Posts in Category "Technical Communication"

5 Benefits of authoring in FrameMaker when Single-Sourcing with RoboHelp

I’m often asked for advice on whether to start authoring in Adobe FrameMaker or directly in Adobe RoboHelp, or use both products for single sourcing.

Considering the tight integration between these two products in Adobe Technical Communication Suite 2, and the unique strengths both of these products have, I always recommend starting in Adobe FrameMaker and then linking the FrameMaker source files in Adobe RoboHelp for generating Online output.

Here are my top 5 reasons for why I make this recommendation:

  1. FrameMaker gives you the most pristine Print and PDF output

Whether you need to provide printed documentation to your customers, or at the very least include a printable version of your Help in PDF format, FrameMaker will give you the most pristine Print and PDF output. This is one reason it makes sense to author in FrameMaker first, publish to Print and/or PDF, and then link the source files in RoboHelp in order to generate other Online formats supported by RoboHelp, including AIRHelp.

Here’s more information on how you can Add Printability to Help in Adobe RoboHelp 8 using a PDF file

  1. FrameMaker 9 enables you to conduct Shared PDF Reviews and import the comments back into the FrameMaker source files

At some point in the future, RoboHelp might have a similar workflow, but for now, FrameMaker makes it extremely easy to conduct Shared PDF Reviews, where Reviewers only need the free PDF Reader to provide feedback and the aggregated feedback can then be imported back into the FrameMaker source files. This is another reasons to first start in FrameMaker, conduct your documentation review, and then link the source files in RoboHelp for online publishing.

For more information on this workflow, you can view the recording of a recent eSeminar I hosted on this very topic.

  1. With FrameMaker you can leverage the benefits of “Structured” Authoring

FrameMaker provides two main authoring environments in a single product, namely unstructured and structured authoring. The benefits of authoring in “structured” mode are many, including the ability to enforce authoring rules; a simple guided-authoring environment for authors; context-sensitive formatting; one template for multiple document types; real-time structure validation and more. This is another reasons to first start in FrameMaker, take advantage of a structured authoring workflow, and then link the source files in RoboHelp for online publishing.

To learn more about the benefits of Structured authoring in FrameMaker, you can view this recording.

  1. FrameMaker 9 users can leverage SDL’s AuthorAssistant at no cost

We have a partnership with SDL, where our Adobe FrameMaker 9 customers get AuthorAssistant at no cost. AuthorAssistant automates many of the quality-checking processes that normally require human resources, such as the use of consistent terminology, style and linguistic checks.

Click Here to learn more about how AuthorAssistant works with FrameMaker 9 and to download your copy.

  1. FrameMaker provides full DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) support

Finally, if you are migrating to the DITA standard and need a DITA-friendly authoring tool, there’s no better product than FrameMaker 9. FrameMaker has full support for DITA authoring, and generating Print and PDF is built-in, which means no manual coding or using XSL-FO is required for generating Print or PDF output.

To learn more about how to dynamically link FrameMaker files in RoboHelp using the Adobe Technical Communication Suite, I have posted two recordings on this topic HERE.

 

 

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Turning static Adobe Captivate slides into interactive Photoshop Layered files [VIDEO]

One of the reasons why we included Photoshop in the Adobe eLearning Suite and in the Adobe Technical Communication Suite, instead of Illustrator, is because of the tight integration it has with Adobe Captivate, namely the ability to natively import .PSD files and preserve all the layers.  

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With Photoshop for example, it’s really easy to edit a Captivate slide by removing unwanted areas, or moving pixels around and then bring the updated version back to Captivate. This is a fairly simple process.

However, what you may not know is that you can also use Photoshop to turn static Captivate slides into much more interactive “layered” slides.

In this video (00:22:46) I go over how to start with a static Adobe Captivate slide and then turn it into a much more engaging experience by converting various areas of the slide into Photoshop layers. I also show how to sync up audio to each imported layer using the Text-to-Speech feature. Hopefully this demo gives you ideas as to how you can use both applications together.

Click the image below to launch the video in a new window.

 

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Embracing Social Media: Presentation Slides & Recordings

Today I delivered a presentation entitled “Embracing Social Media in Technical Communication” and while the link to the recording won’t be available until later, I do want to share the slides I used, in an Adobe Presenter format.  

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The presentation is self-paced, which means you can take as long as you want on each slide and then use the navigation bar to navigate to another slide. All the links to the resources are live and they launch a new window when clicked.

I have also attached a PDF version of the slides. To download a copy, click the paperclip icon, located at the bottom of the presentation.

Click the image below to launch the presentation in a new window.

Updated: The links to the recordings for part 1 and 2 are now available. Please use your Adobe ID and password to sign in.

How can Social Media create a super-role for Technical Communicators
(Part 1 of 2)
Presenters: David Farbey and Noz Urbina
How can Social Media create a super-role for Technical Communicators
(Part 2 of 2)
Presenters: Gordon McLean and RJ Jacquez
 

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Adding Printability to Help in Adobe RoboHelp 8

One frequently asked question I get is “how do I include a printable PDF in my Help system?

There are two new features in Adobe RoboHelp 8, which make this task particularly easy, namely: 1) Master Pages and 2) Apply Master Page to all Topics.

 

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Essentially, Master Pages in RoboHelp enable authors to design the overall look-and-feel of topics, for example what css to use, whether or not to include a miniTOC or breadcrumbs placeholders, and in this case, include a link to a PDF document.

To illustrate the steps, I have created a “try-it” Adobe Captivate simulation. Click the image below to launch the simulation in a new window. Oh, and happy Friday!

 

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The time for Rich Media in Technical Documentation is Now!

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a RoboHelp customer inquiring about AIRHelp. The customer wrote, “Our users want more from us…more interactive, rich documentation experiences.”  

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This seems to be a recurring theme in my conversations with our customers. It also emerged in the keynote address I attended at the WritersUA conference in Seattle last month. During that session, every member of the audience received a voting device. The moderators conducted a series of polls, and the audience cast votes with the device in response to each question.

Of all of the questions they asked, this one was the most compelling for me:

Which of the following would you most like to be able to offer to your customers?

The audience was given five choices. Here are the results:

  • Animations/simulations – 56%
  • Videos similar to YouTube – 19%
  • Line drawings and flowcharts – 12%
  • Cartoons – 8%
  • Audio – 5%

These results relay a strong message: Technical communicators see the value of rich media in documentation, and this is something to be optimistic about.

Another illustration of this growing trend is an interesting webinar presented by Larry Kunz entitled, “Why Your Information Isn’t Reaching Your Customers.” During this webinar, he makes a bold statement, “People don’t read any more.” He continues by saying, “We have to master new media, like video and interactive graphics.”

For a long time, I have advocated leveraging Web 2.0 technologies in technical communication to ensure the experiences we deliver meet the expectations of today’s most demanding customers. One of the easiest ways in which we can inject life into our technical documentation is through the use of rich media, such as software simulations, video tutorials and compelling images.

Finally, with the launch of Photoshop CS5 with features like the new content-aware fill, the ability to include rich media in technical documentation is getting easier, as users don’t have to know much about graphic design.

So, let me say it again: The time for rich media in technical documentation is now!

How are you leveraging rich media in your technical documentation? Please share your ideas with me by sending me a Tweet @rjacquez.  

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Contributing Editor:
Cheryl Landes

Cheryl Landes is a freelance technical, marketing, and travel writer based in Seattle.
She’s also an avid hiker and amateur photographer. View her LinkedIn profile at http://twt.tl/TF9NXvs

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Content Aware fill in Photoshop CS5 for eLearning and Technical Documents

In every new software release, there’s always that one feature that is Jaw-Dropping and everyone talks about. I think it’s safe to say that Content-Aware Fill is that feature in Adobe Photoshop CS5.  

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The new Content-Aware Fill enables you to easily remove unwanted areas from an image, by filling in the space left behind using surrounding pixels, it even matches lighting, tone and noise.

The real beauty in all of this is that you don’t have to know a whole lot about Photoshop or graphic design to be able to use it. Simply make a selection, press Shift+Delete and voila.

Having said that, I have recorded two short demonstrations on how I see this feature being used for eLearning and Technical Documentation projects.

I hope you like the new Content-Aware feature and if you think of ways in which you’ll use this feature in your own projects, please share with me sending me a Tweet @rjacquez.

Click the image below to launch the video in a new window.

 

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Creating a Poster image for a Captivate simulation embedded in Acrobat 9

In case you didn’t know, you can now embed Flash-based movies in Adobe Acrobat 9 and anyone with Reader 9 can view them directly inside the PDF.

Undoubtedly, when our customers find out about this new feature, the first thing that comes to mind is embedding Adobe Captivate simulations as a way of supplementing a static PDF document and bringing it to life.

 

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In a future post, I’ll focus on how to embed simulations in Adobe FrameMaker during the authoring process in order to avoid any post-processing work, but for now, my focus is on customizing the poster image for an embedded Flash movie directly in Acrobat 9.

Embedding Flash content in Acrobat 9 is quite easy, you use the Flash tool from the Tasks toolbar, double-click where you want to insert the SWF, Browse for it and click OK. That’s it.

However, the purpose of the video below is to illustrate how to use one of the slides in Captivate to create a poster image for the embedded simulation, in order to make it obvious to the end user that this is a video simulation and not a simple, static screen shot.

If you are embedding Adobe Captivate simulations in your PDF document, I’d love to check it out. If you are able to share, please send me a tweet @rjacquez.

Click the image below to launch for the video in a new window.


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HOW TO: Apply Master Pages automatically in FrameMaker

A discussion on LinkedIn about FrameMaker Master Pages prompted me to publish this short post and include an Adobe Captivate how-to video.

Master pages provide consistent look-and-feel across multiple pages that
perform
specific roles, such as the first page of a chapter, or landscape pages that display wide tables or images.
But applying custom master pages to each document page—especially
in a book with hundreds of pages manually can be time-consuming
and tedious
to say the least.

 

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Starting with FrameMaker 7.0, you can
automate the process of applying master pages by mapping master pages to body pages containing
specific paragraph tags. For example, map a particular master page
to the first page of each chapter based on its chapter heading paragraph

tag, or map a landscape master page to a body page containing a wide table or an image.

Click the image below to view a short (06:31min) Adobe Captivate simulation on how to automate the process of applying customer master pages.

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The Role of Social Media in Technical Communication: Download PDF Portfolio

I have been looking for an opportunity to share a PDF Portfolio and the opportunity just presented itself.

Recently, David Farbey posted on his blog a PDF document of the ISTC’s quarterly journal, Communicator, which has a special supplement
(sponsored by Adobe) on The role
of social media in technical communication
.

 

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Here’s an excerpt of the introduction to this special supplement:

This is the first special supplement to be published with the ISTC’s quarterly journal, Communicator. Our decision to publish it now reflects the impact that many technical communicators expect social media to have on our profession. Our thanks to Adobe Systems for its generous support and to Christie Fidura, EMEA Marketing Manager, for her help.
I should underline that we‘re looking at the professional applications for these tools. Yes, social media is often used for frivolous purposes. No, that’s not all it can do. Before you dismiss it, remember that most have us have been using e-mail groups and online forums for quite some time. What used to be called ‘new media’ is no longer new and it’s up to us to work out how we can make best use of each fresh channel that becomes available.
Here we consider social media from the perspective of how it can be incorporated into an overall information platform that integrates content from various sources and delivers it through various channels. Four articles from well-known contributors explore the potential of social media to fit into our content strategies and address some of our long-standing problems. In particular, we consider its role in communicating with our users, something that
has always been notoriously difficult for technical communicators.

While attending WritersUA in Seattle this week, I demonstrated creating PDF Portfolios in Acrobat 9 Pro and the idea resonated well with our Adobe Technical Communication Suite customers.

For a PDF Portfolio version of this supplement, click the image below and download the file from Acrobat.com. Please note that you need the free Adobe Reader 9 to view the file.

If you are interesting in learning how you can create your own PDF Portfolios like this one, leave a comment and I will publish a how-to video.

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Interview with Jason Nichols: AIRHelp—taking documentation to the next level

Think about it, for the last 15 years, Help hasn’t changed much, the traditional tri-pane format has remained static and hasn’t kept up with trending Web 2.0 technologies, and as a result it does not meet today’s end-user expectations.  

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What we need is a revolution in user assistance, we need not think of Help as a box that needs to be checked before a product ships, but rather as a Social opportunity to engage with our users and ultimately as a way to build communities around our products and services.

Enter Adobe AIRHelp by RoboHelp!

Don’t think of AIRHelp merely as another output format, think of Adobe AIR as an innovative platform on which to build engaging user assistance experiences and think of AIRHelp as the delivery mechanism.

While AIRHelp was introduced in RoboHelp 8 and thus it’s relatively new, the idea is resonating well with our customers and it’s my goal to showcase on this blog, what our customers are doing with this new platform through short interviews like this one.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Nichols from ReadSoft, and I was very impressed and excited about all the great insight he shared about AIRHelp. I did my best to underline what I thought was the best sound-bites from the interview.

I hope you enjoy reading this interview and if you want to learn more about AIRHelp, or want to share what you are doing with it, please email me at rjacquez(at)adobe.com.


RJ: Jason, thanks for agreeing to this interview. I’ve gotten to know you well on Twitter, but for my readers who don’t know you, please tell us a little about yourself.

Jason: I am an Information Developer and Trainer at ReadSoft, a software company based in Sweden, which specialises in document automation. I come from Sydney, Australia and have lived in Europe (Sweden and previously, Germany) for the last nine years. I have been working as an information developer since 1998 (with a short spell as a network technician in between). Prior to ReadSoft I worked at Yahoo! in the development of Yahoo! Go. I am married and have a daughter who is nearly two years. I am also chairman of the Helsingborg Comedy Club.


RJ: As an Information Developer and Trainer, can you share with us what Adobe tools you and your team currently use and the deliverables you create as it related to Documentation?

Jason: The Technical Communication team at ReadSoft has been using RoboHelp and Acrobat since 1997. In September 2009 we purchased Adobe Technical Communication Suite 2. We use RoboHelp 8 to generate HTML Help (CHM), WebHelp (HTML), and just recently also AIRHelp and Word documents. We use Acrobat to create the final PDFs. Our documentation also includes screencasts and images produced with Captivate and Photoshop.


RJ: Glad to hear that you are using our entire Suite of Tools. Let’s talk about Adobe AIRHelp. When did you first learn about it and how are you using it internally?

Jason: We first heard about AIRHelp in June 2009. We were looking into the new features of RoboHelp 8 and read AIRHelp was a new output format. In the course of this research, I came across a recording of one of your eLearning sessions: “Building Web 2.0 Help using Adobe AIR and RoboHelp 8.” Well, after watching this, we just had to try it! :-) We started building our first two pilots late in 2009—one, a new Help; the other, an import of a existing guide from Microsoft Word. We now have five pilots in production. They are pilots in the sense that they are for internal use only. We are testing AIRHelp’s commenting feature, it’s ability to display the latest topic versions when online, as well as the ability for us to push out entire AIRHelp application updates. We’ve just started using the commenting feature to have drafts reviewed.


RJ: In your opinion, what are some of the most compelling and unique features in AIRHelp that other formats, such as CHM and WebHelp do not have?

Jason: CHM and WebHelp are static files/pages. An author writes the Help and it is included in an application or posted to a website. There is a large disconnect between the author and the readership, which is very strange because the reader depends on the author for answers. If you were reading a document written by someone who works in the same office as you, you’d probably go up to him/her later with questions and points you would like more information about. This does not and cannot happen if you’re creating just static Help files, to the detriment of your readers. You’re erecting a barrier between them and yourself. An email address for feedback doesn’t even go half-way to bridging this divide.  Further, why should the author have all the answers? Or the engineers and other persons the author gets information from? The number of readers is usually much greater and their combined body of knowledge is huge. AIRHelp, with it’s commenting feature, is the first step to tapping into that knowledge and making it available for everyone, making the Help more helpful. It’s something akin to a discussion board or blog commenting, in a Help application

AIRHelp also gives readers access to the latest version of the Help. As AIRHelp is installed on the reader’s computer, authors can push out updates without having to wait for a new product release to bundle the Help with. In contrast, once a CHM file is shipped, the author kisses it goodbye and starts working on the next project. The poor reader!

AIRHelp also looks great. It’s hard to make your documentation look modern, let alone cutting-edge, when you have to churn out CHM files, which have been around for 13 years!

We like AIRHelp for other reasons as well. The advantage that AIRHelp has is that it’s an Adobe AIR application, which is an exciting new platform to provide rich, interactive experiences to users. Check out Wired magazine’s electronic version using AIR. Brilliant! I really can’t wait for the next version of AIRHelp that Adobe releases.


RJ: I’m glad you brought up the auto-update feature in Adobe AIR, because I think this is one of the most compelling and unique features of Adobe AIR in general. Companies like TweetDeck, which make a Twitter client based on Adobe AIR, are implementing this feature in order to notify their users whenever new updates are available. Similarly with AIRHelp, this will ensure that end-users are always using the very latest version of the Help.

Can you share how this has improved the overall experience for your pilot projects and what feedback how you received from your end-users?

Jason: Our users have been pleasantly surprised. Prior to AIRHelp, two issues that cropped up every now and again were: First, is the Help/document I downloaded a couple of months ago the latest version? Second, if it isn’t, where can I get the update? The auto-update feature solves these problems. Once the Help is installed, users always know they have the latest version on their computers.


RJ: You mentioned above the aesthetics of AIRHelp and pointed out how this differs from the look-and-feel of the old MS HTML Help (chm) format. I’m hearing from customers that they see AIRHelp as a viable replacement for CHM, what’s your take on this?

Jason: I think AIRHelp combines the practicality of bundling a CHM file with an application (using context sensitivity for example) and the up-to-date and community benefits of online documentation and support sites. In this regard, AIRHelp is definitely a successor to CHM. Once the technical implementation tasks have been resolved (AIRHelp is an installable, unlike CHM), there’s no reason to keep producing CHM. May it rest in peace.


RJ: Good point. In a recent interview, our CTO mentioned that as of now, there are over 300M installation of Adobe AIR, so I think this bodes well for the adoption of AIRHelp. Let’s go back and talk about the recent collaboration between Adobe and Wired, which you mentioned above.

When I first learned about it, all I could think of was AIRHelp on Tablets. Recently we also announced that AIR would work on mobile devices, starting with Google Android devices. What impact do you think this will have on mobile Documentation moving forward as more and more users will access the internet via mobile devices?

Jason: A large percentage of technical communicators are already writing documentation that must be presented on different platforms. Most software applications support more than one operating system. Take Spotify as an example, they have apps—and therefore must have corresponding documentation—for PC, Mac, iPhone, Android and Symbian. And with the further development of mobile devices—of all shapes and sizes—the challenge is to present the same and similar content on all of them. How? For years I was—and still am—a firm believer in XML and using single-sourcing to pubish to different formats. But the problem of publishing to divergent electronic mediums can also be solved by generating a format that can be understood by all. And this is another advantage of AIRHelp, and I’m really glad Android has been added to the list of supported platforms. Admittedly, you also have the option of using PDF, HTML, or Java, but AIRHelp trumps all of them—it provides a much richer user experience. And it’s only in version 1.0!

I don’t think AIRHelp should be seen as being restricted to documentation for software applications. I can also envisage AIRHelp being used by technicians working in the field using their mobile devices to refer to manuals and instructions, but in a more interactive way, using formats incorporating videos and 3D that we’ve only just started to develop.


RJ: I agree and my team and I are making sure we also expose AIRHelp to industries beyond Technical Documentation.

Let’s talk about the commenting feature in AIRHelp. I saw a Tweet this morning from you, sharing that you had just finished your first review using AIRHelp and that you had submitted 122 comments. Your colleague @bruhacsreadsoft has gotten 60+ review comments and is responding to them using AIRHelp as well. You also mentioned that you used to use an MS Word Table in the past. Can you share with us a bit about the old way of conducting reviews and the benefits you are seeing already from using AIRHelp’s collaboration features?

Jason: Our peer review form in Microsoft Word was just a table with three columns: Help topic title, reviewer comments, and writer feedback comments. The reviewer wrote the comments and sent them to the writer. (Peer reviewers never do changes themselves; we think it’s better for the writer themselves to implement them.) The writer could subsequently add comments and questions for the reviewer. For our new AIRHelp projects, we tested submitting comments directly in the Help. Actually, it just seemed like the natural thing to do because there was already a commenting feature in AIRHelp. Even if you’re generating some other kind of Help output, you could still use AIRHelp purely to conduct reviews. It’s just simplier. As a reviewer, I just went from topic to topic, adding my comments for each one. The author syncs the comments to get the updates. This is especially helpful for large projects, because you don’t have to wait for the editor to finish reviewing all topics—he/she can update topics as the comments come in. The author can also add his/her own comments and questions directly in the Help, which the reviewer can then see and respond to.

The AIRHelp comments feature is also very useful when you have multiple reviews, as we often do: a peer review by a writer and a technical review by a developer or consultant. Each can see the other’s comments and may get ideas for other review points based on what the other person has written. The potential for discussion is there. The review process is more interactive and hopefully this benefits the resulting Help.


RJ: I really like your idea of recommending to customers that they use AIRHelp to conduct reviews, even if they may not end up publishing in this format.

In my experience, most people I speak to, initially think that they need to be programmers to develop Help based on Adobe AIR and that they need to understand Adobe Flex and know how to work with the AIR SDK, basically do lots of coding. Can you share your experience generating AIRHelp in terms of what it takes to generate it in RoboHelp and whether you need to be a coder?

Jason: That’s interesting—a colleague from marketing, when I first showed him one of our AIRHelp projects—also asked if we had produced it using Adobe Flex. No—AIRHelp is as easy to produce as any other output format in RoboHelp. It’s just another Single Source Layout (SSL). There are some new options for the AIRHelp SSL for comments, searches, and so on—nothing out of the ordinary. So once the SSL is configured, you can generate the AIRHelp. You don’t need to code anything. You just need to be familiar with RoboHelp. And even if you’re not, well, it’s still pretty easy.


RJ: Well said. Is there anything I missed that you’d like to add in closing about AIRHelp?

Also, we have been using Acrobat.com’s Buzzword, our wordprocessor in the cloud, for our interview, and I’m interested in hearing your overall experience with Buzzword and if you see ways in which Technical Communicators can use Buzzword for collaborative projects?

Jason: I was really glad when I found out that there was a replacement for CHM, and especially one built on such a forward-looking technology like Adobe AIR. It’s also brought more enthusiasm to our Technical Communication team, with the promise of taking documentation to the next level. As I said, I’m really looking forward to future versions of AIRHelp.

Regarding Buzzword, I like it a lot. It’s very “clean.” What I mean by that is that not only are documents stored in a central location that everyone can access via a web browser, you also don’t have to open another application to view and make edits, and multiple users can perform these actions simultaneously without waiting for the other person to check-in a file. So it’s very suited to documents that are co-authored.


RJ: It has been fun talking about AIRHelp and RoboHelp with you and I thank you for your time.

Jason: A pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.


Additional Resources:

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