Thursday, August 10, 2006

Documentation and Doing Something

Are your users stuck in "P" mode?:

For most of us, the problem was NOT that we couldn't learn how to use anything but automatic "P" mode. The problem was that we didn't know why or when to use anything else.

It wasn't simply a camera problem--it was a photography problem. The camera manuals describe precisely how to turn the dials and push the buttons, but never tell us why we'd want to. They focus on the tool rather than the thing the tool enables (taking pictures). What good does it do to master a tool if we haven't understood (let alone mastered) the thing we're using the tool for?

Sounds a lot like some of the new ESRI effort around documentation that was announced at the GIS Faire/User Conf...I think the user community aspect is big too, whether it's a conference or a BBS to share data on, community builds that common knowledge amongst users that can grow far beyond what the actual creators of a product know about what can be done with it...

I think about the tutorial style of books with a big example to follow, versus an API reference. Or the cookbook to X. Have any GIS books come out with a Cookbook approach? The closest thing I have seen is GoogleMaps Hacks- a neat collection of things to do with maps.

I think it is useless to argue about what is or isn't a GIS. For example, I have seen it written in a couple of places that Google Earth isn't a GIS. It certainly seems to meet the literal definition. I think Google Maps is a GIS as well. Why waste time with the label when you can just talk about specific capabilities?


Steven said...

Kathy's blog is one of the best in the "blogosphere-o-2.0-something-o". She is almost always right on and interesting. If you go back in her archive you will see some of her discussion about cookbooks versus refernce books. After I read that I understood better why some tech books just never sat right with me.

I totally agree about the user community aspect. If only ESRI had doc pages like MySQL and PostgreSQL. I would have updated information on at least 20-30 pages by now, and that's since I left ESRI. To me this is one of the biggest lost opportunities from ESRI.

Thanks for giving me further inspiration to resurrect my feed reader.

Matt M said...

I definitely like cookbooks- and Kathy. The Pragmatic Programmers have a slight ripoff of the O'Reilly cookbooks with the book title "Rails Recipes". Very nice book though!

I think it would be pretty cool to have a community site out there where recipes like those could appear for accomplishing specific goals with various tools. Most of it now takes more of a message board format, so when you are searching for the answer to something, you see a lot of people that have a question, and then you get a couple of possible suggestions from people, sometimes, and if you're really lucky, the original poster might come back and say what worked or what didn't.

My friend Nolan used to love to laugh at those things you would see out on Sun's Java forums where someone would be desperately asking a question- "I need to know how to X by 5PM today or I am going to lose my job!" And then there would be no responses.