Ed Wilson: Filling white space

One of the cool things about being on a documentation team at Microsoft is the chance to see all the work that goes in to producing the learning and supporting materials for the new products. When the product happens to be a huge release, such as Windows 8, the efforts are massive.

Documentation white space is a term that describes when there is a product feature with no corresponding learning / supporting materials. In the old days, Microsoft, and our customers, seemed to feel that only Microsoft could fill this white space. Also in the old days, that documentation took the form of books and on the box help. I still remember when as a junior admin I first opened the box for Windows NT 3.51, out tumbled an envelope full of 3.5 inch floppy disks, and next came several big thick books of product documentation. Actually the troubleshooting book was one of the best books of its kind I have ever seen. But back then, there was no world wide web, and CD-ROMs and multi-media computers were somewhat of a rarity. Documentation for computer products really was limited and so it was pretty natural to look to the vendor as the fount of all information.

Now, of course, there are WIKI’s, blogs, video sharing sites, Facebook groups, Twitter hash tags, Live Meetings, Virtual User Groups, in person User Groups, email lists, in person specialized training, remote specialized training, and numerous other avenues of documentation – not to mention books. So when looking for white space in documentation, we need to look at all those areas to ensure that the product features are adequately covered.

One way we ensure that there is no documentation white space is by recruiting the MVP community. Each year we have an MVP summit, the one for 2012 recently concluded. During the summit the MVPs have the chance to meet with various members of the product group. When they leave, they set about the task of writing blogs, conducting Live Meetings, speaking at user groups and conferences, making videos to share, tweeting, making postings on Facebook, submitting topics to WIKIs, and also writing books. In this way the community gets the benefit of hundreds of different points of views, and the white space is filled in.

Trying to predict where, and when, these different sources of information will fill in the white space, is of course a challenge. But the advantage is that I can now find learning resources in the exact form, and style, that helps me to learn the best. So therefore people that are visual learners can access numerous sources of video training material. People that learn by reading have books, blogs, WIKIs and other similar forms of communication. People that learn by doing have online quizzes, online labs, superflows, and other forms of interactive documentation. In short, by embracing the community we obtain the needed documentation, at exactly the right time, in exactly the form that the situation requires. It makes for an exciting and engaging experience – and it is one of the coolest things imaginable.

As a specific example, take the Scripting Games. Each year, I write articles to help people prepare for the games. But this year, I also have 30 judges. Each of these judges, will in all likelihood, write articles about things they are seeing in the submissions (both good examples and bad examples). In addition, I have lined up 20 guest commentators to provide solutions. The advantage? Well we will have 50 different points of views. The judges and the commentators come from different backgrounds, have different experiences, different skills, and different jobs. The result is a diverse collection of views and ideas from some of the best scripting experts in the world. Such a resource is invaluable, and is much stronger than what I could provide as a single individual.

By the way, if you are in the Charlotte, North Carolina area you might want to check out Friday’s IT Pro Appreciation Day sponsored by the Carolina IT Pro User Group. I will be making two presentations on Windows PowerShell, and the agenda is packed with MVPs and other high-powered speakers. The event is expected to draw nearly a thousand IT Pros from the surrounding region. You will not want to miss it if you can.

Well I have got to get back to work on filling documentation white space. Hope to see you on Friday.



Skip to main content