One of the graphs posted in yesterday’s blog showed the number of people searching for IPad Help.
Here is the graph:
For a product that “just works”, there is an increasing number people searching the Web for iPad Help. However, part of that increase can be put down to the increasing number of iPad sales:
What we can conclude is that even users of products as simple and intuitive to use as the iPad search the Web for Help on how to use it. If you decide not to provide that Help, then users are likely to get the information from someone else – either in a forum, a YouTube video, blog, Web site etc. Places generally, outside of your control.
Matthew Syed is a British sports journalist and former three times Commonwealth Games gold medallist, who has been investigating what is needed to make people excellent at doing any task involving complexity.
He argues that natural talent, your genes, are far less important than many people think. What’s important is practising what you can’t quite do. He argues we grow if we test our limitations, because our body adapts.
So what on earth does that have to do with developing software and Technical Authors? Syed argues there are two opposing views regarding success:
One “school” believes talent is what makes success. This means that if you fail, you believe it’s because you don’t have enough talent. Therefore, you’re likely to give up.
The other “school” believes success is all about practice – the quantity of practice, the quality of teaching and the willingness to test our limitations. This means that if you fail, you believe you can succeed with more perseverance and effort. It’s an opportunity to adapt and grow.
I would argue the whole philosophy of User Assistance is based around the belief that talent is all about practice. It’s easy to forget that others may think it’s all about talent – your developers may believe some users fail because they are stupid, and some of your users may believe they’re just not good enough to succeed. It’s worth checking what they believe.
Another implication is that we should provide assistance and guidance to users as they are doing the task. We should try to avoid interrupting their flow. This suggests providing Help and advice within the application screens themselves.
Thirdly, we should praise people for their effort rather than for their talent.
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.
In 1997, you’d be using Windows 98 and Internet Explorer 4. Microsoft was buying a $150 million share of a financially troubled Apple Computer, and the first colour photograph appeared on the front page of the New York Times.
Almost 15 years on, this format has, apart from a few very minor updates, remained unchanged, and today, it is still the primary format for delivering online Help.
It’s possible to publish online Help in more present-day formats, using Help Authoring Tools such as RoboHelp, Flare and Author-it. These offer Technical Authors opportunities to be more innovative in their approaches towards assisting users.
So why are so many Technical Authors still using compiled HTML Help? Is it so good that nothing else can beat it? Or is there a reason why they haven’t moved onto other formats?
In an article called “The Future of Advertising will be Integrated“, Mark Suster argues readers’ attention is focussed on text and not the banners around it. This “banner blindness” is leading advertisers to move their messages to “the stream”. An example of this is Twitter’s promoted tweets service, where advertisers can pay for a tweet to be featured on Twitter for a day.
If we’re seeing a move towards “integrated advertising”, does this mean we should also be putting online Help in “the stream” as well? Rather than waiting to be called up via the F1 key or Help button, should User Assistance be placed where readers’ attention lies? Should Help be integrated into the stream, too?
From the screen shots on the Techcrunch site, it appears, yes, there will be online Help. It will be initiated by clicking on a ? button in the top right hand corner. In short, it appears Google will be sticking to standard User Interface conventions. What’s unclear is whether the Help pages will be stored locally on the machine or “in the cloud”.