Smart Help Experiences

Subject: Smart Help Experiences
From: Ellen Kelly <EllenK -at- mentergy -dot- com>
To: "'TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM'" <TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2000 09:46:58 -0400

Hello all:

I am embarking on an ambitious revamping of our current online help
systems. Our software is partially web-based, so I use a combination of
standard HTML in a frameset for the web pages, and then WinHelp files within
the program. The next generation, however, will most likely be entirely HTML
or XML topics, although I am not yet sure what I'll use to present the
entire help file (WebHelp vs. Quadralay Help vs. a homegrown frameset with
an index and search).

Now to my question . . .I am going to propose a "smart help" system - along
the lines of Microsoft help agents, but without the personality. I just
want the users to be able to type a question, and then link to our help

I am curious to see if anyone has worked on developing a smart help,
agent-based type of system, and if so, would you be willing to share your
experiences? We are looking at this as part of the program, actually, so in
the spec. it will be assigned development person hours and QA time - the
full works.

Specifically I am interested in:

1) How your programmers implemented the system.

2) How you revised your writing so that the help topics work within this
type of system. (I am already planning a very granular, structured writing
approach that facilitates single-sourcing in Frame with WebWorks).

3) How you feel about assigning personality to agents (from what I gather
they are universally hated, but maybe providing one as an option wouldn't
hurt . . .)

4) Any other insights or comments that you may have are also welcome!

Thanks - I hope this generates a healthy discussion. It seems that we all
need to begin thinking out of the box a bit when it comes to delivering
online help. More and more of our life is now Internet-based and help file
sizes become more and more of an issue. Also, it has been proven that our
users hate help, and we need to trick them back into using the help files by
masking the help as something fun and different!


Ellen S. Kelly
Documentation Manager, Mentergy
LearnLinc Division
(518) 286-7000, x467
ellenk -at- learnlinc -dot- com

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