The Top 10 Best Technical Documentation Sites of 2010

We polled over 300 Technical Communicators to determine the best documentation sites on the web.  If you’re looking for the best product or service documentation sites, look no further than the sites below.

The winner, Microsoft was chosen by Technical Communicators due its great search capabilities, product coverage is excellent and it’s easy to use.  Microsoft Answers and their MVP program was also cited as best in class.

Interestingly, all of the top 10 are from well recognized brands.  There are no small companies or surprises that we can see.  And with the exception of Intel and Cisco, all of the top 10 are consumer facing.  Moreover, all except Wikipedia are from software or technical companies.

This list of the top documentation sites of 2010 as ranked by Technical Communicators is a good place to start if you want to know how the best are using documentation.   Yet, most of what we see is just the beginning.  There’s more just around the corner.  Just subscribe to this blog to learn why.

top 10 technical documentation sites small size

RankTech Doc SiteCited AttributesPowered By

1

Microsoft· Great search ability

· Excellent standards

· Easy to access and provide feedback

· Well organized – meets delivery demands (articles, video how-to’s, development area, and so on)

· MVP Program

Custom built
2IBM Redbooks• Effective use of Eclipse Info Center technology
• Great content, easy to navigate in the website
• Deep dive information
• Excellent use of online delivery mechanisms
• One of the more comprehensive
IBM – Redbooks

3

Apple• Interactive assistance and guidance
• Great FAQs
• Detailed and interesting to read
• Clear, succinct
Custom
4Hewlett Packard• Accurate
• Very detailed
• Thorough, searchable
• Ease of use
Custom
5Adobe• Robust Community Help
• Great look and feel
Custom
6Intuit• Easy to access and provide feedback
• Love the “How Do I” links from the product to help
MindTouch
7Dell• Great decision trees
• Convenient web site
• Easy to find, no restrictions
Custom
8Cisco• Modern
• Thorough, searchable
Custom
9Intel• Comprehensive and well written
• Vast amount of information
Custom
10Wikipedia• Lots of info and links, easy to navigate
• Search capabilities are strong
MediaWiki

Notice most of the sites are built from scratch.  This becomes extremely expensive for most companies and simply unattainable for Small & Medium Businesses (SMB).  Moreover, the sites operate as mini-silos, meaning customer support is not connected to documentation which is not tied to community help.  Forums, blogs and Wiki’s are separated but used for similar purposes. Even Microsoft has disconnected support and documentation portals.

The problem with this situation is that most of the sites above don’t allow you to globally search across each of the different documentation silos.  That’s a problem.  How do their customers know if the solution is located in the Wiki, the community, or the knowledge base?

MindTouch TCS is a good place to start if you want to solve the global search problem.  It’s a great place to start if you want to match or beat the best documentation and support sites from the top corporations.  Moreover, since it’s constantly being updated by a company dedicated to the space, you don’t need large web service departments that are constantly updating and maintaining it.  Companies that maintain and build their own support and documentation sites can’t scale in the long run.

It’s too expensive even for the Fortune 500.

25 Comments

  1. This is just too good. I feel like a kid at his Birthday party who opened the Lego set he wanted and now simply HAS to go build it, abandoning the cake and the rest of the gifts. If I go silent for few days, it's because I'm studying your giant diagram.

    • LOL, thanks I spent a lot of time constructing it. I have to give the Top 10 credit. They built most of it from scratch (which is why they all look and act different).

      Notice how most have communities built around their product documentation and support. Also notice how most allow the crowdsourcing of content. Most have community leaderboards, yet all lack significant social features. At minimum, I should be able to log in with Facebook Connect, Google, or LinkedIn.

  2. Mark, thanks for this. There is a lot to think about here. My colleagues at Dell who have put together those content decision trees will be interested in this.

    I hope you are planning to share more insights from your survey results in subsequent posts.

    You saved your money quote until the end: "Companies that maintain and build their own support and documentation sites can’t scale in the long run. It’s too expensive even for the Fortune 500."

    My observations on that: Those companies do have the resources to solve the scaling problem you allude to. They either just don't get why it's important (yet), or they get it but can't change, or they get it and just need an ROI model. On that last point, maybe it's time for some further thought leadership from you on how to calculate a Net Present Value for social documentation? (…see Sam Decker's recent blog on "How to Calculate the Net Present Value of Social Commerce" at clickz: http://www.clickz.com/3640636)

    • OK, they can scale, but they can't sustain the product innovation needed to keep up with the demands of their customers. If they could, they would be creating their own ERP, CRM and Office Productivity systems. They don't because it's not their core competency. But they need too now because no one is providing the solution they need to address the needs of their customers. Until now. MindTouch 2010 will deliver what they have now plus MUCH more.

      I like your suggestion on the NPV – I will check it out. Perhaps we can work on it together?

  3. When is "now"? I can't wait to check out MindTouch 2010. :)

  4. No need to read any further, Microsoft chosen for the best product or service documentation sites!
    Obveously choosen by some who would not know good documentation if they were looking at it.

  5. So glad to discover this! (I can't understand how I wasn't Following you already on Twitter.) I got so t'd off at the state of the art I registered doc30.com … if anybody has a concept for a project, let's give things a push!

    /me reads good tech_docs for the sheer pleasure of it

  6. This is awesome Mark -

    Agree with your list / arguments – but also on a point that it is BECAUSE of their doc being out there, openly, searchable, and in abundance, that these vendors also established themselves as early and lasting leaders / experts in their industries (whether or not they were, which sure – one can always debate these points).

    Through the relentless visibility of their doc, customers and competitors referred to their doc for "how to do it" or expertise – so ironically the corps also got the edge to steer the markets the way they wanted and gain experts'-respect marketshare.

    You could argue that there's inaccuracies in the doc – but aren't their inaccuracies in closed doc too? Doc updates is an endless evolution – and making it public also brings feedback and engagement – and bonus: the more you update public doc, the more you invite the SEO gremlins to your site.

    IMHO, this absolutely the way of the future and smart smart on all business levels, let alone tangible and intangible ROI!

    • Thanks Ellen, our Founder Steve Bjorg also made the same argument. Yet there are higher traffic doc sites from Google, Yahoo and others that didn't make the list so it's not the only variable. I believe these sites also have forward thinking features and community that make them memorable and best in class.

      Glad you see it as the future as we do.

      BTW: Which site is your favorite?

  7. Have you ever considered adding some videos to your blog posts to keep the readers more entertained? I mean I just read through the entire article of yours and it was quite good but since I’m more of a visual learner, I find videos appealing. Maybe something to test?

  8. Thank you Mark Fidelman! Nice information.

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