RE: Knowledgebase software recommendations?

Subject: RE: Knowledgebase software recommendations?
From: "Stephen Arrants" <steve -at- mbfbioscience -dot- com>
To: "Leonard C. Porrello" <Leonard -dot- Porrello -at- SoleraTec -dot- com>, "Tech Whirlers" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 11 Jul 2008 13:16:10 -0400

Leonard C. Porrello asks:
> Subject: Knowledgebase software recommendations?
> I've been tasked with creating a knowledge base, and I'd be grateful
> for
> any recommendations or advice anyone might have. I searched the Techwr-
> l
> archives and found only one useful lead.
> Following are the requirements. I've broken them into two categories:
> "Necessary" and "Nice to have".

We started using Support Trio from Active Campaign about a year ago, and generally, we're pleased.
Prior to that, we'd used a homegrown set of software that broke weekly. So, this is a big improvement.

> Necessary
> 1. Runs on Bluehost (a web hosting service that supports Apache,
> JavaScript, DHTML, PHP 5, Perl, Ruby, MySQL, PostgreSQL)

Yes. It is PHP-based.

> 2. Has an internet based editing interface that enables users to
> open a browser, navigate to the URL, and create or edit a section

Yes, it uses FCK Editor, but you can also install another editor if you have another that your staff likes.

> 3. Supports multiple authors (though not necessarily
> simultaneously)

Yes, but not simultaneously. Setting up a workflow was a big headache.

> 4. Supports editorial review prior to public release (unlike, say,
> Wikipedia, in which any changes you make to a page are published as
> soon
> as you save the page)

Well, there isn't a specific editorial review workflow. You can have someone author Knowledgebase articles, and they aren't visible to end users (customers) until you save with the Approve flag checked. Again, setting up the workflow needs to be thought out and enforced.

> 5. Supports printing of individual sections
Not sure what you mean--since it is browser-based, you can print from IE or Firefox. Support Trio plays well with IE, Firefox, and Safari.

> 6. Search
Yes. For administration, you can search by Title, ID# (it assigns an ID number to an article when created), and text.

> 7. Full control over who is authorized to edit (unlike, say,
> Wikipedia, which anyone can edit)
Well, you can set up different classes of users--administrative users who have access to some or all admin features, and end users (customers) who can't edit.

> 8. Topic creation and sorting by software version
You can set up a main category for articles (Stereology, Neuroscience, Hardware) and then mirror the articles in other categories (Stereo Investigator, Neurolucida, Zeiss Microscopes). Makes it easier when a customer logs on and is not exactly sure what he is looking for. He can them see that there are 25 articles listed under Microscopes, click that link, and search deeper for Zeiss or Ludl Stages, etc.

> Nice to have
> 1. Free

Nope. Relatively inexpensive (under $300 for the software). Support is where they make their money.

> 2. Cascading style sheets so that I can customize the look
Yes--but make sure you REALLY understand CSS and test, verify, and test again! We were bitten by including the CSS definitions within the template instead of linking them. Doing the former caused the preview of articles to show the style definitions instead of the text.

> 3. Easy to implement and maintain
Well, there's easy and then there's easy. We really should have had one or two people dedicate some time to setting up and designing it before we went live. Unfortunately, the software was kind of a "Here--we installed this. Have fun!" thing, and there wasn't a lot of input from Support or me (technical writer) on it. There are still things we're discovering and implementing (Troubleshooters, decision-tree type assistance).

My advice would be to get participation from the people who would use it, and then set up a test site to pound on to discover whether it fits your needs or not. I'd also enforce some kind of editorial workflow. For example, originally I was just supposed to spell-check and Approve them to go live. But, well, the Support folks are great at solving problems. They're very, very smart and savvy. Most are PhDs in neuroscience or stereology. But as any kind of technical writers...well, I've run two-hour sessions on how to write a procedure, how to title a knowledgebase article, using graphics, etc. I was seeing procedures that were nothing but a list of commands with no explanatory text==
1. File>Open
2. Edit>Copy
3 Make sure you see all the anchors.
4. Paste the markers into the other window.

Arghhhhhh. So now I edit the articles and test the procedures before approving them to go live.

I'd send you to our support area, but we only open it to registered customers. But the Support Trio site has more information and demos.

Good luck!

Steve Arrants   steve -at- mbfbioscience -dot- com
MBF Bioscience  (Microbrightfield, Inc.)
+1.802.288.9290 ext: 124


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Knowledgebase software recommendations?: From: Leonard C. Porrello

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