Re: Trends in Help Authoring

Subject: Re: Trends in Help Authoring
From: Steven Brown <stevenabrown -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2004 09:27:29 -0800 (PST)

We might see different trends for different
applications. I currently support a web-based
application whose users vary in experience and
knowledge, so I'll speak to my own experience and

I think that the popularity of Web sites like Google
and Yahoo are dramatically changing the way people
look for information, setting a new standard that
online help applications will have to meet.

For example, if I want information about a
presidential candidate, I don't navigate someone's
arbitrary hierarchy of categories in Yahoo with the
hope that I will eventually find each candidate's web
site. Instead, I go to a single web page, enter "john
kerry" or "j kerry" or "kerry" or "jon karry" and the
site somehow predicts what I want to find.

What I'm predicting is that we'll eventually move from
today's traditional design that uses a TOC and index
to a new paradigm that uses a powerful search engine
that learns what people want to see.

My current employer is using that approach to deliver
its help content, relying on a database (knowledge
base) and search engine. Although I'm not thrilled
with its implementation (I don't manage the tool nor
the content), it's much easier to use than a
traditional help application. While attending
usability sessions at my prior employer, I watched a
user open our online help, and then stop. She couldn't
get beyond the initial screen; she had no idea how to
use the TOC or index. I think that if she'd been
presented with a large white screen with a single
field in which to enter a keyword or search text (a'la
Google), she'd have found what she was looking for.

To make a long story longer, in my case I'd be better
off learning some kind of database programming
language or HTML than the intricacies of existing
HATs. But how to advance in my current job without
falling behind in more mainstream help products and

Steven Brown
Technical Writer

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Trends in Help Authoring: From: dan . gallagher

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