April 26, 2010 Program Summary

“How to Write Service Manuals that Empower People”

We enjoyed a terrific evening on April 26th with our worldly, idealistic, yet pragmatic presenter, Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit.com. The enthusiastic audience was spellbound and fully engaged during the lively conversation Kyle facilitated.

Computer repairing itselfIf you have ever struggled to understand an ambiguous technical diagram, you'll appreciate why iFixit.com's manuals have revolutionized the service industry. Using clear instructions and extreme-resolution, real-world photos, they teach ordinary people how to perform complex tasks that previously required specialized training.

Kyle explained and demonstrated:

  • How to take incredible photos that empower people to perform complex tasks
  • Why lengthy technical documents do the world a disservice
  • How to communicate intricate tasks in the fewest words possible
  • Why phrases like "This procedure can only be performed by a trained technician" and "I could never do that" are dangerous and should be outlawed

Traditional service manuals are notorious for requiring you to flip back and forth between chapters throughout the book. Want to remove the engine block? First follow sections 1, 3, 6, and 10. This choose-your-own-adventure layout is tedious, time-consuming, and prone to error. Kyle illustrated how traditional repair manuals and assembly instructions almost always fail at their intended purpose: teaching a person how to perform a task.

In contrast, moving technical documentation online frees authors from the constraints of linear document formats. iFixit's platform streamlines the process of writing flexible instructions. Although the instructions may be constructed and stored in segments, iFixit.com's servers automatically "compile" them on the fly so they appear to the reader as one continuous sequence (no jumping around required!). Further, each instruction is automatically formatted for easy downloading as a PDF document.

iFixit's “Repair 2.0” Quest

Kyle also discussed iFixit.com's latest goal — "Repair 2.0: Fixing the world, one piece of hardware at a time." Anyone can now create and share repair instructions using the beautifully designed, fill-in-the-blanks templates on the iFixit.com Web site. All newly submitted instructions from non-vetted authors receive scrutiny from experts and peers before approval.

A new video outlining Kyle's vision and highlighting his research into the metals reclamation processes in Third World countries was extraordinarily moving. On every level, this overview brought us in touch with eye-opening ideas, philosophies, policies, and practices that are shaping our world, for better or worse. In the midst of these disparate forces, Kyle's international leadership role is serving to inspire, uplift, inform, and educate.

That's one reason why his company is expanding its scope to invite people worldwide to teach each other how to repair anything — from bicycles to vehicles to microwaves to high-tech electronics — rather than discarding them in landfills where adults and children work daily at the highly toxic reclamation process.

iFixit's latest adventures also include striving to become the first company in the world to disassemble the brand new Apple iPad (instructions are now posted on the Web site). In case you didn't catch the Tribune's front-page story on iFixit.com from Saturday, April 3rd, be sure to take a look at the online article.

Read Kyle's clear repair instruction writing tips, below, and view his superb YouTube video, linked further down.

How to Contribute
(to the iFixit Library of Repair Instructions)

by Kyle Wiens

We've got a big task ahead of us: writing an easy-to-use repair manual for every device. We've broken the task up into lots of little pieces to make it easy to make a useful contribution even when you've only got a few spare minutes. We've posted a bunch of useful information to help you get started.

The easiest thing you can do is start adding device photos to new repair manuals. It only takes a few minutes, and encourages other people to add more content.

Getting Started




I learn best by watching other people do great work, and then immediately jumping in feet-first and trying it out myself. The community has posted some great repair guides in the last few days that are worth learning from. The photos on this LG VX9200 LCD repair guide could use some improvement, but the writing is superb. Some of our simpler repair guides are also worth learning from.

If you're working on instructions for a device that already has some step-by-step guides, it's important not to duplicate content. We allow you to build on top of existing instructions by using prerequisites. I'll talk more about how prerequisites work in another post, but there is a brief description here and you can see examples in our repair manuals.

Copyright 2010 Kyle Wiens (see below for bio information)

Downloads & Resources:

For best results, please use the following tips when downloading files:

  • Windows Internet Explorer: Right-click on the link and select Save Target As... You will be prompted to save the file to a specific location on your hard drive.

  • Other platforms or browsers: Right-click on the link (click and hold on the Mac) and select Download link to disk, Save Link As... or a similar command. You will be prompted to save the file to a specific location on your hard drive.

More media coverage of iFixit.com:

Questions? Contact:

  • kyle@ifixit.com
  • 805-464-0573
“How to Write Service Manuals that
Empower People”
Date: Monday evening, April 26, 2010

Kyle Wiens is the founder of iFixit.com, a collaborative repair community and electronics parts retailer. iFixit is dedicated to helping people everywhere keep their hardware running longer.

Kyle co-authored the original Fixit Guide series of step-by-step repair manuals for Apple hardware while studying Computer Science at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He is also a board member of Softec and the IEEE CE Society, and has spoken widely on technical writing, making service documentation accessible to the world, and sustainable consumer electronics device design. In his spare time, Kyle kayaks and tinkers with robots.

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Disclaimer and credits