HyperCard was a hypertext program that came with Apple Macintosh in the 1980s. It allowed you to create “stacks” of online cards, which organsiations used to create some of the first online guides. It also contained a scripting language called HyperTalk that a non-programmer could easily learn. This meant HyperCard could do more than just display content: it could be used to create books, games (such as Myst), develop oil-spill models, and even dial the telephone.
Most of the Technical Authors I have met don’t have a good thing to say about Microsoft SharePoint. In many ways, it represents how not to publish content online. It is seen as encouraging people to move print-optimised documents (Blobs) around, rather than units of content (Chunks), and users are typically left to rely on search to find which document contains the information they are looking for.
For all those issues, SharePoint may still have its place – for managing documentation projects.
On Monday, I spoke at the Visma Developer Days conference in Riga, Latvia, about some issues software companies have to address when migrating from developing on-premises software to Software as a Service.
One of the of the biggest changes is that the revenues are spread over the lifetime of customer – they pay on a monthly basis rather than an initial up-front payment. It becomes vital customers don’t give up on using the software after only a short while, because you won’t have earnt much income from that customer. If the software is difficult to use, and if users cannot find the answers to questions when they need them, there’s a good chance they will stop using the software, and stop paying their subscription fees.
We’re seeing a number of software companies changing their approach to providing user assistance (user documentation). More companies are thinking about it at the start of the project, so they can do a better job of delivering user documentation than they’ve done for on-premises software. They’re seeing documentation as part of the customer journey, and part of the design process.
This is welcome news, although it requires development teams to combine product design with information design. I wonder if there’ll be similar trends emerging at the next conference I’ll be attending – MadWorld 2014.
Mozilla has released Version 1 of Popcorn Maker, a free HTML5 Web application that enables you to create videos that interact with images, text, maps and other media.
This means you are able to add live content to a video. For example, if you have a video telling a user how to purchase an item, you could include details on the specific item they want to purchase, within the video.
Mozilla is promoting this as a tool for video makers, but it offers new capabilities to those involved in corporate training, support and user assistance.
In the upcoming weeks, Cherryleaf be advising our clients how they can use the technology in their training videos and screencasts.
At the UAEurope 12 conference, SAP’s Keren Okman quoted a shocking statistic: that the average mobile or tablet app* is used an average of just 3-4 times by a user.
The issue of “app abandonment” is one that is likely to be of greater concern for software developers in the future, as they invest ever increasing amounts of time and money into developing apps for tablets and mobile devices.
Keren said SAP’s response has been to get their Technical Authors involved in writing the product descriptions displayed in app stores. This is the information people read before deciding to purchase. They plan to rewrite these descriptions and provide more guidance on how to use the produce before customers get started.
In the same way that developers are now considering a “mobile first” strategy when they develop new software and web sites, we may be seeing the beginnings of a “Help first” strategy as well.
A “Help first” strategy is where developers abandon the belief in the totally intuitive app (one that sells itself, requires no online Help and only needs limited support) and recognises the limitations of mobile operating systems require Help/User Assistance to be designed into the application from the very outset of the project planning.
To prove this, developers can use A/B testing to reduce app abandonment and evaluate how much User Assistance is needed.
Unfortunately, if app developers leave the planning for Help to the end, then their app has probably already failed.
*App is a term used for software applications for mobile and tablet devices.
Red Gate Software’s Dominic Smith mentioned in his presentation at UAEurope conference that the company had found Technical Authors were ideally suited to take on the role of Project Manager for small Agile software development projects. In fact, Red Gate had morphed most of its Technical Authors into to a hybrid Project Manager role.
Dominic made a strong case why Technical Authors made good Agile software project managers:
They are focused on the user
They understand the user
They understand a lot of the technological aspects
They are used to delivering projects on time
They are more extravert and people-orientated than programmers (yes, this is broad generalisation)
They ensure User Assistance isn’t forgotten in the project plan, and that it is considered from the very start
They can provide a business focus to the project, and are able to kill projects that don’t make business sense any more.
Here are some new tools we’ve found that might interest Technical Authors.
Google Ripples is a tool that enables you to watch how posts get shared on Google+. If you publish user assistance or support information via Google+, it could help you track how far and wide it gets distributed. It could also help you see who are the most influential people, when it comes to transmitting a message.
Anthologize is a free, WordPress plugin that enables you to publish the content as electronic texts.
Grab posts from your WordPress blog, import feeds from external sites, or create new content directly within Anthologize. Then outline, order, and edit your work, crafting it into a single volume for export in several formats, including—in this release—PDF, ePUB, TEI.
In an online and searchable document, it is easy to include hyperlinks, URLs, etc., for users to access more information, but how do you enable this from a print document? With QR codes, authors can empower their users in ways never before possible, by giving them access to more relevant, actionable and up to date content wherever and whenever they need it, directly from any print document.
Instead of creating a large manual with hundreds of pages, create a Quick Start guide with fewer pages. At the bottom of each page, step, topic, or procedure, add a QR code that allows users to access more detailed information online.
For users out in the field that need access to updated information, include codes in printed manuals that direct them to the needed content in your Help system.
You have a printed procedures manual with QR codes that, when scanned, link to movies showing the procedures in action.
For external communication, include a QR code at the bottom of a document that takes them straight to a website where they can purchase a particular part or product.
Making predictions is a risky business – it’s possible to look back at our posts and see if our predictions have been spot on or widely off the mark. We believe it gives prospective clients some assurance we know what we’re talking about.
It’s a learning process. Do tell us if you agree or disagree with any of our predictions or if you think we’ve missed a trend.