I was surprised to read last week that Atlassian — the maker of JIRA and Confluence — is closing down comments on its documentation.
What happens when you open up your documentation development process to the crowd?
I don’t use Atlassian’s products. But I know their reputation as a progressive, customer-friendly company. They’ve been ahead of most of their competitors in terms of welcoming customer feedback and thus building a community of users.
So why are they closing down their commenting feature? Basically because it worked too well.
Listen to this, from Nick Doherty, manager of Atlassian’s Information Experience (IX) group:
Committing to moderating page comments creates two huge problems: an ever-increasing amount of comments to moderate and, as a result, proportional overhead on the team. For a company of our size, it just doesn’t scale.
Doherty went on to note that only about 20 percent of the comments received were actually relevant to the documentation. (The rest were tech-support questions, requests for new product features, and general inquiries.) He promised to provide an easy way of guiding people to the right places to make those kinds of requests. And the popular Atlassian Answers portal remains in business.
So what happened at Atlassian? Simply put, Atlassian did everything right: they made it easy to comment, they publicized the commenting feature, their employees were receptive and responsive. The commenting feature proved so popular the company was overwhelmed.
What does that bode for the future of user-generated content? If Atlassian did everything right and the idea still didn’t fly, does that mean it’s impossible? Should we just go back to the old days of living in a bubble, isolated from our customers — perhaps saying “drop us a line, and we’ll respond if we can”?
No and no. We can’t go back to the old days because customer expectations have changed. If we don’t accommodate our customers’ desire to provide feedback, someone else will. Third-party websites and aftermarket books will provide platforms for user-generated content — platforms over which our companies will have little or no influence in terms of managing messages and protecting our brands.
So we have to find a way to make it work. I think that Atlassian has given us a model. I won’t be surprised if Atlassian tweaks things, for example by finding a way to siphon off that 80 percent of irrelevant feedback, and comes back as strong as ever. Or, if not Atlassian, some other forward-thinking company will find the key.
Someone will have to find the key. When we talk about user-generated content, I don’t think failure is an option.
What do you think?