Follow up on Balloon Help for Web-application

Subject: Follow up on Balloon Help for Web-application
From: Steven Oppenheimer <Steven -at- OppenheimerCommunications -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 29 Oct 2004 23:44:51 -0400

Thanks to all of you who replied regarding balloon help for a Web-based application. Based on your comments, and some further research, I've prepared a short "memo" for my client. I'm sharing the memo, and perhaps you could take just a minute to sanity-check it and see if I've misunderstood anything:
Dear Client,

You had asked me if it was possible to somehow have pop-up help balloons in the XYZ application, in addition to the help system I am authoring for you. The answer is, "Yes", it can be done, but whether or not it's wise or cost-effective is another matter.

For two examples of what I think you are looking for, please visit the following sites:


If you hunt around on both pages, you'll find hotspots where -- if you place your cursor over the hotspot -- small text boxes pop up.

So, that's the good news. The less than good news is, there is no way to generate this sort of help via RoboHTML; and, I'm 99% certain, there is no way to link text from the help system I create via RoboHTML to the text that you would have showing directly via these popups in the XYZ application.

The popups are created by using either Javascript or cascading style sheets (CSSs) directly in your XYZ application code. That has to be placed there by your coders. The actual content -- the text in the popup balloons -- can of course be copied from the help system I've created, but not linked to the help system.

As for creating the Javascript or CSSs: Manually coding that would be the hard way, although that is what you pay your people for. Sample code can be found at both of the Web sites indicated above, although I think there are royalty payments involved.

Ideally, though, you'd rather not have your people have to write code every time you want a popup in the XYZ application. It would be time-consuming and error-prone. The preferable way to do this is to have the Web authoring tool they use provide a dialog box of some kind to implement the Javascript or CSS. For example, to author my own Web site, I use Dreamweaver MX, which enables me to easily apply CSS styles to text.

Now, as far as I can tell Dreamweaver MX does not support CSS styles for these popup boxes, but MX is not the most recent version. And besides, it's possible to import new styles into the program. The other issue is, I don't know which tool your programmers are using to create the XYZ app.

Executive summary:
1. The popups can be done.
2. There is no way to directly link snippets of text in the help system to the popup text in the XYZ app. I checked RoboHTML's own help system, and there is no sign of support for this. (FYI, we *can* place popups in the help system itself, if that proves useful at some point!)
3. The XYZ application popups can be implemented via Javascript code or CSS, embedded in the XYZ application itself.
4. This can be handcoded, if need be.
5. The sites I've indicated above can provide sample code which your programmers may be able to use.
6. Ideally, you have an authoring tool for XYZ which supports the creation of these popups, so your programmers do not need to do the handcoding. (Instead, a "wizard" type series of dialog boxes will present all appropriate options -- including someplace to type in, or paste, the popup help text -- and then embed the necessary code.)

One final note: Tech writers who replied to my inquiry tell me that these popups can cause buggy behavior in some browsers. There is no harm in testing it on a trial basis, however.
Thanks again, one and all, for your input.

Steve O.

Steven Oppenheimer, M.A.
Oppenheimer Communications
Technical and Business Writing: From Complexity To Clarity (SM)
Steven -at- OpComm -dot- com (301) 468-9233


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