Documents Make Lousy Documentation

Documents Make
Lousy Documentation

Disencumbering organizational reference material

Documents—deliberately-prepared, edited, curated, formatted, sequences of content—are great for telling stories. They're great for conveying arguments. However, if you already buy the argument and you're just looking for facts, documents have a number of characteristics that, when compared to newer—as in invented sometime in the last few decades—technology, simply get in the way.

We are 30 years into the Web, meaning we are 30 years into a robust and mature global hypermedia system. Why, then, are we still so preoccupied with documents? Why do Word, Excel, and Powerpoint (and their Google and PDF-taxidermied counterparts) still dominate? Why, when we need to locate some intraorganizational reference material, do we still have to slog through simulated paper where the information we want is buried in superfluous exposition? Especially now, in the burgeoning era of design systems, which are inherently hypertextual?

Origin Story

This theme represents something I have been chipping away at for over a decade: Documents are great for stories, and stories are great for presenting an argument, but if you’re already convinced of the argument, what you need is a reference. The best kinds of references are the ones that get you in and out with the information you need with the least overhead lost to searching and scanning. It is also important to be able to filter, aggregate, reformat, and ultimately repurpose said information, so merely indexing your documents for full-text search doesn't finish the job. What it spells is hypertext: lots of little pieces strung together with links. Lots of links.

The Program

There are two obvious targets under this theme:

  1. How to go into an organization and dissolve a corpus of documents into a tight hypermedia reference,
  2. How one could not only make such an asset, but also package and deliver it.

The challenge is that what I am terming dense hypermedia has a great many more moving parts than an ordinary website, however the opportunity is that these assets can be delivered piece by piece. Indeed, this website, which began dense—and has since thinned out over the decade of its existence—is perfect non-NDA-encumbered fodder for demonstrating the rehabilitation technique, which will feed back into both client projects and general consumption.