Don’t Hide Your Content in a Traditional Help System
Don’t you find that when you don’t know how to get something done, the first thing you do is turn to the Internet and search for help? That is what I do, and I get dang frustrated when I can’t find an answer that will get me up and running again quickly!
We had to face exactly this issue recently when TechProse was asked to build a new online help system. On this project, we had inherited a very labor intensive process for creating help that involved FrameMaker and MadCap Flare. It took four weeks to create the help and a lot of hand manipulation of the resulting MadCap Flare HTML outputs to get the typography we needed. That was not going to be sustainable and we knew could find a better way.
In addition, one of the main requirements for the help was to ensure that the topics would be accessible on the Internet. You might think that all we had to do was find a better pairing of authoring tool and help output, and then put the resulting help system on the Internet. That made logical sense to us too, until we got into researching the tools.
Most Help Systems are Closed
Much to our surprise, we quickly learned that CHMs, Robohelp, MadCap Flare, Adobe Air, Eclipse Help, and some WebWorks are not indexable by Internet search engines. Most of these help systems rely on framesets or iFrames and tables to control formatting and place text elements on the page. This causes search engine indexing to fail.
Some of these help systems rely on plugins, such as Flash or Flex, to display help topics. This requires that the device accessing the topics have the plugins installed and have the capability to run them. Not all companies allow users to install these plugins and not all devices can use them.
Eclipse help requires a service to be actively running on the web server. Occasionally, this service needs to be manually reset. While the service is inactive, help topics are not available.
We found that all these issues can be resolved by using an straight forward HTML help system that does not rely on these technologies:
- Tables for page formatting
- Services running on the web server
That is why TechProse selected HTML5 and DITA, managed by the DocZone CMS, to deliver our help output to the Internet. HTML5 is designed with search engine optimization and accessibility in mind. Further, DITA enabled us to reap the many benefits of single-sourcing and automated publishing. By switching from FrameMaker and MadCap Flare to DITA and HTML5 help, we reduced publishing costs by 15%, increased the quality of the user experience, and made help topics accessible from any Internet-capable device.
To add more velocity to our publishing process and help us manage the DTIA topics, we also went out shopping for a content management system (CMS). By choosing DocZone, a SaaS XML CMS, we were able to get the content management and publishing functionality we needed at half the cost of a traditional CMS.
We will be showcasing the case study for this project at the 2011 Best Practices Conference in San Antonio, September 12-15. On September 28th from 1-2 pm Eastern, you can attend a free webinar hosted by DocZone where we will present highlights from this case study.