User-Generated Content Strategy in “The Free Repair Guide for Everything”
My article with Jack Labriola, iFixit myself: User-generated content strategy in “the free repair guide for everything,” is currently available from IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication. In the article we present a study on the content strategy behind iFixit, billed as the largest free repair manual ever created.
Why We Should All Care About Repair
As iFixit points out in their Repair Manifesto, besides saving you money, learning how to repair your own devices also has the potential to save the planet. Millions of tons of waste are generated every year from devices like cell phones, computers, tablets, and laptops. Imagine if those devices were salvaged and used to repair other devices to reduce waste? Imagine if future generations were taught to repair their devices instead of just buying a new one every time the old one stops working?
That is exactly iFixit’s mission, which it states as: “Our site empowers individuals to share their technical knowledge with the rest of the world.” And they have done so to an amazing degree. To date, over 19,000 free repair guides are hosted on their site, representing over 5,000 devices.
How Does iFixit Do it?
For the purposes of our article, Jack and I were particularly interested in an initiative iFixit has been running for several years now called The Technical Writing Project.
The Technical Writing Project invites technical writing students and instructors to learn about repair first-hand by partnering with iFixit to produce repair guides. iFixit even ships broken devices to instructors for free so that they can document repair processes. To date, thousands of students have contributed guides to the iFixit website, providing learning and guidance to thousands of users who have visited iFixit looking for help.
As we state in our abstract for the article, we were particularly interested in the ways in which iFixit encourages this kind of participation from non-experts:
The main user-generated content strategies used by iFixit include allowing users a wide range of means to participate (such as posting comments or developing their own repair guides), using a content moderation queue (or simple interface for seeing all updates to the wiki), ensuring quality assurance of all repair guide content through redundancy (such as making sure experienced users vetted every published guide), and staging (or arranging information in a linear sequence) information in a multimodal fashion (using multiple modes of communication to reinforce the same information). Such strategies represent a commitment by iFixit to opening up practices that are central to creating content, such as repair documentation, to any interested internet user. Lessons for organizations who wish to encourage user-generated content include developing strategies that protect users from the worst consequences of their actions, that encourage participation, and that allow for experienced users to vet new content.