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UA Europe Conference

Produced by:
Matthew Ellison Consulting
in association with: WritersUA (formerly WinWriters)

Online Help Conference, Europe 2006 - 7th to 8th September, Manchester, UK

2006 Sellout Conference

Char James-Tanny explains how to select a Help Authoring Tool

The 2006 European Online Help Conference took place at the magnificent Palace Hotel in Manchester, one of the city's finest buildings.

Delegates from nine different European countries (and also from countries as far away as Canada and South Africa) enjoyed a packed two-day programme of predictions, presentations, and tools demonstrations.

Closing the 2006 event, Matthew Ellison announced that the next conference will take place in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 20th - 21st September 2007.

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2006 Speaker Index

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2006 Conference Speakers

Matthew Ellison

Photograph of Matthew Ellison

Matthew has 20 years of experience as a user assistance professional in the software industry. Much of this time was spent managing a team of writers and trainers at a UK-based consultancy company, before enjoying a period in the US as Director of the WinWriters (now WritersUA) Conference.

Matthew has been a popular speaker at WritersUA events throughout the world since 1997, and has covered a diverse range of topics from context-sensitive Help to the Spice Girls. He now runs Matthew Ellison Consulting, an independent UK-based training and consulting company that specializes in online Help design and technology.

Matthew holds a B.Sc. in Electronic Engineering and a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education from Bristol University in the UK. He is a certified instructor for RoboHelp, Captivate, and WebWorks ePublisher Pro.

Sessions presented at 2006 conference:

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Joe Welinske

Photograph of Joe Welinske

Joe Welinske is the president of WritersUA, formerly known as WinWriters. WritersUA is a company devoted to providing training and information for user assistance professionals. The WritersUA/WinWriters Conference draws hundreds of attendees each year from around the world to share the latest in user assistance design and implementation. The free content on the WritersUA web site attracts over 20,000 visitors each month. Joe has been involved with software documentation development since 1984.

Together with Scott Boggan and David Farkas, Joe authored two editions of the popular and pioneering book Developing Online Help for Windows. He has also taught online Help courses at the University of Washington and UC Santa Cruz. Joe received a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Illinois in 1981, and a M.S. in Adult Instructional Management from Loyola University in 1987.

Session presented at 2006 conference:

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Char James-Tanny

Photograph of Char James-Tanny

Char James-Tanny is president of JTF Associates, Inc.(www.helpstuff.com), and is well known in the Help community for her knowledge of online Help tools and concepts. She has been a tech writer since 1981 and has been developing online Help since 1990, when she learned to hand-code RTF files for use with Multimedia Viewer.

Char is a Microsoft Help MVP, an AuthorIT Certified Consultant, and secretary of the international STC. She is currently co-authoring a book with Brenda Huettner and Kit Brown on managing collaborative teams using Web technology, to be published later this year by Wordware Publishing.

Sessions presented at 2006 conference:

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Tony Self

Photograph of Tony Self

Based in Australia, Tony Self is recognized as one of the pioneers of hypertext and online documents. For 15 years Tony has worked in the areas of online Help systems, computer-based training, and electronic documents. In 1993 Tony founded HyperWrite, a business and technical documentation company specializing in hypertext.

In 1998 HyperWrite began producing the Australasian Online Documentation Conference, an annual event attracting specialists from Australia and New Zealand.

Tony served as Chief Technology Officer for Asia-Inc.com in 2000, where he was responsible for an innovative Asian business information web and WAP service. Tony has now returned to HyperWrite and consults on online documentation and Internet strategy.

Sessions presented at 2006 conference:

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Justin Darley

Photograph of Justin Darley

Justin Darley is a Technical Director and Information Design Consultant at Cherryleaf. His previous experience includes working in a corporate documentation team (at Vodafone) and working for an information design consultancy.

Justin has presented over the last 5 years on various subjects at the WinWriters Online Help Conference, the European Online Help Conference, the ISTC conference and TICAD. In 2005 he spoke on DocBook, the future of RoboHelp, and Single Sourcing, at the tekom conference in Wiesbaden, the ISTC Conference and the STC London Conference.

Justin's article Understanding single sourcing was recently published in the ISTC journal The Communicator. His article on XML was described as "Best basic explanation of XML I've read in years. Well done. Bravo! I give this an 11 on a scale from 1-10."

Justin has taught modules to undergraduates in Coventry University's Communication, Media and Culture Subject Group during the last two academic years. He also teaches courses on RoboHelp, AuthorIT, Information Design, Single Sourcing and DITA.

Session presented at 2006 conference:

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Amanda Caley

Photograph of Amanda Caley

Amanda Caley runs an independent training company, Gazelle Training, specialising in the design, development and delivery of bespoke training materials. Amanda is a Training Consultant with over twelve years experience in bespoke end-user IT training. She is a fellow of the Institute of IT Training and has gained significant experience in analysing, planning and implementing training solutions both in the public and private sectors.

Amanda is highly focused on the requirements of the end-user and works with all interested parties from senior management through to subject matter experts and technical personnel to ensure that the best training and user assistance solutions are provided.

In addition to her development and delivery skills Amanda, has extensive experience in project management including creating, motivating and coaching project teams. She has also designed and delivered train-the-trainer courses specifically tailored to meet individual client requirements.

Session presented at 2006 conference:

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Derek Linney

Photograph of Derek Linney

Derek is Solutions Director at Crimsonwing where he is responsible for all aspects of solution strategy and development. Prior to joining Crimsonwing Derek had a 30 year career in IBM in a variety of technical, sales, management and consulting roles. Most recently he was the Principal for Customer Relationship Management and Category Management solutions within the Distribution Sector of IBM Global Services.

Derek has an MA in Mathematics from Cambridge University and an MBA from Stirling University.

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2006 Session Index

2006 Conference Sessions

User Assistance Trends Panel – Hot Tips and Predictions (2006 Conference)

Chaired by:
Matthew Ellison
Panellists:
Justin Darley
Char James-Tanny
Tony Self
Joe Welinske

This panel discussion opened the 2006 conference with a cutting-edge overview of the latest trends in software user assistance, highlighting important tools and technologies, and offered predictions on future directions within our field. The panel of experts represented a wide range of thought and opinion in the world of user assistance.

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Trends in Microsoft Online Help: Preparing for Vista (2006 Conference)

Char James-Tanny

Fifteen years ago, we used Microsoft Word and the Microsoft Help Compiler to create WinHelp (possibly using a Help authoring tool). Ten years ago, Microsoft announced HTML Help as WinHelp's replacement. Three years ago, Microsoft announced the development of Vista Help. Now Microsoft has announced that WinHelp will not be included in Vista, Vista Help is on hold, and a consortium has been formed to talk about standards for online Help. What's a Help developer to do?

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Structured Authoring – Taking the Plunge (2006 Conference)

Tony Self

By now we are probably familiar with the basic concepts of XML, and the fundamental principles of structured authoring. We are probably also aware of schemas such as DITA, DocBook and MAML. We also know that Vista Help is no longer HTML-based. But are we ready to take the plunge and start writing manuals in an XML format? Where do we start? How do we start?

In this session, delegates took that plunge and stepped through the process of getting a structured authoring project started. They looked at the task of choosing an appropriate schema by identifying and categorising the structure and content of our documentation. This requires focussing on the nature of the content, and its metadata, rather than the content itself or its formatting. In most cases we can use an existing schema, but some projects may require tinkering with a schema, or even creating a new schema entirely. Once a schema is chosen, we can tie the XML rules to our own style guide. The choice of authoring tool is the next area of discussion, and we will discover that sophistication needed in the tool is directly related to the complexity of the schema. Tools can be specialised XML editors (such as XMetaL), dedicated documentation tools (such as Structured FrameMaker), or database tools (such as Access). One of the advantages of authoring in XML is that the content can be transformed for delivery to different platforms or audiences. Delegates found that this separation of content, presentation and delivery has a big influence on the makeup of our project team. Finally, the session looked at the human side: we must train, motivate and educate authors to use the schema effectively and efficiently.

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Web Technology Update (2006 Conference)

Joe Welinske

Open source technologies continue to grow in popularity. The many standards developed through the auspices of the World Wide Web Consortium are now integral components of today's software development. XML, XSLT, CSS, XHTML, WAI, and a host of other acronyms represent technologies that are constantly improving and evolving. This session briefed user assistance professionals on the latest updates to relevant efforts of the W3C.

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Future Directions for RoboHelp Users (2006 Conference)

Matthew Ellison

RoboHelp has been the dominant Help authoring tool for over ten years, but in 2006 it had lost some of its momentum. At the time of the 2006 conference, the last release of the product had been back in 2003 and since then eHelp Corporation (the creators of RoboHelp) had been bought out by Macromedia, and Macromedia in turn acquired by Adobe. During their stewardship of RoboHelp, Macromedia had appeared to have few definite plans to develop the product further, and the future of RoboHelp had appeared bleak in 2005.

In late 2006, however, the prospects for RoboHelp seemed much more positive – at the 2006 WritersUA Conference in Palm Springs a senior Adobe representative announced the formation of a new RoboHelp development team, and during the conference Adobe staff actively solicited the views of RoboHelp customers on new features and directions for the product.

This session brought delegates up-to-date with the latest news on the future of RoboHelp, and considered the likely changes and additions in a new version. It also looked at other tools on the market that offer a similar workflow to RoboHelp, assessed the pros and cons of migrating your RoboHelp projects to a new tool, and highlighted some of the practical issues that you are likely to encounter.

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Choosing a Help Authoring Tool (2006 Conference)

Char James-Tanny

Nothing is more stressful than selecting a Help authoring tool – especially in a team situation. Do you listen to the sales person? The consultants? The experts? How can you tell which tool is the best fit for you?

Char first created the HAT Comparison Matrix to provide a high-level comparison of the development environment, outputs, trial versions, costs, training, extras, and limitations. The updated version, published earlier in 2006, identifies individual features divided into thirteen categories (and is now much longer). But many of those who download the matrix need more information to make a decision.

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User Assistance Case Studies (2006 Conference)

This session presented short case studies of separate user assistance projects, each featuring a different Help authoring tool and workflow. The presentations highlight the strengths and weakness of the chosen tools, and provide practical tips and tricks learned from each project.

Creating training course materials and online Help from AuthorIT

Amanda Caley

This presentation described the successful delivery of a sophisticated content management system, using single-source software AuthorIT, to provide an integrated courseware solution. The solution allows reuse of content both within a product training package (User Guide, Quick Reference Guide, Notes for Trainers, Practical Exercises, Slide Presentation and Online Help) and across different products, for example installation instructions.

The project involved identifying and evaluating potential products, selecting the most appropriate system, and then customising and commissioning the system. This case study described the project, how it was conducted and the lessons learnt.

Creating HTML Help, Web-based Help and a user manual using Help & Manual

Derek Linney

This case study explained the challenges of creating user assistance for a ship-based software application for recording inspections of the ship's hull. The software consists of a Windows client and a browser-based centralised system, and its users range from "power users" to ship's personnel who operate the system infrequently.

There was a need to generate Help for both Windows users and Browser-based (HTML) users, and also a printed user guide. The online Help and the user guide are structured with a common business background (available to all users) and three operational sections (one for each class of user).

The presentation described how Help & Manual, a single-sourcing tool, was used to create all the required deliverables, and highlights some of the key lessons learnt.

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Getting Started with DITA (2006 Conference)

Justin Darley

DITA, to quote official sources, is:

"an XML-based, end-to-end architecture for authoring, producing, and delivering technical information."

This session provided an in depth introduction to the DITA architecture. It started by looking at the background of DITA, its philosophy, and its strengths and weaknesses. The session then moved on to look at the structure of DITA, its major elements, and some of the more interesting functionality they make available. Finally it considered some of the available editing and processing tools for DITA, before closing with some practical tips.

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Designing Embedded Help for an Inductive UI (2006 Conference)

Matthew Ellison

An inductive, or task-based, user interface is based on "tasks" rather than features, functions, or documents. It enables users to complete the tasks they need to do more intuitively and easily, thus reducing the amount of procedural ("how to") information that the Help needs to provide. So what types of information does the user need from the Help for an inductive UI, and what is the best way to deliver it? Based on lessons learned from a recent project to develop user assistance for a digital photography application, this session aimed to answer these questions.

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Wikis, Blogs and Collaborative Authoring (2006 Conference)

Tony Self

When the first CD-based encyclopedias reached the market in 1992, the effect on traditional paper encyclopedias was stunning. By 1996, Encyclopedia Britannica went from having the largest door-to-door sales force in the world to having none. Microsoft Encarta was originally built using Multimedia Viewer, a close cousin of WinHelp – both encyclopedias and Help systems are hypertext reference documents. The advent of Wikipedia, now the largest encyclopedia, is making another profound change to the way reference material is produced. But can UA professionals use the "wiki" method to produce documents?

This session investigated the potential role of new and emerging technologies and techniques, such as wikis, RSS, blogging and podcasting, in the User Assistance arena. At the heart of most of these ideas is the concept of collaborative authoring, where users are encouraged to contribute to the documentation directly and immediately. The session explored innovations such as Google Sitemaps, Google Base and XML Web Services, and came to grips with the philosophies of the Web 2.0 movement. It was suggested that we can use some of these technologies in our own work but, more importantly, we can learn different techniques by adopting collaborative authoring approaches.