Is “narrow-casting” a good idea for OneNote Help content?

You may remember me first mentioning my colleague Joannie Stangeland back in the spring, when she decided to launch a podcast-style “how-to” video series called A Writer’s Guide to Microsoft Office. At first glance, this might have seemed like a run-of-the-mill video series, but Joannie decided to experiment with what we here in Office call “narrow-casting” — making content extremely specific to a particular audience or user group.

The idea is simple: Even though some people in a particular community won’t care about the narrow and targeted subject matter, those to whom it speaks directly will ultimately get more out of the content. Think of it as a different take on the saying, “We’re speaking the same language.” In Joannie’s case, the intended audience was fellow writers, editors, and poets like herself.

Title screen from A Writer's Guide to Microsoft Office

In the traditional online Help systems (a.k.a. the online documentation) for each Microsoft Office program, the content we author and publish on the Office Online Web site is generally intended for the broadest possible audience in hopes of assisting as many people as possible. As you may suspect, this approach has its pros and cons. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably already know that I personally much prefer detail and substance over general, “one size fits all” content.

While Joannie writes all of the episodes in her Writer’s Guide series herself, she commissioned me to do the filming and editing, as well as some of the related tasks (music, titles, encoding, and so on.). Her very first episode was dedicated entirely to OneNote 2007. Since then, we’ve switched to high definition to allow our viewers to see the screen capture segments more clearly, and we left Joannie’s office behind in search of more interesting venues that serve as the backdrop for the live introductions and episode conclusions. You may have seen some of the recent episodes from Richard Hugo House in Seattle, a popular place where writers and editors from the Pacific Northwest gather daily to immerse themselves in their craft.

In late August, we received permission to film the next few episodes of the series at the Montford Press, a magnificent, privately held letterpress studio in West Seattle. Its proprietor, Carl Montford, is a lovely and learned man, who seemed to enjoy spending the day with us nearly as much as we enjoyed seeing all of the treasures that he had collected over the years. For a self-confessed typeface nerd like me, who has been geeking out on all things type since long before there was ever talk of “fonts,” I felt like a kid in a candy store in Carl’s studio. Just like art school takes care to pass on to modern students all of the old-fashioned ink-and-paint wisdom of the great masters, the sort of equipment and tools that we found in Carl’s studio still manage to inspire and influence the ways that our modern, computer-based printing and publishing solutions work and evolve. While I personally enjoy the many conveniences of the computer programs that I use (OneNote in particular), I still have a deep appreciation for seeing beautiful, inked letterforms press down on heavy paper to create a unique impression than can last through the centuries.

Stills from the Montford Press studio in Seattle

Joannie and I just published the very first episode from our Montford Press shoot. Although its “how-to” portion focuses mainly on line spacing techniques in Microsoft Word, I did want to mention it here on my OneNote blog because, as she often does, Joannie gives OneNote 2007 a prominent shout-out.

Have a look, if it interests you:

You can watch all of the podcast episodes that Joannie and I have produced so far on our YouTube playlist .

Joannie loves OneNote as much as I do, and she uses it daily to get her ideas and creative writing out of her head and onto the page. Whatever your own profession or personal aspirations, Joannie’s Writer’s Guide series does a nice job of showing off how OneNote can be used with the other Office programs to make your life easier. The cool thing about narrow-casting is that its themed content doesn’t necessarily have to speak to you directly; much of the time, the how-to knowledge that it shares is universally useful.

The real question is: What do you think of “narrow-casting”? Do you like the idea? If so, what kinds of themes and series would you be interested in seeing? OneNote for students? Teachers? Lawyers? Physicians? Tablet PC users? Do only professions make good content themes or is there another kind of audience segment in the OneNote community that might benefit from content narrow-casting? Please post a comment to make a suggestion or to share your thoughts and ideas. If you don’t like the idea of narrow-casting, I would like to know your reasons for that, too.

Though I receive a lot of mail from my readers each month (I’m sorry that time does not always permit me to respond to each message, but I promise I do read them all!), I’d really love it if you would share your thoughts out here in the open. Your observations and ideas might just help another reader, just like they help me! ;)

As always, thanks for dropping by for a visit — and thanks for using OneNote!