Are You Googleable?

A comment I made to one of Mark Baker’s recent posts, What is your primary media? Paper or the web? led to an interesting discussion about embedded user assistance.

In my recent webinar series on User Assistance and Cognition, I used the term Double Embeddedness to speak of embedded procedural help that has, in turn, concepts embedded in it. I also mentioned that our user assistance needs to be searchable.

In our exchange on Mark’s blog, he said,

Embedded assistance can never be comprehensive, by its nature, so there is still a role for more comprehensive information. But the place for that more comprehensive information is on the Web, where it can integrate with all the customer-produced information. People are simply going to stop looking to “the help” as an intermediate information source. They are going to start with the interface, and then go to the web.

I couldn’t agree more. Not only that, but the source of that additional material must be a true, integrated learning community, one that groups users, SME’s, developers, tech comms, marketers, and product managers in one community, sharing ideas as equal contributors (even if, eventually, some of them have decision power that others do not have).

That was one of the main points in the third webinar of the series.

If your user assistance isn’t Googleable, chances are your users are not going to find it – wherever else it happens to be.

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A Cognitive Design for User Assistance – Comprehensive Links

Update, 17 September 2015: Adobe has a new platform for its recorded webinars. Links to the recordings are now updated and will work correctly.

It is important to follow the Instructions for viewing them, which is also updated.

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I’ve had a number of emails, tweets, and other requests for information on how to get slides or recordings of the webinar series I just finished for Adobe.

Thanks are in order

First off, I need to thank all of you who attended, asked questions, passed me feedback and food for thought.

Thanks also to Adobe for giving me the space and the freedom to present these ideas, and promote the research we are starting to do in The Transformation Society. I’ll be blogging about that more in the near future.

Some Practical Information

Slides are posted as pdf files to Slideshare. You are welcome to use, but not modify, these slide decks, with attribution.

Recordings of the webinars are on the Adobe site – you need to have an adobe.com account to get to them. This will not hurt, I promise 😉 You can get the account for free, and there’s no obligation attached to it.

 Instructions for viewing webinar recordings 

When you click the links to the webinar recordings, you’ll arrive at the webinar description page. Click the “register” button, then fill out the form. You’ll be sent a link that will activate watching. The user experience is less than stellar, but don’t worry about it – just plod through, you’ll end up at the recording, just as we promised 😉

The Links

Session 1: Users Become Learners

Session 2: Empowering User/Learners Through Cognitive Development

Session 3: Integrated Learning: Building Customer Loyalty

 I’ve tested the links, and as of this writing, they all work as advertised.

Enjoy!

 

Let’s Break a Tech Comm Rule

Update: Links to all session slides and recordings are grouped here.

I’ve been a technical communicator for nigh on 20 years. I teach technical communications. I theorize about technical communications. And for all this time, I have steadfastly held to the great rule that you do not mix concepts with tasks.

DITA has three major topic types. Two of them are Concept and Task. Why? To keep them separate, of course – everyone knows that!

And yet – and yet – and yet – here I am, telling you that “everything we know is wrong.” Continue reading “Let’s Break a Tech Comm Rule”

The Humanist Nerd Reviews Adobe TC Suite 4

Adobe recently released Technical Communication Suite 4 (TCS4), the latest version of their integrated collection of technical communications tools.

Context

I am a long-time FrameMaker and RoboHelp user – I used RoboHelp when it was still an independent company called eHelp, and have seen it evolve through several acquisitions, several versions, often retaining some of its most frustrating problems, even after transitioning from eHelp to Macromedia to Adobe.

I stopped using these tools, not because I didn’t like them any more, but because their model no longer conformed to what I needed: structured, modular XML authoring with multiple publishing channels.

This also means that I am no longer the expert I once was on these products, and have have tested some of what is available in TCS4, without (yet) drilling down into its depths. Continue reading “The Humanist Nerd Reviews Adobe TC Suite 4”

Don’t geolocate me – it’s bad UX!

Software publishers, webmasters, listen up, and listen up carefully!

The fact that I happen to be in Finland doesn’t mean I need my software or web pages installed or served up in Finnish. That would be true even if I were Finnish. Many Finns speak Swedish as their native language, and the Saami people have their own languages, many of them endangered.

Just because I happen to be in Spain doesn’t mean I need my software or web pages installed or served up in Spanish. That would be true even if I were Spanish. People in Spain also have Catalan, Gallego, or Euskadi for native languages.

I live part of my life in Catalonia, and I speak both Spanish and Catalan, but English is my first language, and I prefer to read material written in English in the original version. All my computers but one have English operating systems installed, but many programmes and web sites insist on giving me the language of my IP address or GPS coordinates, or of the regional settings that I have installed on my system (in my case, French keyboard, date and time formats, currency, etc. – I also live part of my life in France). Worse, some of them don’t let you change even after the fact.

Get it? I’m an international person. My computer And I speak and use many languages. In many places. But we most like to function in English, except when the information is originally in a language I know or is culturally specific.

Here’s a real life experience with a web service many of us use, Survey Monkey. I set up an account using the English interface. If I type the general URL for the site in Barcelona, the interface comes up in Spanish. This is not necessarily bad usability, most people with IP addresses in Spain will prefer that language – except if they are in Catalonia. Except if they are in the Basque country. Except if they are in Galicia. OK, so I type in my user ID and password, but guess what? It doesn’t know me. Now what? Well, one of the things I do is look for a language selection. But would most users know to do that? Anyway, finding it on Survey Monkey’s login page is no easy feat. It’s way at the bottom. I changed the language to English, eventually, and tried again. Success this time, I got in.

Next time I went to Survey Monkey I was on the same (laptop) computer, but in France. Surprise, the French interface comes up, and it doesn’t know me! Change to English, success.

Frustrated, I searched the settings for a language preference. There is none. Come on, guys,
even Google lets you pick your interface language and set it, and they know who you are in any language. And they speak a lot more of them than you do.

In a fit of pique, I treated Survey Monkey to an email with my opinion. I got a terse reply from a French representative telling me that most people in France prefer to speak French and that I could switch languages. Thanks.

Oddly, another offender is Canon printers. If you install their software from a CD it gives you a nice language choice screen. But if you download their drivers or other software, you get what they give you, which is the language of your regional settings. Even from the English download site!

These are clearly examples of poor thinking, leading to poor user experience.

Just because we know how to geolocate someone doesn’t mean we should. I would rather you looked at what language my system is in. It seems to me, this gives you a better guess about what language I want to use.

What do you think?

Software as an Information Rich Environment

Over here, in Europe, the most famous English sentence is, “My tailor is rich.”  All the old textbooks to learn English started with that sentence, and everyone knows it. For some, it evokes groans as they remember the hell of trying to understand when to pronounce l-e-a-d as “led” and when to pronounce it as “leed.”

Today, I begin with, “My software is rich.” Rich in information, that is. Rich in content. What do I mean by this?  I mean that software is quickly transforming from a tool that helps you act on content (the big three: word processors, databases and spreadsheets do just that), to a vector of information that actually informs you. It is irrelevant whether the software fetches information from somewhere out on the web or in a cloud, or actually contains its own database, or invents the information. Software now speaks to us, and sometimes in volumes.

Software today is doing medical diagnosis, it’s showing us how the climate is evolving, it’s even evaluating how well we pronounce “My tailor is rich” and suggesting ways for us to improve our accents. It exists on our desktop machines, on servers, in the cloud or the web, and we don’t really care where it is, we interact seamlessly with it wherever it is to be found. Bill Gates was right about that one.

What this means is that when we design software, we have to take all that content into account. Someone has to manage its life cycle, change out obsolete material, guide its development and make sure it is accurate, coherent, up-to-date, and understandable.

Content in software is no different from content on a web site or anywhere else. Content people need to be involved when software is initially conceived to ensure that this content is integrated seamlessly with the interface, with user guidance, with external (web or cloud based) content sources, etc.

Content strategists and designers therefore need to be involved from day one when software is designed. They need to be part of the design team, and actively involved, since they are working on one of the program’s most important subsystems: the information subsystem.

This also implies having a content strategy in the first place, one that is agreed from top management on down. This strategy needs to include all the different facets of content that the software interacts with, including, eventually, customer support web sites. You should be presenting a unified face to your public, using consistent terminology, information presentation formats, look and feel, etc.

If we don’t do this, our software’s content will be threadbare.