Wednesday, March 24, 2010

User Assistance Trends Panel

Rhonda Bracey, Nicky Bleiel, Teresa Goertz, Leah Gurn, Linda Urban

Joe: Definitely having conference next year, location still unknown. Most conferences I go to, most speakers are men. Our closing session is all women.

IT industry

Nicky: "Cube 2.0" greatest potential since Dilbert Doors, cube-land walls transformed into wrap-around computer, able to roll up and take home. Manipulate all applications with gestures. Specific gesture to open user assistance.

Teresa: Increasing use of mobile devices, for payments and savings, for medical assistance, for telemedicine, for micropayments.

Leah: Companies tying into more user-created information that are outside their control, higher noise to signal ratio, not necessarily a good thing, lots of illiterate rants and "me 2," IT will just throw up their hands--and this ship has already sailed.

Linda: When appliance not working, go up to it with e-book reader to access documentation and support, chips & Bluetooth in appliance or other device, direct link to support URL, location information and smart ads will supply addresses of local repair shops.

User assistance

Teresa: Increasing writer involvement with UI text and online help for mobile payment softare and mobile medical devices.

Leah: Embedded help will almost completely replace separate help, simplicity and ease-of-use the holy grail of user experience, much better understanding of user needs needs, scenarios, tasks part of development, help embedded in dialog box, window, website page.

Linda: User-generated content will increase UA jobs, new job titles and tasks (content curator, content weaver, content strategist), increased responsibility for understanding big picture around content, new skills to learn (user research, forum moderation, information architecture), must think beyond creating online help.

Nicky: Special IA bot will search web for all information (help, wikis, blogs, videos, news stories, etc.) on a product and organize it in easy-to-use display, search by version on request, can remove/rearrange items for customized display, metadata will make results relevant and updating easy.  "Do see a chance for "Clippy" to make a comeback, be our UA robot."

Tools and technologies

Leah: Increased use of XML and DITA will lead to on-the-fly translation options, companies will write tighter, cleaner online help that supports basic translation rules, online server-based computer translation will translate text-on-demand (cheap and fast) when users need topics. Useful especially for non-mainstream languages. Overall translation quality will go down, but make available in more places.

Linda: Authoring tool vendors will help write context-sensitive content at the point of need and mash ups to bring in needed information and links.

Nicky: Embedded live chat in the UA, specific to topic user is viewing, if users have to open help to get to chat, might get them to help,  if answer is in topic displayed, users forfeit right to chat again.

Teresa: Increasing awareness of SEO (search engine optimization) and incorporating principles into writing.

Turning Search Into Find

Matthew Ellison

Search is important way for users to find information in help.

Search is not the most effective tool for finding information, but it is the tool users prefer to use. Many help systems omit indexes.

We used to find things, now we search.

What are the obstacles to find? Don't know keywords, can't ask questions, too many results, no synonyms, and more. 

Google's predictive search as you type characters reminds of.... old-style Microsoft Help index. Search technology provides the best of using index in help. So used to predictive like in Google, when it doesn't happen elsewhere, think something;'s wrong.

Faceted search is kind of way of combining search and TOC.  Doesn't require hierarchy that TOC imposes. Classify information, using metadata, by specific characteristics (facets). Facets can take on values. Users explore information by choosing required facets. Combine facets to narrow search. Results presented in any order. Can be used to refine results of full-text search.

Factors that turn search into find

Stop words, exclude specific words from search matching, marginally reduces file size and increases search speed.

Facility to exclude topics from search, so topics appears only in specific contexts.

Search results synopses, show first few words or key extract from search result, enables user to assess relevance of search result.

Phrase matching, phrases in quotes, usually unnecessary.

Search filtering and faceted search, follows concept of information types, commonly used on e-commerce sites, achievable with concept keywords and search filters.

Ranking of search results, results determined by number of occurrence of keywords (indexing automatically promotes topic in results), metadata.

Metadata is the key to flexible and effective search, enables you to avoid zero search results, especially with synonyms.

Predictive search, reduces keystrokes, provides better "scent of information," discourages "long tail" searches.

Practical ways to implement predictive search

Google Custom Search, use PHP and jQuery to add autocomplete, turnkey autosuggest technologies such as PredictAd.

Interaction Design Meets Expertise: Representation, Understanding, and Problem-solving

Axel Roestar, University of Washington

How do we support people in awhat they do best?

Design plays a role, Designers initiate change in the future, identify means to bring the change about. Lies at the root of innovation. Innovation challenges people, confronts them with things they haven't seen before.

Design is not art.

Connecting research and design

Cyclical design model. Thnk about design as an activity that never ends and never begins. Start with observing something in the world (something doesn't work). Come up with need for design. Develop concept, shift from observing to exploring. Look at the world and abstract observations. A concept is a hypothesis. Build prototypes, validate it with prospective users. Iteratively improve design based on testing feedback.

Even when product shipped, design isn't finished. Products are too complex to have them completely fleshed out before they go out in the world.

Pools of expertise in the cycle include innovator, practitioner, technologist.  Requires ability to move both forward and backward in the design process. If you were not part of the observation process, a designer starts from a very bad position because you're working with someone else's data. Ethnographic studies are difficult, but important that designers are following ethnographers.

3 U's of design: usefulness, understandability, usability.

Information is not a scarce resource, but attention is.

The Psychology of User Interface Responsiveness

aka The Psychology of Time Perception in Software
Steven Seow, Microsoft

What is objective is not necessarily what is perceived by users. Many layers to consider when talking about performance and responsiveness.

WYSMNBWYG: What you see may not be what you get.

Central course for attention. When you pay attention to non-temporal events, you lose information about time. When you pay attention to time, you lose information about details. Attenuation hypothesis.

Perception,  what the brain does with the information it receives from the senses. Couple of layers before it hits the brain. Something that's objectively described can mean different things to different people in different contexts.

Anything we can do to reduce perceived duration is a good thing.

No specific spot in the brain to perceive time. No need to question if perception is reality. A clock tells time, a metric tells a number. No judgment involved.

Tolerance, the maximum degree of something we are willing to experience to attain something.

"The download took 5 minutes."

Yesterday, it took 3 minutes: too slow.

File only 1MB: too slow.

Used to take more than an hour: download is great!

Maister's first law of service: satisfaction is a function of discomfirmation, or the difference between what was perceived and what was expected.

Responsiveness: the ability of a system to respond to user input and process internal operations without undue delay. 

Responsiveness relative to interaction in question, subjectively perceived & interpreted, non-exclusive (users aren't carrying stopwatches).

Relate a metric not to an interaction, but to a user expectancy. When you get a new interaction, relate it to the user expectancy, not the metric.

Classes of responsiveness:
  • Instantaneous (< 0.1 - 0.2 sec.)
  • Immediate (< 0.5 1 sec.)
  • Continuous (< 2 - 5 sec.)
  • Captive (< 7 - 10 sec.)
Continuous is about flow. Applicable to UA in areas of error messages. If too much text, too much to read, users will scan. Aim for 2-5 seconds, at 5-6 words per seconds, and aim for that size in error messages.

Not a mathematical model, but a psychological, empirical model, based on what users expect.

Time is a precious commodity. Users shell out not only money, but time, and have an expectation for their experience.

Uncertainty is the biggest poison. Information is a powerful antidote. The right amount of content at the right time.

Check out the book, "Designing and Engineering Time"

Double Scoop Case Studies, Theme: Single Source

I was going to go to the eBook conversion session, but when I got to the room, there were no tables, and I did not want to spend an hour with my notebook computer on my lap. So I went to my second choice.

Converting from Multiple Formats to DITA-compliant XML
John Kinsky, Intel

Managing a diverse group of writers spread out at many sites. Many documents, converted thousands of pages to DITA-compliant XML, and was able to do the task successfully. Supported multiple OSs, multiple products, and in many cases, multiple languages.

Know what DITA promises. DITA assumes all information can be reduced to bite-size chunks. (When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.) Minimalism is the order of the day. And DITA might not work for you.

DITA Open Toolkit is a publishing environment, not a magic solution. Requires knowledge of XML, XSL, DTDs.

View from 50,000 ft:
  1. Analyze current document
  2. Determine topic types
  3. Restructure existing, legacy content (better to do in your existing tools; it's faster)
  4. Convert from legacy format, seciton by section and topic by topic
  5. Publish document from new sources (concurrent with doing the same with your old sources)
Study your document. Determine your legacy document type, topic based or book/chapter based. Topic-based easier if you've been writing online help.

Choose topic types. Concept, task, reference, generic. DITA guys will tell you you can't use the generic topic. But generic topic type solves problems, all other topic types derived from the generic topic type. Use a matrix tracking device (spreadsheet) and assign topic to topic type, plus time value it will take to convert.

Topic type analysis on only part of the overall process. Found a lot of theory, but little practical info for how to deal with conversion.  Output dictates the ground rules. Decide before you begin to convert. HTML requires different top-level DITA map structure than PDF. Multiple formats from single source requires additional work and testing.

Choose a path: easy or hard. Easy path, convert everything to concept or generic topic types. Hard path, follow recommendation from nearly everyone else, convert everything to appropriate topic type (which we should). Easy path gets you there quickly, but requires you go back at some time and restructure the content.

Middle path follows the easy path for the bulk of the conversion, follow the hard path for select group of topics.

Use specialization? Sooner or later have to answer the question. Need skillset (XML, XSL, DTDs) for "yes" but "no' restricts your flexibility (but allows you to use out-of-the-box topics.

Have you thought about all possible single-source conditions? Reduced special formatting variations? Decided on image types and sizes? restructured legacy content before conversion? Built a prototype or proof of concept?

Tame the beast. Have one person dedicated to the task. No matter what your conversion estimates are, it's going to take longer. Get help from others who have gone through it. Restructure content in original format before converting. Convert a few to[pics, build, view output. Repeat restructure and convert, over and over.

Voltiare" "The perfect is the enemy of the good." You have to know when good enough is good enough. Keep in mind why you chose to use DITA in the first place.

Developing Product Documentation in a Confluence Wiki
Bruce Michelson, Corda Technologies

Previously outsourced documentation, developed using FrameMaker to PDF and RoboHelp to FlashHelp. Directed to look into wiki.

Goals: collaborative authoring, better and stronger searching, avoid FlashHelp installation, improved documentation. hassle free and low cost production, support for translation.

Considerations: features, search engine and accessibility, export and import tools, backup and version control, security, maintenance and authoring.

Define access; groups; global, space, and page permission.

Developed wiki personas: viewer, contributor, translator, reviewer, publisher, administrator.

Customers, if they have an account, can create or edit pages.

Don't have global search and replace, like when product names change. 

Sense of loss of control by writers because anyone can contribute. Lots of fights with developers. Burned bridges by moving source to wiki. Bottleneck with reviewing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where User Experience and Software Engineering Meet

Andrew Ko

In method, I'm an HCI (human-computer interaction) researcher, bit in practice, I'm an SE (software engineering) researcher. In HCI, how do we get the right design, in SE, how do we get the design right. Question is how do we merge these.

Why is software evolution difficult?

From study at Microsoft, observed 25 hours of coding and bug fixing, took 357 pages of (handwritten) notes, logged 4231 events in a spreadsheet. each some piece of information a developer or manager looking for at the one time.

Looked also at reasons why people switched tasks, such as face-to-face meeting, email, all sorts of reasons. Found that work is fragmented. People are interrupted every 5-10 minutes. Only that amount of time to focus. Also, blocked about every 10 minutes. They need info that they can't get themselves.

22 information needs. 5 least often satisfied:
  • what code caused behavior (36%)
  • what code caused program state (615)
  • what is program suppose to do (15%)
  • in what situations does failure occur (41%)
  • why was code implemented this way (44%)
One reason why it's hard to fix bugs is because answering some of these questions requires getting people together for meetings to make decisions, meetings where stakeholders must be involved.

Software development is tacit. Plans and specifications are unwritten, developers have to communicate (a lot) to make progress. It takes time to coordinate communications. Can't make people coordinate better just with tools. Software quality depends a lot on quality of communication. Communication and cognition are inherently faulty and unreliable .

How can users help software evolution

Looked at bug reports (more than 500K) in the Mozilla community. Did quantitative analysis the characterize report trends, and qualitative analysis to explain resolution trends. About 45% or reports submitted by "reporters" the type of user that submits the majority of community bug reports, are duplicates. Most "reporter" reports are not fixed. Many also are "as designed" or not reproducible.

The percentage of bugs entered by "reporters" has gone down over time. Most "reporter" reports were tech support for power users' tinkering. They also rarely gave enough useful information to reproduce problems. Also entered problems that had already been solved.

Open bug reporting is useful, but lots of overhead to process bad reports, only a skewed subset of users report bugs, users who report bugs are bad at providing useful information, and text isn't precise enough to express useful information.

The challenge is to enable users to submit bugs that are precise, structured, aggregatable, with not training.

Microsoft Help Preview

Paul O'Rear

After agonizing about which session to go to--I was liking the session about gesture interfaces and thinking very seriously about the DITA case study (but Tony Self drags on when he speaks and the slides didn't look like they'd apply to my needs so much)--I decided to settle here.

With new release of Visual Studio, VS10 releasing new help system.

Looking at MS Help timeline.
  • 1990 with Windows 3.0, RTF source, .HLP files. 
  • 1997 brought HTMLHelp, HTML-based, with .CHM files. (The poster child of the famous Bill Gates memo to make everything "Internet.") 
  • 2002 was Help 2.x, HTML-based, .HXS files, but for Visual Studio, intent to replace HTMLHelp.
  • 2006, AP (assistance platform) Help, XML-based, .H1S files, "Longhorn" help, dependent on .NET platform, used in Windows Vista, MAML (Microsoft Assistance Markup Language)
  • 2010, Help Viewer, XHTML-based, .MSHC files, shipping with Visual Studio 2010.
Started in 2008 to try and create as simple as architecture as possible.

Help 2.x feedback was not good.

Goals for Help Viewer:
  • Help is quick and easy
  • View online and offline in familiar, browser-based experience
  • Ensure offline Help content relevantr and up-to-date (requires srtrong updating scenario and important componenet of architecture)
  • Get fast and relevant search results with both F1 and full text searches
  • Benefit from simple, standards-based architecture
Viewer is your default browser.

Help Library Manager generates runtime TOC, keyword index, search index for content cached locally.

Help Library Agent services ms-xhelp:/// protocol from applications & retrieves content from online or local based on user setting.

Help Viewer features

Contains along the left areas for search, a table of contents, related topics content, and an index. On the right is content. In Visual Studio, right content area has sections, some which have tabs. VS help shipping without index, and causing controversy. Had to cut because of time, resources, and user data suggested people using Google, but beta user feedback suggested needed index.

Classic view, lightweight view, and script-free view for online MSDN content.

Help Library Manager
When first installing content, user choose where to install, becomes default. Link to install content from online.

Don't have to have help content on distribution CD, but can install from online.

Content hierarchy start with products, then books, packages, and topics.

Two primary modes to install content: interactive and silent. with interactive, customer selection gets installed, and with silent, the installer decides. Latter useful for IT. Silent "remove content' supported.

Interactive security supports MSHC or digitally signed cabinet files. Silent install requires signed cabinet files and is not intended as an end-user scenario.

File types
  • MSHC, Microsoft Help Container, XHTML fies compiled into a Zip file, renamed for association with help viewer
  • MSHI, Microsoft Help Index, index fragment to expedite content merging
  • MSHA, Microsoftr Help Assets, manifest of MSHC files, used as  a setup definition file
  • CAB, Cabinet files, standard file for combining files and digitally signing authentication
Content requirements
  • XHTML 1.0, allows for greater separation of content from rendering
  • Must leverage a variety of MSHC-specific attributes to enable TOC, multiple language support, F1 support, etc.
  • Topics must contain attributes for ID, catalog disambiguities, word breaker to use when indexing, title, branding support
  • Optional attributes for TOC, F1, keywords, category, description
One of the differences from past, no separate files for TOC, index, etc., but all info is coded in the XHTML topic file. 

    UA Design and Implementation for iPhone Apps

    Joe Welinske

    Mobile devices likely to be primary interface for most people. Not just for applications for mainstream consumers. many orgs are looking for ways to scale off parts of their enterprise applications. All ways for modules to be available for employees on the go.

    Place for work we do in mobile. Independent software vendors (ISVs) have a place in mobile. Ripest place for UA people to get involved. 5000 people at Apple Developer Conference last June, almost everyone a programmer, huge need for the type of thing UA people do. Lot of opportunities to get involved. Many of these apps are robust and have the need for user assistance.

    Complexity and minimal screen real estate don't mix. Multi-touch and mult-key controls are not easily discoverable. Conceptual and contextual information, work that carries over from desktop applications, is still important.

    iPhone development environment easily accessible, low price to discover. Requires Mac with Leopard, and iPhone SDK, which is free. Need to know Interface Bulder, Objective-C, and WebKit.

    The SDK ha Interface Builder, Xcode, WebKit, free from Apple with no-charge registration. If you want to distribute apps, only then is there a fee to Apple.

    Interface Builder is interactive software kit, can drag-and-drop element, programmers can work from there to extend features of objects. The simulator is great for experimenting with UI text.

    Hard editing to vitally think about what's important. Not a lot of room to make things fit. Joe showed a "Quick Start" page for the iPhone app Timewerks where he created Twitter-length instructions, short and direct.

    Showing short procedures, without numbers in steps, without a lot of extra words in the sentences, really stripping out non-essential words to fit into the space. Example of early version.

    Small changes can have a dramatic impact on the success of an application.

    UI text opportunities

    Enormous opportunities for wordsmiths to get involved. Many times, it is the first word or phrase that the developer thinks of. Unlike large-scale apps, it may be easier to make changes, and easier to do testing. iPhone UI text opportunities in places such as labels, placeholders, alerts, action sheets, segmented controllers, table and picker data, and tab bar text. Important to understand the iPhone vocabulary.

    Server-based help

    Advantages and disadvantages to sever-based help. Able to make good assumptions that people will be able to get info through their network. All of my work (server-based content) was totally outside the Apple approval process. Content pulled into the frame UI from the server. Can offer dynamic information. Easy for information to be updated.

    Web pages use the Safari browser. Browser based on WebKit open standard. Supports HTML and CSS.

    Needs the viewport metatag. Proprietary tag, exclusive to iPhone, doesn't mess up display with other devices. meta content="width=device-width" name="viewport" Makes it so content fits appropriately in the iPhone display space.

    Apple Human Interface Guidelines is great fro everything to do with the iPhone UI--except user assistance. There's nothing in there about that.

    Working in Android development environment is similar to working in iPhone SDK, but 10 times more confusing. Partly because so many more devices to support, not just phones, but tablets and more. Development environment most people use for Android is Eclipse.

    Introduction to eBook Devices and Formats

    Joshua Tallent, eBook Architects

    No one present yet develops for eBooks.

    3 sections of eBook world: devices, formats, and retailers.

    eBooks formats

    Kindle (Mobipocket), ePub (industry standard), PDF, LIT (Microsoft), eReader, and others.

    Amazon selling 70-90% of eBooks.

    Mobipocket, based on HTML 3, very little CSS, proprietary XML code, binary compiled format. .PRC, .MOBI, or .AZW extensions. .AZW created by Amazon for Kindle.

    Strengths are its popularity, simple layout, and accessible to most non-techies. Weaknesses are it's proprietary format, simple layout, and limited distribution channels.

    Mobipocket Creator or KindleGen (from Amazon site) to create a file, the latter command line from a source file. calibre is another, but not for production-quality work.

    In addition to Kindle, can open with BeBook, Hanlin, iRex, but even they are moving to EPUB.

    DRM (digital rights management) is proprietary to Amazon. Kindle uses same DRM as Mobipocket, but Mobipocket books can't be put on Kindle.

    ePUB format

    Open source, open standard, based on XHTML 1.1, CSS 2, XML, wrapped in a Zip file. No inherent DRM.

    Strengths include it being open source, modern technology & standards, broad industry support, wide consumer acceptance, robust formatting, and active development.

    Weaknesses include multiple rendering engines, not HTML5, development has been slow, no good development tools, lots of misinformation, and competing DRM standards.

    Can create with InDesign CS4, calibre, epub-tools, RoboHelp/FrameMaker. Can buy from many stores.

    DRM is the bane of the ePUB world. Two competing DRM standards: Fairplay (Apple only), and Adobe Content Server (Sony, nook, etc.)

    Other formats include .LIT, from Microsoft, but not really maintained, and eReader (PDB), formerly Palm Digital Reader, now owned by Barnes & Noble, but it's difficult to format, and B&M moving to ePUB. Smashwords is another, but it's really just a Word document formatted by their style guide, but it's a good way to get work out there.

    eBook devices

    Kindle 1, decent hardware, SD card option, 4-color grayscale, no longer for sale.

    Kindle 2, 16-color grayscale, better processor, no SD card storage.

    Kindle DX, 9.7" E-ink screen (E-ink is a low-power, non-reflecting screen, allows for long battery life, only draws power when changing screen, but B&W only.)

    Sony Pocket Edition, Sony's smallest and cheapest, only 200 MHz processor, less storage than Kindle.

    Sony Touch Edition PRS-600, about the same as Kindle 2, but has a touch screen.

    Sony Daily Edition, 3G access (via AT&T), 7.1 inch touchscreen.

    Barnes & Noble nook, 6-inch E-ink screen, 16-color grayscale (but color section on bottom for navigation)

    Plastic Logic QUE, 105-inch E-ink touchscreen, business device, reads PDF, WORD, PowerPoint, high price.

    iPhone & iPod Touch, can read a variety of documents depending on the app installed.

    iPad, 9.7-inch screen, ePUB, eReader/PDB, Mobi/Kindle, iBooks, Stanza, and more.

    Android devices, ePUB, eReader/PDB, and more (Archos 5 is a 5-inch tablet that runs Android.)

    DRM systems

    Adobe Digital Editions Protection Technology (ADEPT)

    Apple Fairplay

    Pros: possibly protects content from piracy.

    Cons: Makes purchasing and using content difficult, interoperability issues, ties consumer to single source, effectiveness against content privacy unproven.

    eBook market is growing at 200% per year, but still too much fragmentation now to know what the eBook market is going to look like 3 or 4 years from now. 

    Tuesday and Wednesday...

    ...already start too early (sessions kick off at 8:30am), but it feels like a really sluggish start today.

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    A WritersUA rogues gallery

    Waiting for a morning session to start, from left to right, Paul Neshamkin, Char James-Tanny, Don Lammers, Sue Heim, and Dave Gash,

    Strategies for Web-based User Assistance

    Scott DeLoach

    This code-heavy session showed techniques for enhancing user assistance, such as sliding, fading, and expanding/collapsing text, pulling content from a database or another file, offering link previews, and allowing users to annotate, customize, and rate content.

    So far, a lot of the slides have been lists of links to examples, at least for the sliding, fading, and expanding/collapsing text. And then Scott shows some of the effects at the linked locations.

    Looking at link previews, Scott is showing lots of code samples in both AJAX and ASP.

    Topic ratings are almost always with stars, seen often on MSDN. As you hover over starts, they light up. Useful to have text to explain what they are for, how to interact with them.

    Structures, Semantics, Controls, and More: HTML5 is Here!

    Char James-Tanny

    Problem getting started; Char's computer won't connect to the projector. A presenter's nightmare.

    HTML5 development began June of 2004. The working draft was finished in January of 2008.

    We've gone from tables for layout to DIV tags with IDs, to structured areas, semantically structured areas. First public working draft in 2008, W3C Candidate Recommendation due in 2012, and W3C Recommendation in 2022(!).

    We don't have to wait until 2012 to use HTML5.

    New doctype declaration is . That's it. Not guaranteeing page will be valid.

    Structural (semantic) elements will include header, nav, article, section, aside, and footer. Doesn't define where they go on a page.

    Other new elements include audio and video, canvas, command, database, figures and figure captions, mark, and time.

    Browsers are backward compatible, so HTML5's audio and video capabilities won't kill off Flash and Silverlight.

    The canvas tag is for drawing. Check out Sketchpad.

    Validation is automatic with input field typing. The field types include date, email, file, number, range, text, and url. It means you don't have to use scripting to do a lot of form validation.

    Not only can you use the new figure element for graphics, you can use the figcaption element, places within the fig element, for captions.

    As far as element and attribute syntax, there are no rules. You can mix case, use double, single, or no quotes, closing tags aren't required for void elements. It allows for easier conversion from older specs. Just be consistent.

    Other new controls include drag & drop, editable areas, geolocation, and client-side storage.

    Important changes. No attributes on body tag.  Can link block level elements of content. You can create anchors (for link targets) with an id tag, which means you don't have to add an a tag.

    An Update on DITA Features, Tools, and Best Practices

    Tony Self


    Tools include Arbortext, FrameMaker, xMetaL, oXygen, and others, but not the DITA Open Toolkit.

    Content Management includes Bluestream XDocs, SDL Trisoft, Vasont, and others, but not Author-IT.

    Publishing tools include MadCap Flare, Adobe RoboHelp, Antenna House, DITA Open Toolkit, WebWorks ePublisher, and others.

    For DITA and HATs, "DITA support' means different things to different vendors. Not clear what "full support" means. Does it mean you can export? Import? Edit in a native DITA environment? None are DITA editors. Some are good DITA publishing tools.

    "Haphazard" HATs provide capability to do hybrid publishing. For example, with Adobe Technical Communication Suite, have FrameMaker/RoboHelp integration, and you can import DITA and export to WebHelp.

    Delivery formats, the changing landscape

    DITA is a storage and authoring format, not a delivery format. DITA Open Toolkit can turn DITA into HTML, HTML Help. Eclipse Help. Commercial tools can turn DITA into WebHelp and just about anything else.

    In theory, you can do anything with DITA content. If the DITA Open Toolkit doesn't do what you want, in theory, you can program it to do anything else. (Not easy for a lot of people; you may have to write your own DITA tools.) With "tinkering," using open-source plug-ins you can produce HTML Help, WebHelp, AIR Help.

    There's more to life than traditional help formats. Help content may be delivered on phones, tablets, eBooks, GPS displays, heads-up displays, and more. A DITA transform exists for the EPUB (electronic book) format.

    DITA Open Toolkit

    Many tools use the DITA Open Toolkit (DOT) for publishing. No tools do help better than DOT (with plug-ins). Generic output is "bland," but you can specify CSS, scripting, and more.

    With the DOT, DITA to "tri-pane" help is possible. With a bit more effort, you can make it better looking. With a lot of effort, you can get some level on context sensitivity. But pop-ups, drop-downs, and so on are not possible (yet).

    DITA 1.2

    Coming soon, with more improvements useful for technical communicators. (Remember, DITA is a standard, not a tool.)

    Major changes include keyref, improvements in the content reference (conref) mechanisms, glossary and terminology, and learning specifications.

    Keyref supports a concept called indirection, which is linking. You define key values in a ditamap, and then use a keyref attribute to redirect links to targets, which is useful for, for example, translation. A flexible way of linking, so it creates new ways to set up and use contextual linking. Removes context from the topic to the ditamap. When the topic is reused, you can have different links.

    Conref push forces an element into another topic.

    For glossaries, terms can be associated with definitions, and definitions include parts of speech, short forms, and alternative forms. They can result in automatic acronym expansion.

    Subject schemes allow you to label items in the ditamap to classify items by subject and relationship.  It's a full taxonomy of information. It's also useful for dynamic custom content.

    Learning specializations will offer specialized information types for different industries, and they will be "packaged" with the DITA standard.  The Help Subcommittee is working to provide user assistance specialization for DITA 1.3.

    Summary tip: trust the separation of content and form.

    You will need to use more than one too. You may need specialized assisstance, such as programmers and graphic designers.

    Don't try to abuse the semantics of DITA.

    Example question and result from opening session

    Here's an example of one of the questions asked during the opening session, along with the results. The answers are somewhat surprising--and should be an eye-opener for hiring managers suffering from upper management buzzword bingo.

    The Mobile User Experience - Trends and Best Practices

    Anders Rosenquist, ZAAZ

    Why is mobile important? About 2/3 people in the room have smartphone. Just a few years back, smartphone existed, but penetration was small. Apple introduced a simpler way to interact with the device: you could use your fingers instead of a stylus. Networks have become more powerful. Some companies pushing bandwidth limit. More and more people are using these devices to access the web. "Now somewhat enjoyable to go on a website." Ecosystems are growing; now have app stores for mobile platforms.

    Recent industry trends

    Increased data use. Voice minutes become more of a commodity, less of focus on mobile device. Apple changed experience of buying: Can go into Apple store, then go home and plug it into your computer and sign up from a plan. You never have to walk into a phone store.

    Google's new phone, you have to go online to buy it. You can't buy it from any store.

    Free an open operating systems are becoming more popular. 60,000 Android licenses being sold every day, according to Google.

    Increased smartphone adoption. In U.S., smartphone and feature phones, the latter have 10-digit keypads. People who don't care about the phones themselves are jumping to smartphones. In U.S., about 17% smartphone sales. Samsung working to introduce new OS and bring low-cost smartphone devices to market.

    What we are seeing

    Companies are wanting mobile presence. There's also the "We need an app" notion.

    Defining a mobile strategy

    First have to step back and look at data, discovery phase. Talk to a range of stakeholders. What are business goals for the company as seen through the eyes of a lot of people.

    Take business goals and user goals and run an alignment matrix. Look for correlations between the two. Sometimes business goals conflict, and sometimes user goals conflict. Some business goals enabled via mobile. Then look at what audiences might tap into that.

    Mobile site vs. app

    What does it mean to have a mobile site? What does it mean to have a mobile app? For mobile app, tapping in to a much richer experience. For example, Amazon app, you can take a photo of an item and add it to your Amazon Wish List. Location services are also useful. Problem with mobile app is that you have to target platforms. Tends to be a more expensive way to go.

    If creating a mobile site, screen size is the primary factor. (Right way to do it is server detect device and serve up page for the right screen size. Can get away without device detection only if pages are very, very simple.) If creating a mobile app, the device OS is the primary factor.

    40% of mobile screen traffic is on a 480 x 320 screen. Another 11% is on a 220 x 176 screen. Top 10 devices account for 60% of mobile browser traffic. 4 screen sizes in the top 10. Big ones: iPhone & iPod Touch.

    480 x 320 hits not only iPhone, but Palm and Android devices, so design for that screen size, you'll hit a lot of devices. 320 x 240 hits BlackBerry and older Window Mobile devices.

    UX for mobile

    Core idea: focus user attention on core information. The content is the interface. Controls are at a minimum.

    Desktop design doesn't work in mobile. So much breaks the experience, such as headers, navigation, footers, and more.

    Among the mobile app UX principles, minimize user help and focus on the user experience.

    Analytics, to track what users click on and where they go, as important on mobile as it is on desktop.


    We know faster networks are coming, and more app stores. There will be a greater blending of social and mobile. We'll see even more location-based services.

    We're considering iPad as "mobile."

    Let's Look in the Mirror and See What We See

     Starting right up with social innovation, this first session is interactive, where each attendee gets a small wireless keypad and Tony Self and Matthew Ellison will be getting responses from the audience to polling.

    The Help button on the keypad does nothing, it's "no help at all."

    Tony Self: In the U.S., for Toyota owners, "UA" means "unintended acceleration."

    First out of the box: How do you plan to spend evenings in Seattle?
    1. Checking conference topics on the internet
    2. Sightseeing
    3. Visiting bars
    4. Falling asleep in front of the TV
    5. Other

    Lots of people picked "other" because they plan to work.

    Most people thought TOCs for online user guides indispensable, very important, or moderately important. One person commented that many users in a usability study don't use it, but for those who do, it's very important. (I've long believed that the more ways users have to access and find information, the better the information is.)

    A quarter of respondents don't telecommute, and another 54% telecommute less than 1 day or 1-2 days per week.

    35% say they have no contact with users.

    More than half think that DITA will be widely adopted in 5 years, or at least used widely in large companies. Tony: "HTML5 will be a competitor to Flash, not DITA."

    iPhone gets the majority of smartphone users (22%, BlackBerry is next at 10%), but 57% of people don't have any kind of smartphone. (Surprising for a roomful of geeks and technical professionals.)

    When using Help tools and need Help, 39% use Help, 30% search Google, and 31% ask or email a colleague or peer. One person commented that they "use Help out of bizarre loyalty, and then I search Google."

    About to start up

    Joe's at the podium, we're starting the 2010 conference.

    Sunday, March 21, 2010

    Sue's here!

    Got a great photo of Sue Heim.

    Sunday starts

    While the official conference doesn't really begin until Monday, the Sunday afternoon "supplemental" sessions are underway. I spent a little time already in a well-attended session on writing better help procedures, and am now in a session on Adobe Acrobat, which is really interesting.

    Some of the stuff I caught in the help procedures session was about categories of mistakes that documentation falls into.  They include procedures that miss information and procedures that bury information or don't have good entry points (indexes!) to useful information.

    The Acrobat astuff is interesting. I came in as the presenter was demonstrating how to add and format buttons in Acrobat documents, showing off buttons that not only take users to different places, but that run multimedia, such as sound and video.

    There are hands-on sessions too, which is far more useful than simply trying to absorb a bunch of slideware in a 60-minute main conference session. It's kind of too bad that more people don't take advantage of this useful learning opportunity.

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    Social and mobile

    With just a few days left until the conference begins, organizer Joe Welinske is offering some new services to provide information to attendees and to help people connect. Click the Community tab on the conference home page to see what I mean.

    You can see lists of attendees and speakers, you can have online conversations, you can set up your session schedule and more. But one of the most interesting features is one that's very undocumented.

    A small On The Go section asks you to enter your mobile phone number and identify your carrier, with no information explaining what for or what the information would be used for. I was skeptical--I'm protective of information such as that--but Joe encouraged me to try it out.

    Turns out when you sign up by entering your phone number, you get a text message with a URL, and at that URL is a mobile website of the community site that you can use with your smartphone. Click on that URL and your taken to the site and signed in.

    Definitely worth trying.

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    My conference plans

    It's not unusual for me to list of my boss (as well as other co-workers who might be attending) the sessions that I plan to go to at the conference. But without a job this year, no audience exists for such content. So I'll do it here.

    Fair warning: The sessions that I think are right for me might not be for you, and the opinions here are my own, not those of conference organizers. And I reserve the right to make last-minute changes to my planned conference itinerary.

    Hopefully, this might help you make up your mind if you're having trouble deciding what to attend, especially for those times where you want to be in two or three places at once, such are the riches at this conference.

    Three all-afternoon supplemental sessions are on the Sunday calendar. I usually spend some time in all three to get some snippets for Monday's newsletter.

    If I were to choose just one, I think I'd attend "Information Modeling in XML." To me, this looks like useful foundation for DITA-type work, and DITA is the in thing in management these days (even if it isn't a panacea).

    The Acrobat sessions looks interesting. And the "Writing Help Procedures That Work" looks like the content that would be taught in the first course of a good technical communication curriculum, so if you've not had formal training in the field, here's something that you can hang your hat on.

    9:00-10:00am: Opening panel
    An experiment in participative social media.  We'll see where this goes.

     This is going to be a tossup between ""The Mobile User Experience - Trends and Practices" and "Embedded User Assistance: Where Does It Belong." My thoughts on the latter's question is as close to the point of need as possible, but it'll be interesting to see where Rob Houser takes this. On the other hand, so many people are going mobile, that anything that improves the user experience is going to be vital. More than anything, the UI has to communicate its function. You can get away with a programmer creating an obtuse UI in a desktop app, or sometimes even a web app, but not with a mobile app, and this is a perfect fit for the "communication" part of "technical communication." Meanwhile, Matthew Ellison has something of interest: getting feedback on help. Perhaps more interesting will be the collaboration idea.

    Another tough one. So many hiring managers seem to be under the notion that DITA will be their technical documentation savior, and as aresult are adding it to job requirements. So Tony Self's session on "An Update on DITA Features, Tools, and Best Practices" seems to be a no-brainer. But Dave Gash is holding his first session at the same time, on the topic of "The Power of Controlled Language in UA." While I'm not sure the topic will be as useful, Dave is one of the best speakers at the conference, even if his pre-presentation funny signs have been bowdlerized. The case studies on getting user feedback also looks to be tremendously useful.

    So two session time slots, and already I'm wishing I could clone myself twice and be in three places at once. Par for the course for this conference.

    I'd love to take part in the two-session hands-on session that introduces Adobe's Technical Communication Suite 2. But I don't think I can. Not only is Char James-Tanny really smart and a great speaker, her topic, "Structures, Semantics, Controls, and More: HTML 5 Is Here!" is an incredibly important one. HTML 5 is where everything on the web is going, and if you don't know it, you're going to be behind the curve.

    Another DITA-based session rears its head: "Enhancing DITA Web Help with TOCJS and Zoon Search Engine." This may be aimed at folks who are fluent in DITA, so it might be over my head, but understanding the ideas about how to extend DITA-based docs could still be useful. Then there's Scott DeLoach talking about "Strategies for Web-Based User Assistance," ideas than I can definitely add to me repertoire. I have to say, though, that while I love Scott to death--he's smart, and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet--his speaking style is very, very dry. And late in the afternoon, if I go to this one, I will definitely need a jolt of something to keep my eyelids up. The XMl session also looks interesting.

    That's a busy day, and it's only day one. The networking mixer goes until 6:00pm, and then I have to spend several hours putting together and printing Tuesday's newsletter.

    I hate Tuesday. It always starts early, after a long, busy, and very full Monday. And once again, I have choices to make. I'd love to do the two-session hands-on (again), this on on single-sourcing in Flare. But I also want to be at "Using DITA as a Content Delivery System fo Mobile Devices," "Think Simple - A Minimalist Approach to User Assistance," and "Introduction to eBook Devices and Formats." Right now, I'm leaning toward the last of these, but that might change once I get to see the sessions slides.

    Joe Welinske is talking on ""UA Design and Implementation for iPhone Apps." This one's a no-brainer.

    Blankety-blank hands-on sessions. Once again, I'd love to spend two session times on one, this time on "Building Your Own AIR Help Application." But I can't. I actually want to go to all 4 of the other sessions: ""Understanding Gestures in User Interfaces," Cultural Dimensions of Software Help Usage," "Microsoft Help Preview," and the double-scoop case study session on DITA. I'm wondering how the issue has changed over the years since I took my "International Technical Communication" class as a part of my TC curriculum. But I also want to learn about Microsoft Help, and I'm chomping at the bit to learn more about DITA. Again, I'll have to rely on slide review the night before to reach a final decision.

    While I am intrigued by the double-scoop case study session on eLearning, I'm leaning toward the "Where User Experience and Software Engineering Meet" session.

    This should be interesting. Conference attendees will be selecting--and some will be hosting--topics that they select and vote on. Stay tuned to this space to see what comes out of this experiment.

    Wednesday's early start is mitigated by the fact that Tuesday session package ended early with product demos. As usual, there are two sessions at this time that I am targeting. First, "eBook Conversions: A Tutorial for UA Professionals" looks really useful for learning how to convert content to eBook formats. But the double-scoop case study session on single sourcing, where one speaker is doing DITSA and another wikis looks really useful.

    While the double-scoop case study on agile looks useful, the ""The Psychology of User Interface Responsiveness" session looks really, really interesting.

    This turns out to be one of the few time slots during the conference that is a pretty easy choice, at least for me. "Interaction Design Meets Expertise: Representation, Understanding, and Problem solving" is right up my alley. To be fair, a couple of other ones do look interesting. "Writing for Mobile Devices: An End-User Approach" looks tremendously useful to prepare for the ongoing explosion of mobile computing devices., even though this presentation is by someone from Microsoft and focuses on Windows Mobile, and I'm (now) an iPhone geek (although I've had multiple Windows Mobile devices in the past). And "Google Wave and User Assistance" could provide some interesting tidbits on making this often-puzzling service a bit clearer.

    For me, this one's an easy call. Even if the topic didn't focus on DITA, I'd be going to ""Introduction to DITA Conditional Processing" for the speaker: Dave Gash. Even though Dave loves highly technical topics--and this is one--making it sometimes tough to muddle through, if you can't have the ever-entertaining Jared Spool ending the final day, a Dave Gash presentation is perhaps the next best thing. 

    This year, the conference ends with a panel that has in the past begun the proceedings: a group that looks at the future of user assistance. This year, some new faces will grace the stage, and it'll be interesting to see what they have to say as they send attendees on their way to prepare for next year.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    Welcome to the fun!

    OK folks, here we are, just a little more than a month to go before the 2010 conference, and the blog is up and running. Of course, we'd rather have you here, but if for some reason you can't make it, you can follow a lot of the goings on by coming here (or subscribing).

    Of course, plenty of attendees will be twittering (I believe the hashtag is #WritersUA), but just how much can you get from 140-character snippets. Then again, while I'll be blogging more in-depth from within sessions, I'm only one person, and there are concurrent sessions all day, every day. And I'll be occasionally adding pictures! :)

    Whether or not you're attending (and it's not too late to convince your boss of the conference's value), I hope you'll find the blog here valuable.