Not so cool tools for Technical Authors – speech recognition software

Our method for creating online courses involves making an audio recording of the presenter, transcribing it, editing the script and then recording the final, video presentation. We’ve tried using speech recognition software to create the transcribed script, and it has been a deeply frustrating experience.

While speech recognition is proving successful for searching and issuing commands (using Siri, Google Voice and Amazon Echo), we’re not sure it will replace the keyboard as the way we create written content.

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Draftback – could it reveal how Technical Authors actually write?

James Somers is releasing an add-on for Google Docs, Draftback, that enables you to play back and analyse the creation of any Google Doc you have permission to edit.

It means you can see how a writer created the document, the sections they spent time rewriting and rearranging, the elements that were pasted into the document from elsewhere, and so on.

From an organisation’s perspective, the graphs Draftback that produces potentially could be used to show when and where the writer spent most of their time:

Timeline of activity

I could see this illustrating the impact of last minute changes to a product, review comments and other external factors. Potentially, it could also highlight areas where a writer might need assistance or training.

What do you think?

Your policy and procedures manual as software

Jared Spool tweeted this morning:

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.

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SharePoint for documentation projects

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.

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Issues for developers moving from on-premises software to Software as a Service.

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.

Popcorn Maker – “freeing Web videos from the little black box”

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.

Popcorn Maker

Version 1 of Popcorn Maker offers basic functionality. More advanced functionality (such as synchronising a text transcript with a video) is also available via a JavaScript framework.

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.

See also: Screencast, eLearning and animated tutorial development services

Reducing app abandonment

app abandonment - app store imageAt 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.

Why Technical Authors make the best Project Managers for Agile projects

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.

Do you agree?

Disclosure: Red Gate is a client of ours.