In the past two days, I’ve had two experiences at work that make me wonder if search has killed the table of contents (TOC).
In the first instance, our Robohelp Server was down. Users could view content, but not search, and we weren’t able to collect usage stats.
I received an IM from a user, asking if search was down on our “web site”. At this client (a major financial firm), everyone refers to help as a web site. I’m personally OK with this; as I’ve mentioned before, we technical communicators need to stop thinking of help any differently. When I told him we were aware of the outage, he then asked me if I knew the answer to his query (human-powered search?). Using the TOC, I quickly emailed him a link to the topic with his answer. He apparently never thought, or couldn’t take the time, to navigate using the TOC.
In the second instance, a new contact with whom I was working became confused because she couldn’t see the “listing on the left” (a result of a bug in a script we were previously using). She had no idea it was a TOC or functioned like one.
I’m pretty sure the TOC isn’t going away anytime soon, especially as the breadcrumbs in RoboHelp are based on the TOC hierarchy, but it does seem like they have become less useful.
Update: As I was going through our server usage statistics for the month of May, approximately 97% of hits came from search; the remaining 3% were direct hits to topics. The TOC may well be dead.
Have you seen similar issues? Do people in your organization still use the TOC, or is search their primary navigation tool?