Re: websites: software creating questions and answers (LONG)

Subject: Re: websites: software creating questions and answers (LONG)
From: Steven Brown <stevenabrown -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 2004 08:57:18 -0800 (PST)

Hi Irene,

(This is long and probably not of much interest to
most on this list, but it may be useful should anyone
else consider RightNow in the future and need some
perspective via the list archives.)

The company I work for has been using RightNow for
about two years to support a customer support staff of
about 30 reps. We provide a web-based service for
financial and other markets. It was purchased in part
for its knowledgebase feature, and in part for its
ability to capture, track, and resolve customer
problems. Its implementation, from my point of view as
a TW, has been problematic, although in fairness most
have been managerial problems, not technical ones.

First, RightNow was purchased without my consultation
despite the expectation that it would replace a more
conventional online help application that pre-dated

In addition, the underlying structure of the content
was set up without my input. That said, even with my
input, RightNow doesn't offer a great deal of
flexibility. From what I've seen, you basically get
two or three levels of information, so you have to
make your content fit into that structure. Difficult,
but not impossible.

Next challenge: no one here really "owns" the content
in the RightNow database. Customer Service owns the
tool (they have administrator privileges to it and
have received extensive training). To date, I've been
tasked with writing only new and updated content for
new releases, but from time to time someone will find
a need to add something new, and I'm asked to author
it. I don't mind doing so, but my manager has set my
priorities elsewhere, so I sometimes look like the bad
guy when I have to say no.

The biggest challenge with RightNow is actually a
technical one, particularly when it's used to provide
online help for a web-based service. It's very
important to understand that RightNow is a hosted,
live environment. There is no development, QA, or
staging environment. Any changes that you make to it
are immediately ?live? ? everyone sees them as soon as
you click Save. That raises a couple of challenges.

How do you add new topics (RightNow calls them
?answers?) for a new release without users seeing them
as you add them? The only solution I have found is to
keep new answers in a status called ?proposed,? which
prevents them from being visible. That requires us to
change that status to ?public? during or soon after a
new version of our web service is released. But what
happens if an hour into moving to version 2.0, for
example, something goes wrong and we have to back out
the updates and roll back to 1.5 for one or two weeks?

Second do I update existing answers
with new or revised content without users immediately
seeing the updates? The only solution I found is
copying the content of existing answers to new answers
-- keeping them in ?proposed? status -- and updating
the ?proposed? versions. This requires us to change
the status of these "proposed" answers (with all the
new ones) when we release new software and deleting
the original answers.

As you can see, these are very laborious processes. To
give you a sense of the scope of work involved, we
have approximately 300 ?public? answers (and many more
internal-use only answers). We?ll add hundreds more as
time goes on, so the work required will grow

Aside from the work required to update answers in this
manner, there's another problem, which hits at the
heart of the RightNow value proposition. When you
delete an existing answer to update it, you lose the
answer's metadata. RightNow promotes its smart
functionality of making the most-frequently-accessed
answers more relevant in search results, so when you
delete a popular answer to update it, it loses its
?place? in line. And god help you if you had any links
to that old answer in your software!

So that's that. In many call centers, I think RightNow
works very well, but using it to support software is a
challenge. As I prophesied on this list in the past, I
think we're going to see an evolutionary shift toward
database-like applications such as RightNow as time
goes on. People are going to prefer simple,
easy-to-use UIs like Google to find information, and
as search engine technology leads to more accurate
"hits," people will demand that we present help to
them more akin to the Google model than the
traditional online help model.

Steven Brown
Technical Writer

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