The Next Generation of Knowledgebase

By Alexis Gutzman

Knowledgebases are an excellent way to provide information to customers on a self-serve basis, particularly for complex services, such as tech support. If all you're asking your visitors to do is sign in, then an FAQ (frequently asked questions list) is probably sufficient. However, if your visitors are coming to you with questions about installing a new sound card, upgrading the BIOS, installing a modem, or cleaning up after a virus, then you'll most likely need more than an FAQ.


Good knowledgebases are built over time. You shouldn't have to anticipate every question that might come in, but rather have the knowledgebase grow with each new question that is asked and answered. Dell, among others, gives its customers access to the same knowledgebase that their tech support sees. That's powerful motivation to savvy customers to try to go it alone, rather than wait on hold to be walked through the solution.


The main problem with knowledgebases is that while they may be neural from the perspective of the company, they're static from the perspective of the customer. A customer may have tried one or more solutions in a knowledgebase and know that solution A doesn't work until you've applied a particular operating system patch discussed in solution B. However, there's no way for the customer to communicate that information to tech support, let alone to other customers.


When I was trying to get that nasty Nimda virus off my computer, I scoured McAfee's site for detailed instructions. There was a very brief set of instructions, which turned out to not be entirely accurate, and there was no way to contact tech support. I could chat with a live agent about my account, but not about the virus. It made me wonder what business they were in - account management or virus protection. I would have liked to edit the instructions they provide to customers. First of all, I would tell customers to not delete the files by hand, since that only causes the virus to replicate itself more aggressively. Next, I would have liked a place to mention that if your system files are infected, you need to reformat your hard drive and start from scratch. Their paltry directions made it sound so easy, when it was really a pain.


Unfortunately, McAfee's site doesn't even offer a knowledgebase. Even for sites that do offer knowledgebases, those sites are missing out on a valuable opportunity to harness the knowledge of customers. Does a knowledgebase necessarily have to be limited to the knowledge in the company? Michael Heumann, President of KnowledgeFilter doesn't think so. His product, KnowledgeCenter, permits sites to leverage the knowledge of visitors, "turning traffic into content."


KnowledgeCenter typically begins with content created by the company. Then visitors are permitted (and welcome) to comment on the content, including rating the content as good, bad, or neutral. Visitors can also vote on other visitors' comments. Good content and comments rise to the top. This helps keep worthless comments out of the way. Visitors, themselves, decide what is useful and useless. On top of that, you can moderate the content so that anything that's offensive or spam or otherwise inappropriate won't make it onto the site.


This neural approach to a knowledgebase has several advantages over a traditional knowledgebase. First of all, the content is more valuable. Second, the content is essentially self-creating, thus free. Third, the content is constantly updated. For example, an answer to a question that assumes a particular version of a browser is being used will almost certainly be commented upon and corrected by another visitor. Fourth, the knowledge is always organized in such a way that all content about a particular topic is kept together; contrast this with your typical forum or threaded discussion group, where the same topic comes up over and over in a disjointed way. Finally, the interactivity increases the stickiness of the site.


Whether you call this an organic knowledgebase, a neural network, or user-generated content, the result is improved, less expensive, and stickier content.


A living knowledgebase like this is ideal either for technical content or for deep content - such as a wine rating site or homeopathy. KnowledgeCenter is probably ahead of its time, but I'm ready for its functionally right now.


Alexis D. Gutzman is an author, speaker, and consultant on e-business and e-commerce topics.

Wavelength Media