RE: The demise of the printed manual?

Subject: RE: The demise of the printed manual?
From: jgarison -at- ide -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2001 08:17:47 -0400


We no longer do "manuals" per se. Since our company is an online
browser-based application for large distributed businesses, it makes sense
that our help and other info be part of the product, not something that sits
on a shelf in someone's office.

With this release (in 2 weeks! AARGH!) we will no longer even provide PDF
versions of books. We used to provide a series of users guides in PDF
format, but no longer - we find that the quality and relevance of
information is easier to provide at the page level. Given sufficient numbers
and quality of links, users can find the information they need when they
need it. And then they can print out what they need in hard copy.

We have page-level help pages, and links to "About ..." topics and other
links to all the relevant areas where the current page either sets something
up or is the result of something defines elsewhere. Since our product is so
intertwined, the only real way to provide information about it is through a
network of pages. Old manual styles of writing didn't do a very good job
because they tended to be too full of references to sections in three or
four other documents. With the information contained in hypertext, it's much
easier - and quicker for the users - to get what they need by clicking.

And it saves time and money for us, too. We don't have to index anything any
more because the search engine (Deva Search) works excellently searching
text of the HTML files. We don't have to worry about TOCs and pagination
because they aren't really relevant. We are providing a "Home" page for the
documentation, but it's really just some more links and it quite easy to do
once you determine the approach you need to take (We're going role-based).
But the real benefit is to our customers.

I was a bit worried about how it might be perceived in the user community,
so I did some investigation prior to starting the effort. The general areas
of concern were - Can I find what I want? and Can I print out stuff? With a
search engine and browser print capability, they can and seem to be happy
with it.

We have a new customer coming on board with this release and in
conversations with the support rep on the account, they are pretty cool
about it - and see advantages to it. And when I said "Call me if there's
something that you want that you can't find, and we'll add it for you in the
next release" they liked the responsiveness that online documentation

So ... bottom line -- Go for it.


PS - while it may not be totally technical in nature, I am doing a short
Bleeding Edge session in Chicago on how we threw away our old HAT-based
HTML-based Help, revamped to be page-level context sensitive, adopted
Dreamweaver, and finished it all on time in less than 4 months.

-----Original Message-----
From: Warren_Singer -at- vocaltec -dot- com [mailto:Warren_Singer -at- vocaltec -dot- com]
Sent: Thursday, April 12, 2001 5:19 AM
Subject: The demise of the printed manual?

My company is thinking of cutting down on costs by stopping the production
of printed manuals. How many of you work for companies that only provide
online documentation? (pdf format/html/online help). Is it acceptable in
today's market? Is it an acceptable practise in the Telecommunications and
carrier industry? I have heard that Cisco, for example, only provides
online documentation.
The alternative to the printed manual would be to rely solely on the PDF
files that are enclosed in the CDs that we ship with a new release. We
also have a password-controlled, Web-based Knowledge base, where customers
can download the latest documentation related to our products and
I can see the following benifits of cutting down on printed manuals:
- Savings of 5-6,000 dollars per release (with 2-3 major releases per
year) = 10-18,000 dollars per year (for a company with sales of 20 million
per year).
- Savings of 2-3 weeks off production times, means more time to work on
the manuals before a release, manuals that are more up to date, and less
time spent on printing and production (an estimated cost-savings in
technical writing hours of about 2000 dollars per release)

Any thoughts on this subject?

Warren Singer
Email: warren_singer -at- vocaltec -dot- com


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