The Internet can enable better communication between a company and its customers. One place where you really see that is in the area of technical support documents.

Some of you may not be old enough to remember, but there was a time when if you needed help with some software or hardware problem your only option was to call a support hotline and wait. And wait. And wait some more. Sometimes that still happens, but these days that tech support call is your last resort — not your first. Instead, you can start your search through the company’s online technical support documentation, and often you’ll find exactly what you need.

For example, if you do any Windows programming, you probably visit Microsoft’s MSDN Library on a daily basis. And if you’re a graphics designer or pre-press shop you might have Adobe’s knowledgebase bookmarked. And so on.

Generally these support libraries are pretty darned useful. But I was recently struggling with a problem in our Oracle Portal and came across what I think is the most useless tech support document ever. It was so bad I’d like to nominate it as the world’s most useless technical support document ever.

If you’ve got an Oracle MetaLink account, you can look it up for yourself — the document ID is 218625.1. This is essentially the entire sum of that document:

Error Text: BIB-14820 The root path does not exist.
Cause: The specified root path cannot be found.
Action: Specify an existing root path.

I kid you not, that is it. Now I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t help me one bit. Yes, I can see from the error message that a root path does not exist. But what is supposed to be in that root path? Where in the system do I specify it? Do I have to re-start the Java container once I do specify the root path? Do I specify a relative or absolute path to that root path?

You get the picture — any tech support document that raises more questions than it answers is bad. But when a tech support document answers no questions and raises a dozen of its own, that to me is the world’s most useless tech support document.