Reading the OSS instructions

Yes, it’s true, almost no one reads the instructions… people are so self-absorbed and hurried that they plunge first. One more reason to build something simple. But at least you can post instructions so that after they fail the first time, they have a shot at getting it right the second time.”
Seth Godin

My washing machine broke down last week. One little part plus labour was almost as much as buying a new one. I wonder if anyone ever feels that way about their OSS… but I digress.

So as I was saying, I recently bought a new washing machine and I took the half self-absorbed, half worried about flooding out my laundry approach to the user guide. Part plunge in, part fleeting glances at the manual.

As a rule of thumb, that’s probably what you want from your OSS products and their instructions. You want the products to be so intuitive that users can take the plunge, but given the ramifications are probably worse than a flooded laundry, you also need great instructions (and training) as a backup.

In reality, most OSS meet neither of these criteria. Admittedly OSS are far more complex (and configurable) than installing a washing machine, but the general premise holds true.

It’s one of the reasons why I’m a massive advocate of Decision Support Systems (DSS) complementing OSS so that “people who are so self-absorbed and hurried that they plunge first” are still given the backup to avoid catastrophes.

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