Tag: Author-it

Tagging

Last night on Twitter I asked “Looking for a way to tag topics in an authoring platform. Not part of Author-it, does any app do it?” and a few helpful people gave me suggestions.

I later clarified and thought I’d expand on that here. My clarification was that “Re tagging: we want to tag topics in the authoring tool so whatever the output, the user can filter on tags eg, v1.0/email or v2.3/document”, it was at this point I realised I needed more than 140 characters to explain what I was looking for…

Our product is in the throes of moving to a modular/component delivery. We will no longer have one installer to install one big product with everything in it, instead you will likely (it’s still being figured out) get a core application which you can then enhance with additional modules.

The challenge to our team will be to document this product in a way that is useful to both the people who might use the application and to those people who customise the application for specific customer needs (which may or may not involve customising a module or creating a bespoke module for a customer).

One idea that may help us in this would be the ability to tag all of our content with module/component/functionality tags, and a version tag. There may be more tags required but we can figure those out later.

However, the authoring product we currently have, Author-it, doesn’t offer this functionality. We have looked into a way of manually doing it by hacking XML files but it’s less than ideal.

So what I was asking for, badly, on Twitter was a native application that includes tagging of topics on the authoring side, with the tags then available in the output. Ultimately we want to be able to build dynamic sets of information AND allow the users to change the view of the information based on the tag(s) they’ve chosen as well.

MadCap Flare comes closest as it at least has a notion of ‘tags’ in the product but not sure if that allows a dynamically built output, and Robohelp allows tagging of returned search results but no way of producing that content dynamically.

Does such a product exist? It  feels like it should, that it’s not a million miles away from what a lot of technical writing teams would want… but I don’t think it does. Prove me wrong!

How to embed linked images in Word 2010

One of the most popular posts on my blog was written a few years ago but still gets a lot of visits and comments; How to embed linked images in Word 2007.

Some of the comments have offered better solutions and one in particular I found myself searching for today. Having upgrade to Office 2010 I’ve realised that Microsoft has, again, “improved” the user interface by moving things around!



So, courtesy of Sarah, here are the updated instructions for how to embed linked images in Microsoft Word 2010:

  1. With your Word document open, click the File tab, top-left of the window.
  2. On the left-hand side, select Info.
  3. On the right-hand side, near the bottom, click Edit Links to Files.
  4. In the dialog that is displayed, select and highlight the images you want to convert from the list.
  5. Check the Save picture in document checkbox.
  6. Click the Break Link button.
  7. Click OK to confirm.

The links are removed and the images are now embedded in your Word document.

A quick check of the filesize of the Word document should show a marked increase and you can now distribute the Word document, and the Word document only, safe in the knowledge that the images are embedded.

Further Webhelp hacking

I mentioned in my previous post that we run a webhelp build of our content (a.k.a. our Knowledge Centre) on our developer community website, and that it was hosted in an iframe. I thought it worthwhile fleshing out the detail of that as it includes a bit of custom code some others might find useful.

As our content is locked behind a login, we need to be sure that only people who are logged in can access it. This is achieved by a couple of simple checks.

1. When the Knowledge Centre is loaded, a script runs that checks it has been loaded within the correct iFrame within our website. If it’s not, the user is redirected to the login page.

The javascript for this is added to the webhelp.js file (around line 106):

//———– init function ————
Kbase.init = function() {

//OUR redirect
if(window.top.location==window.location) {
window.top.location = ‘URLTOYOURIFRAME’;
}

2. If the Knowledge Centre has been loaded in the correct iFrame (in other words the above javascript is happy), the website checks for a cookie (checking for login) and then either loads the Knowledge Centre, or, again, redirects the user to the login page. The javascript for this is standard cookie checking stuff (google will find you a zillion solutions).

And that’s it. Nothing particularly clever, but a useful way to (lightly) protect the content of our Knowledge Centre.

Hacking Author-it Webhelp

Finding the right solution for a problem isn’t always easy but sometimes, if you are very lucky, the solution will fall straight into your lap. Such was the case with our switch to Author-it even though we didn’t fully realise it at the time.

I’ve covered our reasons for switching from FrameMaker to Author-it elsewhere, and once we had converted our content we started to look at how we could get the most from the other output formats available. We already had ideas on how we could use the provided HTML based publishing formats to provide a better solution to the problem of finding information, and we were planning on generate HTML versions of the entire documentation set to be hosted, and searchable, on our community website.

It was right about then that Author-it announced their new ‘Webhelp’ format which would include a (very) quick search in a nice modern looking format. Given that one issue we were addressing was how hard it is to search across multiple PDFs (which presumes the poor reader knows which PDF they should start with) it looked like an excellent solution.

And it is.

We now host a specific build of all of our content within our developer community (which is password protected I’m afraid so you’ll just have to trust me), which allows the developers, partners and customers, to search across everything we have. However we have had to customise the output a little to meet our needs, and this is where the hacking starts.
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Analyse this

Let me tell you a story. In it our hero (me) fights valiantly against two Javascript dragons called Webhelp and Google Analytics. It’s a bloody battle and at the end, when all the fighting is done, well … you’ll have to read on and find out.

Some background first.

We have a developer community website which hosts downloads of our software and all the documentation in PDF format. To make it easier for people to find information in the product documentation, we also host a Webhelp version of each and every document in one master Webhelp system so you can search across the entire thing. It works really well.

To track how the other areas of the website are used, we have a Google Analytics account and the necessary code has been added. For the Webhelp, the code is in both the index.htm and topic.htm files.

But, and this is where the story begins, it doesn’t work properly.

Google Analytics will happily track every visit to the WebHelp system, but it stops there. Any click made within the system is recorded as a click but there is no detail on WHAT topic was viewed. We had hoped to get stats on this to allow us to better focus on the areas of the product people were enquiring about but we are, essentially, blind.

It’s very annoying.

Why is this so? Well I think it’s to do with the way WebHelp is created. It uses a Javascript library called Ext JS which, amongst other things, means that every time you open a topic in the Webhelp, it’s loaded through a Javascript call so Google Analytics never ‘sees’ a new HTML page (a new topic) being loaded so doesn’t know what you are viewing.

I think. I’m not 100% sure to be honest.

I’ve logged a somewhat vague Support call with Author-it, and have enlisted the help of our own webmaster. Next step will be to beg and plead with some of the developers for some of their brain power (most of them have a fair bit to spare).

It’s hugely annoying, being so close to what we want but not able to fix it myself, but sometimes you just have to admit defeat.

Of the battle, that is. I WILL win the war!

Numbers game

Better documentation lowers support calls, is a widely held assumption and one I’m hoping to prove in the coming months. With our new knowledge centre in place, and Google Analytics tracking how many people are visiting it, I’ll soon have stats for my side of the fence.

Early numbers (from the past two weeks) show that more people are looking at the Documentation area of our website than are looking at the Support area, but then the knowledge centre (part of the Documentation area) is new so that’s only to be expected and I’m really not expecting to get a true picture of how things are going until late January next year.

Fingers crossed.

With thanks to Rachel Potts for her post on what web analytics can do for technical communications.

Access is good

Access

Yesterday we launched a new version of our developer community website. It doesn’t have many ‘community’ features as yet but that’s all to come. One thing it does now have is an HTML version of all of our product documentation, in an easily searchable format.

It’s no coincidence that it looks very much like the Author-it Knowledge Center as it too was built using Author-it (alas I can’t show you our website as it requires a login).

This new format of the product documentation is largely to move us away from PDF only documentation. At present we still have a set of PDFs but they aren’t particularly usable.

We ran a few quiet trials of the knowledge centre format and everyone who saw it liked it, particularly the fact you can search across every piece of information offered.

So I was definitely pleased when, after sending out a company-wide announcement about the new version of the website, highlighting some of the new features, one of the first pieces of feedback I received was about the knowledge centre and how good it was. For the, as the kids say, win!

The knowledge centre will be updated on a regular basis, so my next challenge is to figure out a way to embed RSS notifications for new/updated topics. But so far so good, and with Google Analytics in place in the knowledge centre, we can continue to make improvements to both the information itself and in making sure it is accessible.

It’ll be interesting to see how the knowledge centre is used, particularly if we manage to track it against the number of incoming support calls as the main reason we are adopting this format of information is because, many times, the answers are there, they just weren’t that easy to find.

Author-it & Word

A teeny tiny gotcha that I thought I’d mention here. I can’t find explicit mention of it in the Author-it Knowledge Center and it’s tripped me up a bit.

Quite simply, and I realise these will sound obvious, make sure everyone who is using Author-it is using the same version of Microsoft Word.

My particular scenario has my laptop running Word 2007, making changes to the template, but when publishing from a machine running Word 2003, the footers weren’t being displayed despite the AutoText entry being available in the output Word document.

Naturally I’m discovering this delightful quirk on the final day of the project as we do a final publish and check on our deliverables. And people wonder why I’m almost bald…

Author-it Web Help Configuration Wizard

For version 5.3, Author-it released new web help templates and having played with them a bit I have to say I like them. However I was struggling to see how to enable some of the options that you can see in the example Author-it provide, so off into the HTML and CSS files I headed to see if I could see anything useful in there.

And there is, several of the options are commented out in the HTML code and with a little bit of poking and prodding I got some of them to work. Pretty straightforward, if you know HTML and CSS that is.

But what if you don’t?

Well the good news is that the ever productive Hamish Blunck has created an Author-it Web Help Configuration Wizard which, in a few simple steps, will produce you a custom Web Help template. It really is very simple and works like a charm, it also uncovered a few options I hadn’t spotted in the code.

Thanks to Hamish for providing this to the Author-it community (he also hosts a search engine that polls the old Yahoo Group). Great stuff this, go and give it a shot.

Author-it Hints, Tips, & Useful Info

The following are not in any particular order. Some are tips gleaned from experience, some are links to the knowledge being shared by others, all have helped us get us from a standing start to a full content conversion and production delivery in under 4 months. We started with ~2450 topics of imported content, and managed to keep pace with the development team as well as cleanup and backfill the imported content. Quite a feat!

Working with Author-it

As we were converting a LOT of content from FrameMaker to Author-it, there was a LOT of cleanup required. Being able to customise the styles toolbar, adding in the most common used paragraph styles for example, was a huge bonus. We ended up creating one under the Supervisor login, and then each team member copied that to their installation.

Apparently Prompt for unsaved changes is turned off by default. We found this out the hard way, so click the big Author-it A and check in the options to turn this on.

JavaHelp Tips

JavaHelp uses the HTML templates, so if you provide customised HTML templates it will use those.

This next one might be specific to the way our development kit works.

To get context senstive help working you need to add the agreed string to the Context String field on the Help tab of the Topic Properties dialog.

We used this on some topics that will only appear in the help system, allowing us to create ‘landing pages’ which can then direct users to the most pertinent topics for the area of the product they were using when they launched the online help.

MiniTOC

These are, by default, used in Chapter templates. To get better control of the layout of these (our issues were mainly with vertical white space, or lack thereof) we decided to not have any content in a Chapter topic. That way it is only used to hold/generate the MiniTOC and the next topic holds the first block of text for the chapter.

Terminology

To make it easier to reuse topics anywhere, we switched our terminology slightly. There is no such thing as a chapter anymore, unless you have Word/PDF specific topics. We use ‘section’ instead.

Word template

The source of many a frustration, but that’s not really the fault of Author-it.

One thing I’d suggest you do first would be to figure out what macros you need and get them into the template first. Remember to configure the Publishing engine to use them as well.

We are using the following macros, all of which are available from the Author-it Yahoo Group:

  • HyperlinkedTOC – creates links from the table of contents text, rather than just the page numbers
  • RemoveCH – Removes the CH from the SuperHeading text
  • ResizePictures – makes sure images fit the column width
  • ResizeTables – make sure tables fit the column width
  • SaveAsPDF – creates a PDF of the Word document

See how to Add an Author-it AfterPublish macro to the Word template for a simple set of instructions.

Problems with numbering? Julie Goodwin, Technical Support Team Leader at Author-it, popped up in a comment last month and pointed me at this solution.

Useful links

First place to head for information is, unsurprisingly, the Author-it Knowledge Center, it’s a replication of the entire documentation set plus some very useful Tips and Tricks and Workarounds.

After that, your next step should be the Author-it Yahoo Group. It’s active and full of hugely helpful and knowledgeable people and without their help I don’t think we’d have managed to hit our project deadline.

One member of the Yahoo Group, Rhonda Bracey, has published several excellent tips on her blog. Well worth a look.

A recent addition to Author-it, one we are currently looking at, are Variants. Hamish Blunck has an excellent overview of how Variants work, and there are more goodies to be found on his website.

And last, but not least, there is an official Author-it Blog which publishes product news, tips and tricks and other random stuff on a regular basis.