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New Tech-Support Resource: Reviewer's Guides?

As I was making yet another futile attempt to clean the accumulation of paper off my desk earlier this week, I noticed how much of those printed products were the reviewer's guides that tech publicists usually hand out to critics.

I have long ignored these documents while writing a review, simply because you, the user, don't get any such help from the company when you're trying to use the product. But it finally hit me yesterday that maybe these companies ought to post these documents where their customers, not just their reviewers, could consult them.

A reviewer's guide is not an infallible resource; it will always put the best possible spin on a product's features (unless somebody in PR slips up). But it can provide a much clearer explanation of what the hardware or software does, and how to get to these functions and features, than its own interface or manual may include. See, for instance, this quick description of how to write one.

And unlike most manuals, a reviewer's guide will also normally be generously illustrated with screenshots, showing precisely where to click to do this and that. Here are a few examples of the genre:

* Google posts PDFs all of its reviewer's guides on a single page

* Here's Opera's reviewer's guide for its latest browser

* Microsoft occasionally posts these documents too; see, for instance, the guides for its Windows Live software and services (all in Word format)

Take a look at some of these and let me know if they were of any help in using the stuff they're trying to sell. Do you think it would help if more companies posted these documents for public consumption?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 18, 2008; 7:19 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen  
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Well, if they're not going to provide manuals anymore and my other option is to purchase for Dummies (for straight cash, homey!) then I say that they should.

I'm sure that the software makers will argue that you can access their online "KnowledgeBase" or some crap like that, but really, when it comes down to learning everything a product does, paper documentation is key. No one wants to sit at a computer and pour through the manual.

What I don't understand is how they have utterly missed on such a burgeoning market? I mean, all these books and tips and tricks and bibles and shows that people want MORE, not LESS, documentation and information that they can pour over.

Posted by: BobT | April 18, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

So many people will obtain a program and learn how to use to do only what they need at that time. They never go back and experiment with the program to find out what other useful functions have been incorporated in the program. The developers put a lot of time and energy into developing the program. Yes, programs are complex and many times hard to use and understand fully. Maybe the developers need to make it more obvious to the users how to use some of the not-so-obvious features.

The Dummies guides are a great tool, but should you really need something like that to use Word or Excel?

In other cases, the developers need to make the programs easier to comprehend. Don't hide things under 4 or 5 layers of seemingly unrelated menus. Use clearer terminology for tasks and options. Make the help files more helpful. In the help files, use common terminology in the index. You can also use the tehcnical terms in the index, but also include some common terms also.

I'm as guilt of this as the next user, but try to give some real world examples of how to use some of the more un-intuitive functions.

Make things more user-friendly.

Posted by: blasher | April 18, 2008 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Thought I would check out one I use, Goggle Reader. The Reviewers Guide on the linked page is for the beta version (dated 10/05) which evidently had a much better layout than the "graduated" version I am using.

So I checked out Google Earth and it seems to be for a previous version (dated 2006) as well.

If they are going to post them -- which I am all for -- they at least need to be applicable to the presently available versions.

Posted by: Rosie Win | April 18, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Most of the manufacturers' guides go unread, never removed from their shrink-wrap. Letting the user pick an off-the-shelf guide pitched at their level (if the online documentation is too technical).

Posted by: Mike | April 19, 2008 1:35 AM | Report abuse

As for Microsoft: Albany - Is the idea to sell something, a subscription, to keep a 2007 version of Office "for students" current? My experience with Microsoft is their support is being out sourced, not good news if one has a technical problem. In my case i was dealing with a language barrier and a scripted support environment. End result got rid of the Microsoft product.

Posted by: Minton | April 22, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

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