How Pico Projectors could help the Technical Author of the future

Pico projectors are the latest technology to be incorporated into mobile phones, and their introduction could provide technical authors with a new way of delivering technical documentation. They could be of particular interest to those writing documentation that’s used in factories, workshops and other areas unsuited to computers and paper manuals.

Pico Projectors are miniature low power projection modules. They are able to produce full colour, high-resolution images up to 1.5 metres onto any surface. Their size means they can be embedded into mobile phones, with the promise that people can show their friends what they’ve recorded using their mobile phones and other videos, such as music videos of their favourite bands.

They can be used to project other information too, and this could well be user documentation. The aircraft engineer of the future could project the maintenance instructions next to the item they are handling – on a nearby object or wall.

At present, they work best in subdued lighting, but the Lumen output from this technology will increase in the near future.

Why bother with user documentation in recessionary times?

Although many organisations see user assistance as a “good thing”, it’s not immune to the belt tightening that many organisations face in times of difficulty.

Business expert Mike Southon recommends that in recessionary times, organisations should focus on getting sales from existing customers – so customer retention becomes ever more important.

There’s a virtuous circle of a customer finding user assistance helps them and becoming a loyal and happy customer. Whilst user documentation can help with the perceived quality of a product before the sale, its key value is in keeping customers: customer retention in marketing-speak. It’s the philosophy of Toyota and others – the focus on quality and customer service.

Chris Bose of In Press PR Ltd, told me that recessions are the times when market share changes. This is why successful companies reduce their advertising spend, but never cancel it. They know that when the economy turns and business improves, they’ll get more sales than the competition – more sales than they ever did before, most likely.

Recessions are also often the times of greatest technological change. The Great Depression saw the wide-scale introduction on electricity to houses in Britain, and, today, we’re seeing significant developments in Help Authoring software. Those companies that can adopt these new developments in user assistance now will be able to differentiate themselves from their competitors – something of importance in these highly competitive times. As the economy swings upwards, this competitive edge will make a difference in sales.

However, it can very hard to measure the effectiveness of documentation. Again, this is where recent technological changes come into the place. A number of Help tools now enable you to measure how many people accessed your documentation, whether it assisted them or not, as well as many other useful measures. Indeed, Web based user documentation can be the trick to increasing your Search Engine rankings (but keep that a secret!).

It may be that you can provide better user assistance for less money. You may find you save on translation costs, lower support calls and lower printing costs.

Perhaps the question should not be “why bother?”, but “how can we do it better?”

What can a Technical Author learn from a TV shopping channel?

TV shopping channels are immensely successful at selling technology to the general public. Most salesmen will tell you how good these channels are at using the power of persuasion to create and fulfill a need that might never had existed before you turned on the TV.

Technical Authors could also pick up a few tips from these channels. These channels have to explain – on live TV and in just a few minutes – how easy a particular gadget is to use. They need to use language their audience will understand – people who are typically very not very technical at all.

For example, today a British TV shopping channel is promoting a portable pocket Internet surfer. Not only do they have to explain the device, they have to explain concepts such as Instant Messaging, remote data storage and free Internet access. They do this by using a range of methods to explain. In this case, it’s video clips, walking users through a key task and using a “Question and Answer” dialogue between expert and TV host.

So take a few minutes to look using your technical author eyes. Operators are standing by.

Microsoft Help v.3 Preview

April Reagan of Microsoft will be talking about Microsoft Help v3 at the WritersUA conference:

“Microsoft Help 3 is a new client help system. This help system has been built from the ground up with simplicity, performance and relevance in mind. It was not a straightforward road in getting the project approved, and with a large legacy content base and complex content scenarios, it took a lot of long and heated design discussions with a will to favor simplicity. The end result is a greatly improved deployment model, a fast underlying architecture based on the Zip storage standard and a beautiful new Windows Presentation Foundation based help viewer featuring a web-browser feel. Initially shipping as the product help system for the next wave of Visual Studio products, this system will become available to all Windows developers in the near future. This will be the first wide release of a help system from Microsoft since Help 1.”

Get Microsoft Silverlight

WritersUA is looking like it will be a great conference this year.