Making more, usefully (or at least, apparently), into less

Subject: Making more, usefully (or at least, apparently), into less
From: mlist -at- safenet-inc -dot- com
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 11 Aug 2006 11:52:42 -0400

In another thread, Stuart Burnfield wisely quoted:

> My second Cooper quote of the day:
> "No matter how cool your interface is, less of it would be better."
> He was talking about UI design but it applies equally to
> documentation.


My WebHelp (for products aimed at techy types, mostly) is many hundreds of
>From what I've read, that's relatively tiny - others have spoken about their
Help projects in terms of thousands of pages. So I can only imagine that,
from one perspective, I already live up to that "less of it would be
better", but from the perspective of "this is all there ever has been of my
Help", maybe mine is already bloated.

Any time I have the urge to toss some pages, I can think of somebody who
would need 'em... even if most users would not. So, other than making a
bunch of separate WebHelps, directed at anticipated groups of product users
(which just moves the problem... and maybe compounds it because there'd be a
lot of overlap...) I'm not clear on how to address the issue.

What issue? The issue implied in the quote: when there's more stuff than
you (user) need to do your particular task, then that stuff is clutter, as
far as you are concerned and you could do with less of it.

Right now, my Help is presented in tri-pane, with a ToC down the left. The
ToC includes a few stray pages (Welcome, obligatory Disclaimers and
Acknowledgements) and is otherwise divided (RoboHelp fashion... it's all I
know) into major and minor "books".

The main categories are
"Getting Started" - first things like installing the hardware in a rack,
connecting cables, etc. All the stuff you should have done before you got
this far... then...
"A - Configuration (Setup the Appliance)" - setting network stuff,
initializing devices, creating/exchanging certificates, yadda-yadda.
"B - Admin & Maintenance" - ongoing admin stuff, as well as HowTo for a
number of special setups that some-but-not-all owners would implement (and
nobody would ever implement all of them at once).
"C - Integration with Your Application" - a bunch of step-by-step examples
for integrating our product with common industry applications and systems;
if you are lucky, yours is included.
"D - Reference" - command syntax pages, error message tables, lists of
supported algorithms, etc., this is the biggest section; for some people the
most-used, for others, never used
"E - Concepts" - explanatory sections for stuff that's specific to us
(explaining our terminology and workings) and how we fit into
industry-standard functions and categories; good-to-know stuff or expanded
explanations that would only get in the way if they were included in the
instructional sections

The leading letters (A, B, C, D and E) originally had another function, but
now I keep them for ease of reference from other documents, e-mail, etc.
Each of those category "books" then opens into further books and/or topic
pages. The tree rarely branches more than three levels. There are lots of
cross-links, but every time I turn around, I think of something else to
link. In addition to ToC, there are the usual Index, Search and Glossary
navigation aids. So, the question is:

How might I make this conglomeration of stuff _appear_ to be less, for the
benefit of people who don't want most of the pages? How do ya make parts of
your extensive Help disappear, yet be near at hand when/if needed?

If it makes a difference, this Help is still standalone, until we (someday)
provide a GUI interface, in which it will be integrated.

I'm not anxious about this. It's just that Stuart's Cooper quote revived the
notion of streamlining for me. What do y'all do?


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