The Write The Docs conference is running right now, and a session just got done about search-oriented documentation (the slide-deck) and it hit all kinds of bells for me. I'm a technical user of a very wide variety of documentation, and I work in an industry that coined the term RTFM. We are consumers of documentation in all of its various forms:
- Straight up manuals on paper, sitting on a shelf, that arrived with the product (back when manuals still shipped with product)
- Offline manuals in CD-ROM form (in that time between when physical manuals stopped shipping and everyone had an Internet connection).
- Online manuals in HTML form.
- Support databases listing targeted resolutions of problems and technical notes hilighting obscure bits of config-trivia.
- Random Internet forums with posts from fellow lost people having the same problem.
- Random wikis.
- Vendor-specific product forums attempting to provide a 'Community' experience to support (and take some load off of their support people).
- Internal ticketing databases.
- Internal and external bugtrackers.
How do we find all that crap?
This is why none of us have cracked open an offline manual (or put in a CD-ROM) in years. Our portal into documentation is the search-engine, either the majors or the one built into our internal tools (where the majors can't find it). But search is our index.
For those of us who write end-user visible documentation, keeping this in mind is paramount. Enhancing searchability means enhancing metadata like tags, so tag your doc with the words users actually search for not their actual names. As a consumer of documentation I can only cheer this kind of effort to improve discoverability.