Today, HTML Help and WebHelp are the two most popular help formats. The main difference between the two formats arises because of the viewer associated with each of the formats. HTML Help relies on CHM Viewer which is available on Windows OS and WebHelp relies on the browser which is today available for different operating systems. Since there is no way to control the functionality of the browser or CHM viewer, help authors are limited in terms of what they can offer by these two formats. In my opinion, Adobe AIR enables authors to overcome these limitations. With Adobe AIR, you have an ability to build and customize your own viewer. With a built-in browser and support for SWF and PDF, Adobe AIR provides one of the best end-user experience. Adobe AIR is designed with web in mind and provides a seamless online and offline experience.
There are two other important web 2.0 trends worth mentioning here:
Participation of community in building and enhancing the content
Online Help is not a static document anymore and as products mature, knowledge available with end user community often exceeds the documented functionality. The information available in the product documentation is no longer the most comprehensive source of information for most users. Shorter product cycles and increasing importance of emerging markets (more languages to translate the content in) has resulted in a trend towards minimalist documentation. A large number of companies are now taking advantage of community participation. For example, LiveDocs (Adobe) already enables end users to comment on the content, a logical first step towards enabling community to author content.
According to a survey of 600 technical communicators conducted between July-Oct 2008 (source: Adobe Systems), 60% of all technical communicators agreed with the following statement – “I want my end users to comment on the technical content and make these comments visible to everyone”. A strong inclination to open up technical content to end user scrutiny is a very interesting development.
Compelling End User Experience
The most important goal for technical communication departments is “Delivering Best End User Experience”, selected by 41 % of all respondents (Source: Adobe Systems, July-Oct 2008). It was a surprise to me that cost and efficiency ranked lower than end-user experience. Does it mark an end to minimalism and focus back on effectiveness of documentation, probably, too early to say!
I presented at tekom 2008 on “Online Help in Web 2.0 World”:
To open the PDF in a separate browser window and download it, click here.
– Vivek Jain