If you’ve spent any time using complex software, you’ve probably had help from web-based tutorials. Though they are community-created content, web tutorials serve as the de-facto source of help for many users of these applications.
We analyzed user comments posted on popular tutorials for Word, Photoshop, and Excel to understand:
- How web tutorials are currently being used,
- the social practices in their comment sections,
- what these findings imply for creating new and better tutorial systems.
Check out the graphic below for a high-level sketch of our findings. Afterward I’ll talk about two results that we found particularly interesting.
First, we found an unexpected use of web tutorials that we’ve termed “expert shadowing”. In this scenario the user attempts to recreate a complex end result by mimicking the actions of an expert. The user’s primary goal in this use appears to be recreational; the tutorial is allowing the user to experience using the software at a level of ability they couldn’t otherwise, and this is both challenging and rewarding. This is qualitatively different from reading a tutorial to learn a new skill, or applying its instructions to a current problem, and it suggests an opportunity for tutorial systems that are designed to explicitly create this type of rich experience for users.
Second, we identified social practices that produce valuable information that could help other users, or improve the tutorial content. For example, when users run into trouble following a tutorial, they sometimes post “help-me” stack traces describing where they got stuck and their actions leading up to the problem. This information could help subsequent users, but in current tutorial designs it’s typically stuck in a long list of comments at the bottom of the page, where it’s unlikely to be seen when it’s needed most. In the paper, we outline some ideas on how tutorial interfaces could embrace and support valuable social practices to enable tutorials that improve over time as users use and respond to them.
For full details see our ICWSM 2013 paper, Understanding the Roles and Uses of Web Tutorials.
Ben Lafreniere, University of Waterloo
Andrea Bunt, University of Manitoba
Matthew Lount, University of Manitoba
Michael Terry, University of Waterloo