Write the Docs: Jared Bhatti – The Getting Stopped Experience: Improving Your Content’s First Impression

I’m at Write the Docs today in Portland and will be post­ing notes from ses­sions through­out the day. These are all posted right after a talk fin­ishes so they’re rough around the edges.

Jared works at Google and attended last year’s conference as well. Coincidentally he was starting a new project at Google working with their cloud products. Google’s cloud platform encompasses everything from computing to storage to app services. Each segment has its own getting started experience. But each segment can also be combined with others for another, unique getting started experience.

He started with a hands-on exercise to get everyone thinking about what challenges they face in getting users started with a product. At Google they found users had a hard time finding information and the results that did come up were complex and dense. On top of that there were poor connections between the team and the user communities. They were expecting users to come to them with helpful information.

They looked at getting started as a 3-part journey. Someone has an idea and then goes through 1) finding helpful content 2) getting something working 3) getting the envisioned project working.

The first step, finding helpful content, is unfortunately where lots of people get stuck. With Google Cloud Storage users were getting irrelevant Google search results, each of which took multiple clicks to find the details for. They compared this to Amazon Web Service results which were highlight relevant and generally one-click away from the getting started experience. To fix this they did a few things. They started running searches on their own products. They worked to understand how users were actually finding their content. And, they looked at what competitors were doing far better than they were. With competitors they looked at large and small; frequently it was the small competitors who were doing really interesting stuff.

In terms of getting something done once you’ve started Jared focused on Google App Engine. The first thing Jared did when joining the team was try to spin up an app. 24 steps later he was done. 24. Way too many steps for a first-time user. There were so many dead ends you could run in to before you even started. Luckily everyone on the team recognized this as a large problem. They launched 21 projects around this in just a few months.

As they collected data they looked what tools and resources were being most utilized and useful during a getting started process. They focused on pain points that new developers face. Through questionnaires, researcher observations, presentations, and informal conversations they gathered data. They adopted user-first principles as well:

  1. The user is always in control.
  2. Give the user what they want quickly.
  3. Reduce friction. Everywhere.
  4. Show, don’t tell.

The trick is to give users consistent value from your application and product. They brought the ‘Hello World’ experience down to 4 key steps. It dropped down to just 15 minutes of work for the interested user. When Jared first went through the steps that same process took 4 hours. They then took that a step further and brought a widget in to the technical documentation that lets users generate a ‘Hello World’ widget in just 30 seconds.

Lastly, in the third act of getting their product working, users look to launch a complex application. Essentially shipping what their original idea was. For this they focused on community outreach and happiness surveys of customers. It was about bringing external feedback in to the product development process. They also started a GitHub repository with fully fleshed out applications that people can download, tear apart, and launch themselves.

Jared left us with a few questions to consider for our own products:

  • How are your users getting to your docs?
  • How long does it take to get to ‘Hello World’?
  • What metrics are you collecting?
  • How are you interacting with your larger community?