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December 7, 2011

Joining Sally Field’s “like me” revolution

In 1985, a few eyebrows were raised (and many eyes rolled) when Sally Field gave her “You like me!” Academy Award acceptance speech.

That speech has always been like fingernails on a chalkboard to me (and a lot of other people, too). But guess what: 26 years later, “like me” has become integral to the marketing and business plans for many companies.

“Like” is all over Facebook. One new startup, Babelverse, is applying the “like me” model to its real-time voice translation via smartphone. Instead of relying on machines to do the translation, Babelverse uses a pool of human interpreters who offer their services for bid through Babelverse. The company guarantees the quality of services by requiring users to rate interpreters:

To ensure high quality, listeners must rate their interpreter after each session. Upon making a request, they will be assigned a personalised ranking of interpreters that are the best fit (automatically taking into account language pair, availability, ratings, expertise, accent…). Users will also be able to re-employ their favourite interpreters.

If an interpreter does a good job, users of Babelverse can request that interpreter again. Reading between the lines, I suspect that Babelverse would no longer work with interpreters who didn’t get consistently acceptable ratings.

This kind of ranking model has made its way into technical communication—like it or not. Comments on web pages and stats on web traffic indicate what information people find valuable (and not so valuable). Twitter, wikis, and other social media technologies are making it easier and easier to send and receive feedback on technical content.

I do wonder if everyone in tech comm is actively seeking feedback on their content. I bet not. Granted, it can be very uncomfortable to find out that responses to your work aren’t as sparkling and happy as you expected. However, unless you gather metrics to verify how useful (and how often used) your content is, you might as well be writing for yourself in a pointless and costly exercise.

Even if you do not have a lot of time or money to set up methods for soliciting feedback, there are small, low-cost steps you can take to get the feedback loop started:

  • Adding links to help systems for emailing comments
  • Enabling commenting on web content
  • Using Google Analytics to gather metrics on web traffic

Also, if your company’s online user assistance consists exclusively of static PDF files up on a web site, you may need to rethink how you deliver content. From a use metrics standpoint, having a bunch of content in just one PDF file makes it impossible for you to gather metrics on what bits of information are used most often. (It’s also worth noting that PDF files are more difficult for users to search, have many accessibility pitfalls, and are harder to view on the smaller screens of mobile devices, but evaluating the pros and cons of the PDF format are another discussion entirely.)

It is time for everyone in tech comm to join the “like me” revolution. But please don’t make an irritating speech in front of millions of your users.