Re: Is Hypertext More Productive?

Subject: Re: Is Hypertext More Productive?
From: Jim Grey <jwg -at- ACD4 -dot- ACD -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 25 Mar 1994 09:12:31 -0500

A few month ago, I (reluctantly) took over system administration duties for
our Interleaf software. Just before Christmas, we added a bunch of new
Interleaf users, for the first time in the company's "other" building.
Interleaf ships one set of paper manuals with its software, and our copy is
in a common area in this building, but that doesn't help people in the other

Interleaf comes with, IMHO, a pretty good hypertext online doc set -- it
*is* the paper reference docs, just online with hypertext links. You can
even print pages, sections, or all of the doc. On one hand, I like surfing
the index for what I want and clicking its entry to bring up the page I'm
after, rather than dealing with a nine-volume set. On the other hand, I
often have more documents open than comfortably fit on my Interleaf desktop,
and don't want to cover something up as I use the online doc to work on it.

I thought showing the folks in the other building how to use the online docs
would satisfy their need, but they pretty much unanimously dislike it.
This just seems to be a group of people who feel most comfortable when the
manual is in the lap, not on the screen.

So I checked with the users in this building. We're seasoned users: the
tech writers with five years' experience and the systems engineers with two
years' experience. One systems engineer and I are the only two who use the
online docs. Everyone else, on those rare occasions they need help, go
to the bookshelf.

Some time ago, someone here posted a message which included a quotation to
the effect: "Software companies aren't driven by their users; they're driven
by technology." (I think the word "geek" was in there somewhere, too.)
I claim that the push to all-online docs is part of this. My experience
does not support any assertion that users mostly want to do away with paper
docs in favor of online help.

Meanwhile, my company has been thinking for years about emphasizing online
docs over paper. Tech Writing has been writing online help pages in our
propietary HyperWeb(tm) hypermedia system for years. But its limitations
prevent us from making it a real substitute for the paper manuals. The
best solution, as far as I'm concerned, is to turn our existing paper docs
into online docs, just like Interleaf has done. That way, ONE set of work
creates ONE set of documents, but with TWO usage interfaces: paper for
those who get the warm fuzzies when they feel the 3-ring binder in their lap,
and online for those who get excited at the notion of playing with new toys.

jim grey |beebeebumbleandthestingersmottthehoopleraycharlessingers
jwg -at- acd4 -dot- acd -dot- com |lonniemackandtwangin'eddiehere'smyringwe'regoingsteadyta
|GO/M d p+ c++(-) l u+ e- m*@ s+/ n+ h f++ g- w+@ t+ r- y+(*)
|ACD, Terre Haute, IN -- The Silicon Cornfield

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