transform our instructions into comics or other illustrations-only media?

For what it’s worth, since I’m not a big fan of pudding-like baked goods, I’ve never actually tried the end-product. Nor am I a “foodie” or sharer of recipies (I tend to overlook such posts in Facebook and instantly delete them from email). Though if you decide to try applying these instructions at home, I’d be curious to hear about your outcome, as well as learn about your experiences with comic-based documentation.


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Filed under Documentation, Information Architecture

The Big Switch, by Nicholas Carr

[This article was co-posted to Musings of a Wandering Spirit.]

The following tweets summarize the main points of Nicholas Carr’s The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google. Carr’s basic premise is that the migration of data storage and application hosting to “cloud” computing today is no less revolutionary than the construction of electrical grids in the late 19th century, and resultant provision of electricity to homes, businesses, and municipalities. The first third of the book tells the story of Edison, his contemporaries, and the impact of their innovations. The second third discusses the recent evolution of utility computing and its influence. The final third of the book is essentially a treatise on what we can expect from a future where the common individual has yielded any remaining semblance of privacy to governments, corporations, and various institutions.

[1/11] Finished reading The Big Switch, by Nicholas Carr. http://www.nicholasgcarr.com/bigswitch/ #TheBigSwitch #CloudComputing

[2/11] Informative and entertaining, though dark view of future of computers, networks, and connectivity. #TheBigSwitch #Internet

[3/11] Claims Internet puts disproportionate power in hands of gov’ts, corporations & institutions. #TheBigSwitch #Internet

[4/11] Power no longer in hands of individual end-user. #TheBigSwitch #Internet

[5/11] Rejects notion that computer systems are technologies of emancipation. #TheBigSwitch #Internet

[6/11] Rather, computer systems are technologies of control. #TheBigSwitch #Internet

[7/11] Computer systems designed to monitor & influence human behavior. #TheBigSwitch #Internet

[8/11] The more we share into databases, social networks, & cloud storage, the more vulnerable we make ourselves. #TheBigSwitch #Internet

[9/11] Consumerism long ago replaced libertarianism as prevailing ideology of online world. #9heBigSwitch #Internet

[10/11] Claims Google founders predict direct link between #brain & #Internet by 2020, i.e. physical-neural interface. #TheBigSwitch

[11/11] I’m finished tweeting on #TheBigSwitch. Enjoyed the book & recommend it.

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Filed under Book Review, Comentary, Future, Technology

Authority & Identity in the Internet Age

[This article was co-posted to Musings of a Wandering Spirit]

Here’s my tweeted super-brief summary of Jeff Jarvis’ Buzz Machine article “e-G8: A discussion about sovereignty” (see tweeted links below), which presents his exploration as to what extent the Internet can change not only traditional loyalties and identities, but the very nature of how authority can be applied by governments in the first place. While the jury is still out on what direction and form this “new” authority will take, it’s certainly worth noting, especially now that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has apparently taken a keen interest in the issue.

[1/5] Liked @JeffJarvis’ description of the Internet as disruptor of authority. http://bit.ly/kHRBT1

[2/5] Can the Internet serve as a counterweight to power & authority of gov’t? http://bit.ly/kHRBT1

[3/5] The question as to who has sovereignty over the Internet is still being debated. http://bit.ly/kHRBT1

[4/5] To what extent does the Internet undercut traditional loyalties? http://bit.ly/kHRBT1

[5/5] Is Internet really akin to 8th continent? Are we dual-citizens of countries & the ‘Net? http://bit.ly/kHRBT1

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Filed under Politics, Society, Technology

We are the Disruptive Communicator

Documentation is no longer a top-down endeavor, dictated by the application provider. Today, the most useful product knowledge comes as a result of conversations taking place at the grassroots, that is, from the user communities.

The success of a product is intricately linked to the clarity, relevance, usefulness, and accessibility of its documentation. As an application provider, your ability to harvest knowledge gleaned from the technical conversations going on in your user communities is essential to the success of the product overall.

With this awareness as our guiding philosophy, we’re exploring knowledge sharing strategies, seeking innovative ways to develop content, while envisioning social media as the new documentation platform.

We welcome you to join us in this enriching and stimulating conversation.



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Filed under Philosophy