These potential actions would help Microsoft compete with Amazon and Apple in the digital publishing market; Microsoft would be able to offer writers a feature-rich authoring tool, a publishing platform and a publishing environment, all from the same vendor. The promise is, you could write your book in Word, and be able to start selling it, in just a few clicks.
What is unclear at this moment is whether “publish to Nook” means “publish EPUB documents that will display their content nicely on other ebook readers”. Will the underlying code in the EPUB files be “clean” and not “bloated”? Let’s hope that’s the case.
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.
One of the limitations of video-based information has been the difficulties for users in finding a particular piece of information in a video. Usually, they have to watch the whole video, or “peck and hunt” to get to the moment containing the information they were searching for.
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, HTML5, an emerging Web standard, enables Technical Authors and courseware developers to synchronize different media. One application of this is enabling users to search a text for a key word and then start a video or audio at that point. Here is an example.
In addition to making it easier for users to search videos for the information they need, it will also mean the pages will be more likely to appear in the search engine rankings. In other words, there will be an SEO benefit as well.
We believe this is an exciting development in the field of user assistance.
As we mentioned in previous posts, HTML5 enables Technical Authors and courseware developers to synchronize different media. One of the key areas where this can be applied is in eLearning, where users are now able to toggle between text-based content and video tutorials.
As a consequence, Technical Communicators will need to decide which form of text to provide with the video.
Should it be:
a transcript, faithfully documenting every word that was said in the video?;
an edited, but still conversational, version?; or
text written in the minimalist writing style we normally see in User Guides and Help files?
Let’s look at the case for and against providing an exact copy of what was said in the recording.
The case against a transcript
The manner in which we speak and the way we write are often significantly different. Hugh Lupton, from The Company of Storytellers, once said:
It’s a very different journey from the eye to the mind as from the ear to the mind.
In oracy, the artifices of the speech are very important. These are what Marie Shedlock called “the mechanical devices by which we endeavor to attract and hold the attention of the audience.” They are the gestures, the pauses, the repeated phrases that a good presenter will use.
For example, in this performance by Daniel Morden and Hugh Lupton, Daniel repeats “not for you” as a way of keeping the audience engaged (from 0:13):
If we make a transcript, we retain these artifices in the written word. Instead of improving the comprehension, when published in written form, they can make it harder for the user to understand. For example, if the user searches for a key word or phrase, the repetition of those key phrases by the speaker is going to make it harder for the user to find the right instance.
The case for a transcript
Unlike the storytelling examples above, eLearning is rarely delivered in audio form only. In most cases, the presenter and the audience has a shared visual image to view. This helps ensure there is shared understanding.
A transcript gives a true representation of what the presenter said.
If a user remembers a key phrase or word in the presentation, then they may want to search for that moment to replay it. If the text has been edited, or is significantly different, then that phrase may have been omitted.
Which approach should you take?
We suspect over time that the text provided in synchronized elearning courses will follow the minimalist style that works in User guides and Online Help, where the subject matter is technical in nature. A more conversational tone may work where the material is non-technical (e.g. easy to use consumer goods), providing an overview, or where there isn’t the time to do anything more than provide a transcript.
One of the topics Ellis covered in his presentation at Technical Communication UK 12 conference was how media synchronization is likely to affect online training, online Help and other forms of user assistance.
HTML5, an emerging Web standard, will enable Technical Authors and courseware developers to synchronize different media, such as live data and video recordings.
One key area where this technology is likely to be used is where you are looking to use video to guide users through a specific task. For example, if you had a video explaining how to bid for an item on an auction site, you could include, dynamically, details on the product into the video itself. If a different user watched the video, then the product details appearing would change to the one they were interested in.
At the moment, HTML5 is still an emerging standard. However, it is likely to be an important development in the field of eLearning and technical communication.
It’s “back to school” time, and, in the UK, it’s a time when the way schools teach and test students is being debated to a great extent.
The “reverse classroom” or “flip teaching” is a new approach that is being promoted as a way to teach in this Web-savvy, “always on” age. According to Wikipedia, the reverse classroom is:
a form of blended learning which encompasses any use of Internet technology to leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing.
Instead of lectures and then homework, the idea is that students self-study and then use the teacher to help them solve problems.
This is essentially the Help and Support model used in the software sector: the users self-study, using online Help, “For dummies” books, user manuals and screencasts. If they cannot solve the problem themselves, they then ask an expert to assist them in finding the answer.
What this means for Technical Authors is there is a lot of research and debate being carried out into establishing the best methods for people studying and helping themselves. Indeed, teachers are using technical communication tools such as Camtasia to deliver the learning materials.
It will be interesting to see if Technical Authors can apply any of ideas and techniques that emerge from the reverse classroom movement to give users better forms of User Assistance in the future.
Here’s an update on the training workshop we’re currently developing on how to use the iPad and other tablets as a device for delivering documentation. The trainer’s slide deck has been completed and is out for review. Once that’s been signed off, we’ll check the timings and determine if this is a half or full day session.
We’ve selected the venue in central London, so, after that we’ll be able to announce the date and prices for the course.
The primary focus will be on the iPad, but we can also cover what’s possible on other tablets.
We’ll cover items such as:
How organisations are creating, in just 30 seconds, online magazines for “getting started” guides, tips and tricks, training guides and FAQs, using existing content from your Web site and blogs.
Apps for reading content
Tools for creating content
What works/ what doesn’t work
Implications for the future, how to use the iPad to gain and edge over your competition etc
Microsoft Clippy (aka “Office Assistant” or “Clipit”) is a feature remembered by many users of Microsoft Word. It assisted users by way of an interactive animated character, which interfaced with Office’s online Help. Although the concept of “embedded” or “persistent” Help was good, its application in the real-life working environment was not well received.
With more and more people reading information via tablets and mobile phones, and with the new technologies they contain, perhaps it’s time to revisit the concept of Clippy. Perhaps it can be done right this time?
There are two technologies that tablets and mobile phones contain which are worth considering. One is haptic feedback, the other is ambient technology.
Haptic feedback is technology that interfaces with the user through the sense of touch – typically through your device vibrating.
Ambient technology refers to electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people.
An example from the e-learning environment is Evernote Peek, which makes use of the iPad’s Smart Cover to present information.
Perhaps instead of an animated character clamouring for our attention, a more subtle notification by a vibration or a glowing button might be a better way to tell users help is available that can guide them through their task.
We’re not aware of any User Assistance that is using haptic or ambient technologies today, so do let us know if you’ve seen any examples out there.