Customizable documentation?

Subject: Customizable documentation?
From: "Geoff Hart" <Geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1999 11:46:22 -0400

Roy Jacobsen passed along a query from a co-worker: <<My
boss... ran across the Fodors Web Site... where he could build
his own customized travel guide and print it out. He filled out
a series of questions on what he was interested in, and the site
built a customer book that he could print out. It contained all
the information he requested. Is this something that could be
done with online documentation?>>

In fact, it's probably something that _should_ be done for
online docs, or at least built into the user interface. Wouldn't
it be great to be able to turn on "long labels for field names"
whenever a field label seemed incomprehensible? I'm not
comfortable with the idea of "a user fills out a survey and
builds his or her own custom documentation based on their
role" simply because roles and information needs often
change, and it's often difficult to remember how to change the
level of detail in the documentation. Moreover, there are
times when you really do need information beyond what you
initially selected, and it might be unpleasant to have to go
back through the whole questionnaire just to add a single new
component to the docs.

If you chose this strategy, you should make the
documentation entirely dynamic, with very prominently
labeled controls, so that users could easily adjust the level of
detail to fit the current context, rather than using a single level
for all contexts. And the process should be easy enough that
it doesn't pose a barrier to the user actually reconfiguring the

<<Most importantly, is this something that could be done
using HTMLHelp?>>

You could certainly program this with a lot of help from
experienced Java (or other) developers. I'm not enough of a
Help geek to know whether it's possible for nondevelopers to
do this easily using existing Help authoring tools. Any of our
experts have a better answer?

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"Perhaps there is something deep and profound behind all those sevens, something just calling out for us to discover it. But I
that it is only a pernicious, Pythagorean coincidence." George Miller, "The Magical Number Seven" (1956)

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