Getting good technical information has improved greatly since the beginning of the Internet. Years back, I called technical support when I was trying to install a wireless access point in my home office. I couldn’t get the device to work and was explaining the situation to the very nice person on the other end of the phone. When I was done, he very matter-of-factly asked me: “have you pinged your WAP?”

At first I laughed. Then I realized that he wasn’t making a joke. I knew WAP meant wireless access point (the acronym was on the box the device came in) and I knew about using a programming method called pinging from college. But even with those two data points, I had no idea what he was asking me to do. In fairness, he talked me through it and we got it working. However, I thought about all of the people out there who would have been totally stymied by his question and dead in the water about how to proceed. And, intimidated about how to ask the right questions, which is probably the worst problem that this technical disconnect can propagate.

Technology companies still make these mistakes, not only with online and phone help applications, but in their documentation, product specifications, and even their marketing and promotional material on their Web sites. It used to be a resource issue: companies relied on employees to wear many hats. So, the person who wrote the code often wrote the user manual. Today, most companies recognize the crucial communication subtleties inherent in crafting content that satisfies different audience members, from the technically-savvy early adopter to the general public and beyond. There are a couple of good examples of high tech organizations that are bridging the gap:

Twitter – when I asked a few people for good customer support Web sites, someone recommended Twitter. I’m not an active tweeter, so I figured it was a good experiment to see if I could navigate and understand the site. A sample page, Getting Started with Twitter, has some key features that make it accessible, understandable, and actually enjoyable to read:

  • It’s all about me! The content is written in the second person – “you can do this and you can do that.” It’s not about Twitter or why Twitter is great, it’s about me and why I’m great. And, of course, why I should use Twitter. But that’s still about me and as a user, I like that.
  • Short, concise headers orient me and even anticipate my questions. “What is it?, Why use it?, and How to get started” are the first three things I see. The journalistic approach – who, what, where, why, how – gives me confidence that Twitter knows their audience and what they are looking for.
  • They anticipate deeper questions that encourage interaction. Scroll down the page to find entries like “Confused by our lingo?” and a link to a Twitter glossary that provides help. At every turn, I feel supported, welcome, and intrigued. I might just start tweeting now.

Skype – I’m a recent Skype user, so I have a bit more familiarity with this technology. Skype has a good general support site, but good communication goes beyond Web support. Skype offers a couple of unique features that broadens their services to their users.

The support page features frequently asked questions, detailed How-to Guides, and access to the Skype Community forum where you can connect with other users. Here’s the piece that intrigues me – there’s a link to “Learn some new tricks” – which appeals to my desire to explore technology on the Web. Many companies underestimate their ability to entice and excite their users with their Web content, but Skype taps into that curiosity. The Tips & Tricks site includes the practical – “Getting Your Mother Started With Skype,” which is a brilliant way to market to multiple audiences at once; and the profoundly geeky – ways to play pranks on your friends and family using Skype features.

These young technology companies are setting the tone for the older behemoths. They are proving that providing good support systems by writing clean content and using clear navigation schemes contributes positively to the company’s brand identity and reputation.

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