This weekend I attended the Open Help Conference in Cincinnati. It was smallish, and so there was a lot of good conversation and brainstorming. The focus was both documentation and support, which are, of course, deeply intertwined.

Photo by Siobhan McKeown

_Photo by Siobhan McKeown_

Siobhan McKeown, from the Wordpress documentation team, was at the conference, and took amazing notes, so I'm going to link to her writeup for each talk.

The day started with Jorge Castro talking about using StackExchange to handle the question-and-answer part of support. StackExchange is part of the StackOverflow family of sites. Each StackExchange site is focused on a particular community and is very focused on question-and-answer format rather than general discussion. It allows users to vote for the quality of questions and answers and seems to be a great way to get the subject matter experts more directly involved in the support process. (Read Siobhan's notes.)

Following that, Michael Verdi of the Firefox support team talked about the SuMo site and the work that they had done to help users find the answers to their questions. Of particular interest were some graphs he showed of the improvement in customer satisfaction as well as the rate of answered questions that was brought about by just improving the search functionality. This helps users find the right docs so that they don't even need to ask their questions.

Firefox has their own home-grown, open source solution, called Kitsune. It has some StackExchage-like features and a great tool called Army of Awesome, which is a way to watch Twitter mentions of your project/product and ensure that at least one person from the expert community has responded to each one. (Read Siobhan's notes.)

This was followed by a panel discussion including Jorge, Michael, Jeremy Garcia (, and Siko Bouterse from Wikipedia. The discussion ranged from Wikipedia author retention to further discussion of many of the issues that Michael and Jorge had raised.

I spoke next, talking about listening to your audience. This is something I've thought a lot about over the years. My trepidation in speaking at this conference was that it seemed like many of the people there know a lot more about documentation and support than I do, as I'm largely self-taught in this area. But it seemed that my remarks were well-received. Once again here are Siobhan's notes, which in this case are way better than my own notes for my talk.

I was the last speaker of the day, and this was followed by a general discussion of the things that had been raised during the day, as well as many related issues.

You can see a lot of commentary about the events of the weekend by looking at the #openhelp keyword on Twitter. The comments above are about Saturday's sessions only, so I recommend reading Siobhan's notes from Sunday's sessions as well.