The Future of Online Help?

Jared Spool

January 13th, 2006

Jean wrote in:

Can you recommend documentation visionaries; i.e. what will online help look like five or ten years from now? Thanks very much.

A former client

Hi Jean,

We reserve our predictions for future clients. ;-) Just kidding.

Seriously, we think of ourselves more as historians than futurists. To that end, we restrain ourselves from making grand predictions about what the future holds. We find it occupies all of our time to focus on what’s happened in the past and what we can learn from it.

In the past, online help was mostly a temporary fix to bridge the gap left between (often needlessly) complex interfaces and the users. As we learn more about producing interfaces that are intuitive, the need for online help has dissipated.

Recent work by Microsoft confirmed what we’ve known for years: more and more, online help is only used by expert users (such as Visual Studio developers looking up C# language syntax) and bypassed by the more novice users.

So, if I were to really venture a guess, I’d say that, ten years from now, it will be hard to find any online help, except in fairly rare environments, such as programming environments. (But, then again, there may be a reason why I avoid making predictions. One doesn’t have to look further than my investment portfolio to see why.)

Here is more information about building intuitive interfaces.

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