I first saw quick guides in 1989. That was in the British Library's Japanese Information Service, a commercial business information service supporting British industry. The guides were referred to as "cribs" and were A5-sized cards which lived in a box near one of the many computers.

There was no World Wide Web in 1989, but the JIS accessed British, Japanese and U.S. databases via the British Library Network or via dialup (frequently to numbers in Japan). Much work had to be done before 10:00a.m. as key Japanese databases shut down at the end of the Japanese working day. (Japan is eight hours ahead of the UK.)

The rule of thumb was that it was necessary to buy a new computer nearly each time the JIS gained access to a new database. Windows had not been invented, and there were many operating systems including MS-DOS, PC-DOS and the Japanese DOS/V, any one of which applications could expect.

Cribs were used to tie the complex installations together and make them work, in the case of the Japanese systems, in an environment in which they had never been designed to work. This is the essence of what I now call Quick & Dirty guides — just enough information to get you using the system.

Other JIS memories

  • Believe it or not, we sent e-mails to Japan in 1989 — but the e-mail addresses were very long and needed to mention certain relay computers by name! The following actual example gives you an idea:
  • The nest of cables linking the computers just had to be seen to be believed (and there were guinea pigs living down there at one point too).
  • I once completed a paid search on the Teikoku Databank after the computer's monitor had failed.

Strengths of the approach

  • Task-orientated (NOT software for the sake of software)
  • Focuses only on what is needed
  • Good for complex software
  • Brief documentation
  • Quick to write documentation
  • Easy to improve documentation
  • Quick way of training people to do tasks
  • Good for inductions, etc.
  • Good for rarely (e.g., once a year) used software