RE: New TECHWR-L Poll Question

Subject: RE: New TECHWR-L Poll Question
From: Dan Emory <danemory -at- primenet -dot- com>
To: "EXT-Hornoi-Centerwall, Theodore" <Theodore -dot- Hornoi-Centerwall -at- PSS -dot- Boeing -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 03 Jul 2000 14:58:32 -0700

I've been asked to explain how I came up with the figure that 90%
of all an-line help produced since 1995 would fail a rigorous
usability test.
First, the 90% figure is probably charitably low. I doubt if 10% of those
working on on-line help have any concept whatsoever of what a real hypertext
should be, much less how to create one.

A huge percentage of all on-line help follows the miserable Microsoft/WinHelp
model, where the user is initially presented with an index of keywords.
By typing a word or phrase into the slot provided, the user is presented
with the matching keyword, and by clicking on that, the help on that
subject is presented. Based on my own experience, my guess would
be that systems based on this approach fail to deliver the correct help
page more than 50% of the time, and in the cases where the correct
help page is presented, it fails to provide the user with the information
(s)he's looking for about 40% of the time. Any on-line help system with
numbers like that is an utter failure in my opinion.

The new Microsoft help technique (probably developed after the
realization that the approach described above was an abject
failure) utilizes a "Wizard" that is supposed to anticipate what
the user is thinking at each moment, and deliver help based
on that Bayesian conclusion. Guess what I think of that approach.

The whole concept of a real hypertext is to put the reader in the driver's
seat, allowing him/her to efficiently wander wherever (s)he thinks
a nugget of information may lie. This requires that the user form a
mental model of the knowledge base, and is provided with adequate
navigational aids. Neither of the approaches described above
allow a mental model to be formed, neither provides adequate
navigation aids, and neither puts the reader in the driver's seat.

| Nullius in Verba |
Dan Emory, Dan Emory & Associates
FrameMaker/FrameMaker+SGML Document Design & Database Publishing
Voice/Fax: 949-722-8971 E-Mail: danemory -at- primenet -dot- com
10044 Adams Ave. #208, Huntington Beach, CA 92646
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