There is an interesting thread on techwr-l about using social networking sites to deliver product information. In the thread, Geoff Hart notes there is a generation gap in those who turn to unofficial online resources vs. product documentation:
The young’uns go to the net and social networks more than we older folk, who still rely on developer-provided documentation. We ignore this change at our peril. Cheryl Lockett Zubak had a lovely anecdote at WritersUA a few years ago about how she and her son both set out to solve an iPod problem; they both found the solution in roughly equal amounts of time, but she found it in Apple’s documentation, while her son found it on YouTube.
My experience as a user straddles both relying on official docs and information available elsewhere. When my iPod locked up a few years ago, I found decent information on Apple’s web site, but the best resource for my particular problem turned out to be on YouTube. A user had made a video showing step-by-step what to do.
The dilemma of official docs vs. Web 2.0 information partially boils down to question of audience. As part of the process for planning and developing content, technical communicators should evaluate and remember the audience, and that audience consideration now needs to extend to how a company distributes the content. I don’t think there are cut-and-dried answers here; for example, it’s unwise to make the assumption that all folk over a certain age are unaware of or don’t use social networks and other Web 2.0 resources. Ignoring unofficial information channels is certainly not the solution, however.