RE: HTML Guides?

Subject: RE: HTML Guides?
From: "VERKERKEN Wouter" <Wouter -dot- VERKERKEN -at- swift -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 10 Apr 2006 09:55:47 +0200

Hi Heidi,

I fully agree with Geoff on the use of IM. I was an IM instructor in a
former life, and I have done (and still do) many IM documentation
projects in different software tools. It's not about tables (for
example, I'm using numbered lists for steps, not step/action tables).
It's about -among other things- chunking, infotypes, and consistency.


>-----Original Message-----
>techwr-l-bounces+wouter -dot- verkerken=swift -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
>[mailto:techwr-l-bounces+wouter -dot- verkerken=swift -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techw] On Behalf Of Geoff Hart
>Sent: Saturday, April 08, 2006 5:11 PM
>To: TECHWR-L; Heidi Colonna
>Subject: HTML Guides?
>Heidi Colonna reports: <<Our shop is planning (in the near future) on
>moving from .pdf guides, mostly user guides, to HTML user guides. In
>doing some research online, it appears that HTML guides are not all
>that different from online help systems as far as the chunking of
>information/topics. The only major difference I've noticed is that in
>help systems you have a TOC and in an HTML guide you have a list of
>It's a bit more complicated than that. At its core, the information is
>identical, as is much of the interface--that is, both are a series of
>pages (topics) reached by links and cross-references. So pretty much
>anything you can do in one format, you can do in the other, with
>varying degrees of ease. In what follows, I'll say "HTML" when
>I mean a
>tool such as DreamWeaver; in contrast, Help and HTMLHelp mean the
>Microsoft formats.
>In terms of the technology, Help files are most often a compiled
>format, usually restricted to a single operating system (or when
>they're nominally cross-platform, they're typically suboptimal
>on other
>operating systems), whereas HTML can be made fully cross-platform with
>minimal effort--you just have to write to the standards and keep it
>simple instead of using all the bells and whistles your users don't
>need. You also won't get a search function built-in with HTML,
>and will
>have to find one and add one, or figure out how to link the pages to
>your operating system's search tools.
>In terms of the content, the TOC difference isn't really a difference.
>A compiled Help TOC may be automatically generated, and may
>automatically support a collapsible/expandable tree of topics, but you
>can do the same in HTML. (_I_ can't, but I've seen it done, so it's
>just a matter of figuring out how.) A table of contents does not,
>itself, change--only how you create it and display it. And imho, any
>help system that doesn't have at least one table of contents
>(preferably a few, with special purpose ones to meet special needs) is
>What's missing in HTML are two main things: First, automatic
>linking to
>program features such as dialog boxes is missing from HTML; this means
>that if you want to create context-sensitive help (and why
>wouldn't you
>in this day and age?) you have to manually create topic IDs or
>comparable identifiers (unless a tool such as DevaHelp* does this for
>you) and you have to teach your programmers how to link to these
>topics. Not difficult, let alone rocket science, but not as convenient
>as using something like WinHelp that is so firmly engrained in
>programmer culture and programming tools that it's a no-brainer.
>* See: (also includes indexing and search
>functions). Windows-only, unfortunately, so I can't use it on my Mac
>and thus, can't provide details. Strikes me as a silly choice given
>that it works via Dreamweaver, which I do have on my Mac. Why
>not write
>it in Java so it works on all platforms?
>Second, no HTML tool encourages you to create an index as you go. I
>personally consider a help system useless if it doesn't have a _good_
>index, so... Indeed, if you don't research the topic, you won't know
>that indexing HTML is even possible. DevaHelp includes built-in
>indexing tools; you can also look up HTMLIndexer
>( if you prefer a strong standalone
>product that focuses exclusively on indexing if you don't want
>to adopt
>a full package such as Deva.
><<Some of our guides use information mapping (IM) procedures. In
>playing with the HTML output of guides with these IM tables, the
>information mapping tables are lengthy and look bad.>>
>That's a problem with your use of the tool, not with the tool itself.
>Information mapping is ***NOT*** about rigid tables, though a casual
>glance might mislead you into thinking so. My main criticism of IM has
>always been not with the philosophy--which is powerful--but
>rather with
>the fact that users so often forget this philosophy and start thinking
>only in terms of tables. If all you have is a hammer...
>Instead, IM is, in part, about using the concept of a table (chunking
>and categorizing and using white space to organize
>information) to help
>you structure your data. If you've used the method appropriately, and
>have focused on dividing up the information appropriately, it should
>take a relatively minor effort to figure out how to redesign the
>information to work in HTML.
><<My sense is that as we move to HTML, in our documentation that uses
>the IM method is going to have to be changed.>>
>Not really. The format will have to change, but not the process of
>analysis used to generate the information that you will present using
>that format. Moreover, it's ironic that you raise this point
>given that
>Robert Horn (the inventor of the infomapping method) was also one of
>the early "names" in hypertext design*. It seems to me that
>mapping should translate logically and very efficiently to online uses
>if you focus on the philosophy rather than on the tables.
>* See, for instance, "Mapping Hypertext: The Analysis, Organization,
>and Display of Knowledge for the Next Generation of On-Line Text and
>Graphics" (1990). I believe there's a much earlier book too,
>but didn't
>go looking.
>- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - --
>Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
>(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
>- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
>WebWorks ePublisher Pro for Word features support for every major Help
>format plus PDF, HTML and more. Flexible, precise, and
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>delivery. Try it today!.
>Doc-To-Help includes a one-click RoboHelp project converter.
>It's that easy. Watch the demo at
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