Tag: <span>Matthew Ellison</span>

Helicopter landing pad


I’m guessing that you don’t want to miss that landing pad because if you do you’ll end up ditched in the ocean, floating around aimlessly and with no real idea of what to do next. Can you imagine how horrifying it would be if that happened? Floating there, unable to get back to land and with who knows what swimming around underneath you…

Yet this is the predicament that many users of online help find themselves in, having strayed into the online help they have been cast into an ocean of information with no real idea of how to get back to shore. Ohhh sure, we tell ourselves that the there is an easy way to get to the information they want through our carefully crafted Table of Contents, or perhaps a more direct route can be navigated using that Index you toiled over for hours, or better yet if they use the Search functionality they’ll find what they want. Right?

And, ultimately, yes these mechanisms work. If you know how an Index is structured you can quite quickly navigate to a keyword that probably matches the information you are searching for and should, hopefully, take you almost directly to the very help topic you need. Same goes for the Table of Contents although they are a little more prescriptive and you need to know what you are looking for to be able to find it, and of course the Search will provide you with several help topics that are, probably, what you are looking for.

Meanwhile the sharks have gathered and are nibbling at your feet!

At the UA conference last year, Matthew Ellison gave a presentation on what he termed “Keystone Topics” and in the Summer edition of the ISTC Communicator magazine (again, chock full of good stuff, it’s worth the price of membership alone if you ask me) Paul Filby covers something similar, outlining how to provide “The perfect help-system landing page”.

And so, with all of that in mind that is my task today (yes, a Saturday).

The concept is simple enough. You create a single topic that will be displayed to the user when they bash our old friend the F1 button. That topic is unique to the help system and, based on context, can be used to display a smarter set of links to potentially useful information. If you have the means you could display the most commonly viewed topics or, as I’m doing, you can point to the start of several paths covering the most commonly used areas of the product.

I don’t expect to get ours right the first time round, but hopefully the concept will work. I’m including a small addition to the foot of each such topic, asking users to contact us if they have improvements. It’s only on the landing pages but I’m hoping it might drive a nice little cycle of innovation with direct feedback from the users driving the content of the landing pages in the future.

Hopefully the landing pages will give our users some where dry to stand and survey the land a little, with clear signs to help them get to where they want to go.

Work

Helter Skelter

When I get to the bottom
I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and turn
and I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again!!!!

Ever get that feeling that you’ve been here before?

I write this blog post with haste as I’m halfway through the penultimate week of a particularly arduous project. Not only are we releasing a new version of the product, but we are completing the first major stage of our move to Author-it.

Overall the migration has been pretty painless. There are still some Word templates issues to work around and getting to grips with Variants has still to be tackled, but overall we are pretty happy with our choice. The only major gripe we have is partly our (ok, MY) own fault, and it’s here that I’ll offer the most valuable tip I can.

If you are migrating legacy content to Author-it (we were moving from Structured FrameMaker), make sure you thoroughly test and check the import settings. Time constraints had me rush this stage and we ended up paying for it, spending far too long cleaning up rogue topics than we had planned. Every cloud has a silver lining though, and it does mean that the documentation is now far more consistently written and styled than it had been. However, going through some 5000 odd topics by hand wasn’t the greatest use of our time!

Soon we will be looking to how we can leverage the output to provide better access to information, feeding into the developer community website we have already built, and improving how we deliver information alongwith our product set.

For the former we have taken some inspiration from the presentation by Rachel Potts and Brian Harris (Red Gate Software) at last years UA Conference, titled Delivering Help in a Support Portal. For our implementation the Publications team will take the lead, and it’ll be interesting to see where it takes us. Web 2.0, anyone?

We will also be looking to provide better online help by introducing Keystone Topics, as suggested by Matthew Ellison. Author-it should make these topics, which are the first topics the user lands on when they start the online help and which provide sensible links to common information (rather than just providing repurposed user manuals), very easy to build.

Two of the team will be in Cardiff for the conference this year so it’ll be interesting to see what we learn there and how we can really start to leverage Author-it in more and more powerful ways. I’m definitely keen to start innovating what we do and, in a few weeks time, we won’t have any further barriers to stop us.

Tech Work

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