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Online documentation: what's missing

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For several years I’ve been fascinated with technical information people get online, instead of from books or journals. Everybody looks online for help installing software, finding programming library calls, fixing bugs, and solving any other technical problem they have on their systems. (Systems, not computers–computers are boring, Steve Jobs told us that. Nobody wants to be associated with computers any more.)

A lot of information is still missing online. That’s good for O’Reilly, because it means the book industry still plays an important role. But this article is not about missing information in general. It’s about a specific segment of missing information: the frustration you feel when you visit a site and don’t understand it because it lacks some background you need.

Missing information is not such a widespread problem in books, because authors have space to lay out background. In fact, I believe the defining characteristic of a well-written technical book is its success in providing the necessary background.

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