I recently had a conversation with Tim Landgrave about just this topic. Our conversation started out talking about Microsoft employee blogs (there are a lot of people and teams at Microsoft blogging). I think it is great that Microsoft is very open about letting employees blog. Some companies do not let their employees blog or only have “official” blogs that require a high vetting process in order to get content published (so the entry is essentially a press release). Microsoft has a few simple rules about blogging, but as long as you stay within those rules anything is fair game. My posts do not have to go through any approval process and I am even allowed to maintain my own blogging site (they do provide several sites for employees to blog under official Microsoft URLs).
Our conversation turned to the fact that you can often times find information in a blog easier than one of the official Microsoft documentation sites (MSDN or Technet). This is caused by a number of factors. First there is a lot of documentation on the MSDN and Technet sites so it is tough to sift through. Related to that is how people look for information, they use search engines. Technical documentation is tough to create in a SEO friendly manner. Lastly it is a lot easier to understand a well written blog entry than technical documentation. Truth be told it is easier to understand a poorly written blog entry than most well written documentation. 🙂
Tim summed up the issue with the question “Do you regression test your blog?”. I think the answer that most bloggers would give is “no”. Do most bloggers cite compatibility and version numbers in their blogs? “Sometimes” is probably the answer, but it is often done in a hap-hazard manner. I did this myself a couple week ago when I mentioned that a feature of IE7 works on Vista and XP. I call it hap-hazard because I did it in the text of the blog, not in a section called “Compatibility” or “Supported Operating Systems” that is included in each and every post. Do you translate each and every blog entry into several languages and localize the appropriate elements? “Very seldom” and most of the ones that do are a labor of love by loyal readers (see Joel on Software).
Blogging should not replace technical documentation but it can be a great supplement to the technical documentation. The best bloggers will usually cite the technical documentation when they create their posts. In case you were wondering I decided that I will wait to post my entry until I test it on Firefox and IE. Testing the older browsers and various combinations of features turned on and off will be an exercise left to the readers. Look for the post later this week you won’t miss it; it is the one with all the curly brackets. 🙂