I love Google! Google keeps coming out with amazing web applications like Gmail, Google Reader, Picasa Web Album, and many more. And now they’ve released a web browser called Chrome. You bet I downloaded the browser the moment it was released and have been using the browser ever since.
I can list all the cool features of Chrome, but I think most people who read this blog are “geeks” who already have checked out Chrome. Instead, I want to talk about something else that caught my attention. Documentation!
Google Chrome Documentation
- Specification. Before Google released Chrome, we all got a glimpse of what developers call a “spec,” a piece of document that details the development of a product and/or feature. Most interestingly, this spec takes the form of a comic book! It tells the story behind the development of Chrome. Very creative!
At work, I read specs all the time as I write documentation. Specs are not always (or ever) the most exciting reading materials. Specs arise from a problem that needs a solution. Specs contain all the details of the problems, issues, solutions, algorithms, development, discussions, and many technical details that I have to sift through to find information relevant to writing documentation. Seeing Google come up with this comic version of their spec is refreshing!
- Features. After installing and launching the browser, the first page that appears is the Features page. The left sidebar lists the main features of this cool browser. Each feature shows a video, a description, and a “Learn More” link. You can get a quick glimpse and overview of what Chrome is about!
- Video Tutorials. The videos on the Features page demonstrate how to use each feature. All the videos are short (less than 30 seconds) and get right to the point. For visual learners, the videos are a quick way to get started.
- Short Description. No time to watch the videos? The short descriptions at the bottom of each video tell you about the feature.
- Detailed Documentation. If the videos and short descriptions aren’t enough, you can read more by clicking the “Learn More” link. The detailed help topics contain a search box, video(s), step-by-step tutorials, explanation, lots of screenshots and graphics, feedback link, popular help topics, related help topics, support forum, and other links/resources.
- Collapsible Widgets. If a help topic contains multiple sections, they are organized by collapsible widgets. These widgets, collapsed by default, give you an idea of what you might want to read, instead of having to scroll/read through all the sections.
- Getting Started Guide. The getting started guide walks you through the basics of Chrome from downloading/installation to main features to advanced features. There’s also a link for you to provide feedback, if you have any.
- Popular Articles. Google, being the world’s best search engine, must have some kind of a tracking system to track keyword searches and page views. The popular articles box lists the top 5 articles that are (I think) viewed the most number of times or most relevant to what you are searching for in the help.
- Related Help. In case the topic you just read didn’t answer your query, the related help section lists other topics that might be of relevance.
- Searching Help. If there’s any online help that can offer better search functionality, it has to be Google’s help system! If you can’t find the topics you need, then enter keyword(s) in the search box. My guess is that the search results are listed according to popularity/relevance, which is often not the case with many online help.
- Forum. For hardcore users who like to read documentation, report all bugs found, join discussions, and help troubleshoot/resolve issues, checkout the Help Discussion Group!
- Known Issues. As Beta software, Chrome has and will continue to have lots of known issues that the Google team is working to resolve.
- Provide Feedback. There’s a feedback survey at the bottom of each help topic for you to give feedback about documentation. This is perhaps the most direct way for you to communicate with the documentation team about the quality of the help topics.
- Contact Support. Still can’t find your answer? The very last resort is to contact Chrome’s support team directly.
Documentation That Reaches Everyone
Not many people like reading documentation because there’s a bad stigma that technical documentation is boring and useless. Well, Google has done a marvelous job creating different kinds of documentation for Chrome that speaks to all! There’s the usual text-based documentation filled with lots of graphics. Then there’s the fun-to-read comic book. And then there’s the short and simple videos.
Google set a great example for writing creating documentation that is creative, fun, engaging, interactive, and perfect for users of all learning styles.
Learning Styles and Technical Writing
Several weeks ago, I wrote a short article about learning styles in technical writing. In the article, I briefly introduced the concept of integrating people’s learning styles in technical documentation. I also pointed to a few interesting articles from Gryphon Mountain Journals. I’ve been wanting to write about this topic, but haven’t gotten around to writing the articles. It’s always at the back of my mind when I’m writing documentation at work.
In any case, looking at Chrome’s documentation reminded me of my much delayed series on technical writing. The timing couldn’t have been any better. My company (National Instruments) has an internal technical communication conference that takes place in Austin every year. I submitted a proposal to present a topic on learning styles and technical writing. The conference committee selected my topic, so I’ll be going to Austin in October to give a presentation on this very interesting topic/subject.
More about learning styles and technical writing in the coming weeks.