Review of Conversation and Community - The Social Web for Documentation by Anne Gentle

When I heard Anne Gentle was in the process of writing this book, I was excited. The initial buzz hinted at answers to questions being raised in professional discussion groups and in my own work, the most unsettling being "If users are resorting to community-generated documentation, where does that leave professional writers?"

When the publisher sent me a free copy to review, I couldn't wait to dig in.

New roles for technical writers

As social media digs its roots deeper and deeper into the lives of consumers, it is becoming clear that writers need to adapt and get involved. The old methods of documentation production and delivery don't always meet the needs of our users. The process is too slow. The resulting documents do not engage or involve users, or make efficient use of their feedback. Users are responding by searching Google instead of the product's help, and by starting their own product-based communities for asking and answering questions.

Anne Gentle sees this change in a positive light; she has jumped into the tangled world of Web 2.0 with both feet and emerged with a clearer sense of purpose. Through her experiences working on community-generated documents, she has discovered how writers can add value and authority to wikis, blogs, and other forms of social media. Her book is filled with insight gained from her work as a professional blogger, FLOSS Manuals veteran, and volunteer for the One Laptop per Child project.

The answers you seek are here

The initial pages of Conversation and Community - The Social Web for Documentation cover the various types of social media being used to generate documentation and product-based conversations. Gentle starts with the essentials, including wikis and blogs, but continues to suggest a vast range of tools along with details on how each applies to user documentation. Web 2.0 junkies might be familiar with some of this material, but I found quite a few suggestions that I hadn't considered before.

Then Gentle gets into the really good stuff. She covers, in detail, all of the nagging questions about how writers fit into this new world of social media. For example...

  • How to determine if your customers need or want an online community.
  • How to judge what features and information your customers will find useful.
  • How to judge what role the writer should play in a community.
  • A definition of the types of roles a writer can play.
  • How to ease your way into a community without being intrusive.
  • How to convince your company of the value of the social web for documentation.
  • Tips for implementing community technology and getting other writers involved.
  • Guidelines for measuring the success of your community-based documentation.
  • How to organize Book Sprints and grow a team for building a community-generated document.
  • Specific examples of FLOSS Manuals involvement and the tools used in Book Sprints.
  • Guidelines and tools for repurposing Wiki pages and other user-generated content.
  • How to find your voice and get involved immediately.

I could elaborate here, but you should really just read the book so you don't miss the vital details.

What I like best of all is that Gentle never makes the mistake of elevating the technology to greater importance than the people who use it. It isn't about the tools; it's about the community. It's about relationships.

My overall opinion

This is a very important book. Not reading it is like sticking your head in the sand and waiting for your career to dissipate into oblivion. Your community needs you.

You can Buy it from Amazon >>.