Anyone who knows me well will tell you, I am a big football fan. No not the “football” where the ball only rarely touches a player’s foot (well OK I am a fan of it) but the European and more accurately named variety My team, AFC Wimbledon, will need no introduction to true football (soccer) fans as its model is based on a club owned and run by the fans. Just like FC Barcelona except without the bulging trophy cabinet and multi-million pound turnover!
As a regular contributor to various club fanzines I was struck but a comment made by another contributor and AFC Wimbledon fan, Ian McNay. Ian is Chair of Cherry Red Records, a record company based in the United Kingdom. He recently set up a TV station for the club that features game highlights, interviews with key club figures and post match analysis. However really caught my eye was his vision for the future. He says, “Within a few years all decent websites will be mini television stations.”
This got my thinking of the other part of my life that is not devoted to football reporting. Could not the same be said of documentation? Especially as I was sent a Tweet recently suggesting that I embed occasional Captivate movies in this blog. Excellent idea I thought, and follows on from my day job where my team has recorded and embedded Captivate files inside the help. It has proved a real vote winner internally and will surely have a similarly positive response once our user base gets hold of it.
It is a vision at our company to change the overall user experience of using our product documentation. Gone are the days when we produced flat, dry manuals and help files. We are moving to a much greater level of interaction. The first step of which is the Captivate movies inside the help documentation that is itself hosted online. This has the added benefit that we can email users the URL to specific help topics to help solve their queries when they contact us. We have a LinkedIn User group for customers to discuss more general application issues. We also plan to have other internal product forums for a more immediate response.
The documentation though is a real area of interest for me. My experience of using help files is that they often only go so far. They are written with a specific audience in mind and normally have to be fairly generic by nature. As such they may tell me how to do something but not how I could use that knowledge to make better use of the software. Wouldn’t it be great if the help could also be a living, breathing documentation source where users can add links to blogs, wikis, websites and the like that would add to the overall user experience.
Adobe is already doing this with the Adobe Air applications built into their applications. You can add comments to a help topic that once approved appear for all and sundry to see. Just imagine the power of a help file if it not only told you how to do something, but also contained links to useful resources demonstrating how others were using it. There really is no end to the possibilities that such functionality offers. Adobe is working on full integration with Adobe Air in RoboHelp and other products, and I for one can’t wait.
So the aim is a help file that acts as a portal to other useful information. As a Technical Writer my role will change. A television presenter I may not be but having the responsibility for being a moderator of a truly interactive, useful help environment? I could do that.
A short while ago, the question was asked on the RoboHelp forums how to organize snippets so that they appeared in alphabetical order. This should not be a problem for you if you don’t have many snippets or are using RoboHelp 8. If, like me, you only have 4-5 snippets in any one project, whether they are displayed alphabetically is neither here nor there as the pod is way big enough to display them and they are easy to find.
Likewise users of RoboHelp 8 will know that snippets are automatically sorted alphabetically. It looks like users of RoboHelp 7 however do not have this functionality. So if you are on this version and use snippets in a big way, I can see how having to hunt through a list to find the one you want would be problematic.
You can of course manually sort your snippets inside their pod. Just right click on a snippet to display a popup menu from which you can move an item up or down one position in the snippet list. Trouble is, you have to repeat this over and over if the snippet needs to be moved more than one position. Also if you have lots of snippets this can lead to a lot of frustration to get things just the way you want. There has to be an easier way.
Thanks to the RoboWizzard, Rick Stone, who uncovered exactly where RoboHelp 7 stored the snippet information, there is. The answer lies in the Windows registry. Of course there are risks with doing anything with this so be warned. Don’t do anything in the registry without taking a backup and being 100% sure you know what you are doing. If you look in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Adobe\RoboHTML\7.00\Components\36 location you should find a set of keys that map to your RoboHelp projects. If you click on a project, you will see the snippets used inside it. You can rearrange them by changing their name to something like Name0, Name1, Name2, etc.
BTW for the benefit of those outside the UK who may be wondering where Alphabetti Spaghetti in the title comes from, it was (and indeed may still be?) a food targeted at the young generation and students! Based on tins of baked beans, it was little pieces of spaghetti shaped in the shapes of the alphabet in tomato sauce. Trouble was, you used to spend so long arranging the damn things around your plate to spell words that by the time you ate them they were cold!
I’ve been working of late with some documentation related to equations used by an analytical software package. Cue lots of mathematical symbols. Brain ache! During this exercise in torture I came across the following definition for the mathematical function otherwise known as Average:
“A representative figure that is used to give some impression of the size of all the items in a given population. This is a measure of central tendency. By this we mean that while a population may range in values, these values will be distributed around a central point. This central point is therefore in some way representative of the population as a whole. Averages are also known as measures of location, because they show roughly where data are located on a scale of values.”
Technically accurate but so far off the scale of use of succinct language LOL! Now what is the website of the Plain English Society?
One of the minor irritations of using WebHelp Pro or FlashHelp Pro outputs from a RoboHelp project used to be the workflow you had to run through to check the output as it appears on the server. Once you had published your output to the server, you had to open a browser and type in the URL of the Web Administrator. Only then could you logon and display the project.
All of this has changed with the arrival of RoboHelp 8. This version has a RoboHelp Server pod that can be displayed via the View > Pods menu item. When the pod is first displayed, a “Setup” button is displayed which when clicked allows you to enter the path and name of the RoboHelp Server. Once set, a “Connect Now” button allows you to view the project’s published output.
It is a good idea to size the pod to a size that comfortably displays the Web Administrator dialog and save your environment via the File > Environment > Save Environment menu item. If you don’t do this, you’ll have to manually resize the pod each time it is opened.