Hidden Cost of Online Help; Warning Long Opinionated Append

Subject: Hidden Cost of Online Help; Warning Long Opinionated Append
From: Harold Henke <hessian -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 16 May 1995 15:34:17 MDT

Although, I prefer to write online help, and would rather spend my money
developing online help than "hardcopy" manuals, there is a hidden cost.
The hidden cost is called translation. Most applications are designed so that
the User Interface can be translated. As part of the translation, online
help is also translated. And since we can write more words
than programmers can create panels, it does not take long for the translation
costs to soar. After all, how many words are on a panel? Compare that with
how many words it takes to describe how to use an item on the panel or
perform a task at that panel. (Of course, in Nirvana, a good panel needs
no words. And good products, do not need us.)

So, when "architecting" your online help, ask if the information is going to
be translated. If so, remember that it is easy to create online help (and
fun) but how much will it cost to translate. Now some of you may say,
"Wait a second Jack!", you have to translate hardcopy books. Well, that's
a fact, Jack, but many times you may translate only some books, such as
an Operator Guide but not a Programmer's Reference Manual. But if you
choose to translate your User Interface, it will look real funky to the
user to view the panel text in their native language, and the online
help in English. So in most cases, the online help, all of it, must be
translated. And more often than not, the cost of translating the online
help will cost more than translating the panel text. (This usually creates
acid buildup in the product manager's stomach.)

(My personal recommendation is go big and dump the hardcopy and provide only
online information. Roll the printing costs into translation costs.)

Harold Henke
Information Developer
The IBM Printing Systems Company
Boulder, CO

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