RE: Help vision?

Subject: RE: Help vision?
From: "Andy McAleer" <andy -dot- mcaleer -at- eu -dot- citrix -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 26 May 2005 16:59:53 +0100

I'm guessing that's the voice of experience, Geoff. Thanks. Your comments are really helpful, and spot on.

One point. I agree the best place for help is embedded in the application. But sometimes there's just not enough space for it there. Maybe in those cases, a link/button to a help topic makes sense.

-----Original Message-----
From: Geoff Hart [mailto:ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca]
Sent: 26 May 2005 16:43
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com; Andy McAleer
Subject: Help vision?

Andy McAleer wondered: <<Does anyone have a vision, however sketchy, of
the future of online help?>>

At some point in the distant future, humans will have evolved to the
point where even software developers recognize the need to produce
usable software. <g> At that point, based on careful study of users,
they'll produce software that needs only about 10% of the help text we
currently provide, and that 10% will be fully embedded in the
interface, perhaps as wizards or other assistants*, thereby eliminating
what we now consider "online help". Oh yeah... and cats and dogs will
live together in perfect harmony. <g>

* Finally recognizing the dream that computers should exist to help us
perform our work, rather than forcing us to change how we think and act
to compensate for inadequate programming.

<<Are big software houses going to continue to post more of their help
topics online (thereby making updated help always available to

This trend will certainly continue, but it's a stupid approach from the
user's perspective. Though it's true that this should be _an option_
and that updated help files should ship with each software update
(along with the option for downloading a company's full knowledge base
for a product, if so desired), I've heard rumors that some people
believe that online will be the only option that's necessary. For the
next decade or so, that's simply stupid. Many people still rely on
dialup connections, many of us work (at least occasionally) in areas
where we don't even have dialup Web access, and there's no indication
that server crashes or denial of service attacks are becoming any less
frequent. Under those circumstances, Web-only won't work.

<<Do the promises of such server-based help actually bear fruit?>>

Apart from the above quibbles, well-designed server-based help should
be just as effective as well-designed traditional online help. Of
course, this assumes that the application developers keep the software
(context IDs etc.) in synch with the Web site URLs. I don't have much
faith that this will happen.

<<Are technical writers actively researching the impact of Microsoft's
vision for help, as documented for the next release of their operating
system, codenamed Longhorn?>>

The smart ones are. (I don't do much online help these days, so I'm not
smart. <g>) Personally, I think it's long past time we did away with
proprietary compiled help formats and stuck with W3C-standard HTML.
This provides maximum utility, maximum longevity, and minimum
dependence on proprietary authoring tools or proprietary operating
system quirks that change from year to year.

<<Is help going to be replaced by some other way of communicating with

It will all be outsourced to foreign lands, requiring us to log into
ESL Web sites hosted in parts of the world most of us have never heard
of. <g>

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - --
Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


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