Can Online Documentation be Used to Increase the Usability of Nuts-and-Bolts HARDware Documentation?

Subject: Can Online Documentation be Used to Increase the Usability of Nuts-and-Bolts HARDware Documentation?
From: "Bob Lord, DTN 522-6614," <lord -at- CXCAD -dot- ENET -dot- DEC -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 1995 15:11:18 PST

(I'm new to the network and the list, and this is my first posting, so be
gentle. Also, I'm a digest reader, so my responses may be delayed.)

I produce hardcopy documentation for a large family of storage subsystem
hardware products that's modular in nature. Our user documentation is also
modular, in the form of lots and lots of little individual books.

The nature of the product family is that lots of graphics are required to
effectively cover installation and configuration. In the installation
information, the user must deal with brackets, rails, fasteners, and lots of
other items from the local True Value. In the configuration information, he or
she must fool with numerous little switches, cables, connectors, and jumpers.

Our management has long hinted that they would like to see online documentation
replace our large hardcopy docset. We've also gotten user feedback that the
docset is harder to use than it could be, specifically because of the
modularity.

It's been my opinion that online documentation for nuts-and-bolts hardware
applications is difficult to do because of the requirement for good graphics and
the resolution limitations of the typical PC. Also, many folks in the field
prefer to have a book open beside them for ready reference while doing hardware
installation/configuration. Laptops are certainly a possibility, but their
screen limitations are even more an issue. It's for these reasons that I
believe that most hardware documentation is done in hardcopy. Also, it seems
that most discussions on this list about online documentation refer to SOFTware
documentation.

At a recent local STC meeting with no less than William Horton (the reigning
guru of online documentation) as the speaker, I was able to ask him about the
relative success rate of hardware online documentation. Mr. Horton said that he
was unaware of a situation where going online with hardware docs made them more
usable.

I have this question for the list:

Does anyone out there have any experience with an online implementation of
nuts-and-bolts HARDware documentation that was successful in the sense that it
improved usability or was more acceptable for the user?


I'll look forward to your experiences and opinions. You've become a valuable
reference asset.

Bob

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Bob Lord
Contract Information Designer
Digital Equipment Corporation "Over the LAN, through the WAN,
LORD -at- CXCAD -dot- ENET -dot- DEC -dot- COM nothing but Net!"
719.548.6614
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