UA Europe 2009 in Cardiff, Wales
The 2009 UA Europe Conference took place in the heart of the capital city of Wales at the Cardiff Marriott Hotel.
Mike Hughes opened the main conference with a thought-provoking and highly topical presentation of suggested user assistance traits for the new economy. He described the "Hockey Stick Curve" and how user assistance developers reach a point where additional time and effort does not give proportionately greater results. This was followed by a further two days of stimulating presentations from a range of leading experts, practitioners, and vendors in the field of user assistance.
Many delegates commented on how much they benefited from the opportunity to share ideas and solutions with their peers from the 17 different countries represented at the conference.
Microsoft Program Manager Paul O'Rear joined Joe Welinske at the podium to unveil the details of a potential successor to HTML Help 1.x, the new Microsoft Help engine known as Help 3. This was the first public presentation about Help 3 outside of the US, and represented a unique opportunity to gain a head start with this important new user assistance technology. For more information, see the session details.
Hear Matthew Ellison speaking with Alistair Christie in an ITauthor podcast before the 2009 UA Europe Conference.
UA Europe 2009 Speaker Index
- Lee Barnard
- Dr. Carsten Brennecke
- Amanda Caley
- Matthew Ellison
- Per Frederiksen
- Michael Hughes
- Mette Nyberg
- Paul O'Rear
- Leisa Reichelt
- Tony Self
- Joe Welinske
Lee Barnard, BA Hons, PMP, is a Knowledge Architect at SAP, Germany. After studying German at Reading University, Lee joined the company in 1992 as a translator and worked for several years as an Information Developer. He is currently responsible for SAP Information Design and Documentation Reporting, and is also involved in usability and editing activities.
Dr. Carsten Brennecke
Dr. Carsten Brennecke holds a PhD in Chemistry from Bochum University. Already experienced in the area of software documentation, Carsten joined SAP 10 years ago as an Information Developer. In his current position as Knowledge Manager for SAP NetWeaver, he coordinates documentation worldwide for one of SAP's largest teams.
Amanda has many years' experience in technical communication, documentation, training and project management and is a Director of Content Chameleon. Content Chameleon delivers complete solutions for complex content to different business sectors including finance, government, retail, shipping and telecommunications.
Amanda has completed a number of implementations ranging from large-scale complex projects for blue chip companies through to small scale projects for one-person businesses. In addition she develops and delivers tailored training courses and workshops, and has presented at specialist conferences and written articles on topics relating to technical communication and training. Amanda is an Author-it Certified Consultant, Fellow of the ISTC, Fellow of the RSA, and Vice-Chairman of the South-East London FSB.
Matthew has over 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 highly rated and respected 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 user assistance design and technology.
Matthew holds a B.Sc. in Electronic Engineering and a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education from Bristol University in the UK. Last year he was the winner of the prestigious Horace Hockley award that is presented annually by the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC). Matthew is currently a visiting lecturer on the MA Technical Communication course at Portsmouth University, and is also a certified instructor for RoboHelp, Flare, Captivate, and WebWorks ePublisher Pro.
Per has been working with technical writing, software training and web design/editing during his 18-year career. Per started out as a Technical Writer in the medical industry describing both hardware and software. Later he moved on to 7T, where hes responsible for documentation and training in the IGSS SCADA software.
Mike Hughes works for IBM Internet Security Systems as a User Assistance Architect. In this role he identifies tools, methods, and standards to integrate the content and delivery of user assistance, including documentation, help, e-learning, and training. He is coauthor of A Research Primer for Technical Communication and he writes the column User Assistance: Putting Help in Context for UXmatters.
Mike has a PhD in Instructional Technology from the University of Georgia and a Masters in Technical and Professional Communication from Southern Polytechnic State University. He is a Fellow with the Society for Technical Communication and a Certified Performance Technologist through the International Society for Performance Improvement. His professional focus is supporting user experiences that accommodate the "user as learner".
- Architecting UA Topics for Reuse
- Successful User Assistance Traits for the New Economy
- Designing Useful User Assistance with DITA
(optional pre-conference workshop)
Mette has over 15 years' experience documenting a wide range of products within the IT industry. Working for large companies like Microsoft or smaller ones like 7-Technologies, Mette has found that the users needs remain the same. For a number of years she has served as a judge in the STC Online Help competitions.
Paul ORear is a Microsoft Program Manager who is currently facilitating the internal and external adoption of a new Help engine commonly referred to as "Help 3". Paul is enjoying the opportunity to champion this potential successor to HTML Help 1.x, which will first ship with Visual Studio 2010. Paul joined Microsoft Corporation in 2002, working in Developer Division contributing to the content architecture, management, building and testing of perhaps the largest set of content that Microsoft ships MSDN/Visual Studio documentation. He has also had the privilege of overseeing Microsofts Help MVP program, taking over from Peter Plamondon in 2004.
Paul has been working with Help technologies since Windows 3.0 and has developed a wide reputation for his expertise with all Microsoft Help engines. Prior to working for Microsoft, Paul worked with Sageline Publishing/Sageline Software for several years producing innovative extensions to WinHelp and HTML Help. Paul also worked as an independent software consultant via his company Helpful Solutions for several years contributing to the development of the Deva for Dreamweaver help authoring tool, among other ventures. In 1998, Paul became one of the Microsoft Help MVPs.
Leisa is a freelance user experience consultant who conducts user research and advises on interaction design, information architecture and usability issues. She works with her clients to provide insight into their end users' behaviour and needs using a range of qualitative research techniques. Prior to freelancing, Leisa was a Principal Consultant at Flow Interactive and her clients have included the BBC, Transport for London, Vodafone, and a range of London-based startups.
Leisa is a regular speaker at conferences including Future of Web Apps, Web 2.0 Expo, the IA Summit and dConstruct, and is also a member of the Board of Advisors to the Information Architecture Institute.
Leisa has a Masters degree in Interactive Media from the University of Technology, Sydney. Her soapbox topics include social design and agile development methodologies. She blogs about this and more at disambiguity.com.
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.
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.
UA Europe 2009 Session Index
- Overview of Trends, Tools, and Technologies in Software User Assistance
- Successful User Assistance Traits for the New Economy
- Enabling Feedback and Collaboration Within Help
- Case Study: Docupedia, SAP Documentation on a Wiki
- Case Study: Work Smarter - and Save Time and Money
- Using DITA for Help
- Update on Microsoft Help Formats: Present and Future
- Turning Search into Find
- Content Migration: Practical Tips for Success
- Architecting UA Topics for Reuse
- Case Study: UA Design and Implementation for iPhone Applications
- Case Study: Designing the Documentation for Drupal.org A Community-Driven Approach
- Writing to STOP
UA Europe 2009 Session Descriptions
Overview of Trends, Tools, and Technologies in Software User Assistance
A special welcoming introduction to the world of software user assistance, especially useful for newcomers to the profession. The session examined the tools, technologies, current trends, and the key skills required to be a successful user assistance professional. It provided an excellent introduction to the themes of the 2009 Conference.
Successful User Assistance Traits for the New Economy
One theme looms as a result of the global economic meltdown of the past few months: the world will never be the same. Business models must meet higher standards of viability and sustainability, and the user assistance we provide must add value more directly than ever before. User assistance departments that will survive and prosper in the next decade must employ three distinct strategies:
- Reduce documentation costs
- Improve the relevance of content
- Integrate documentation more closely with product user interfaces
And it must do these things often within the context of reduced available time and resources. This session expanded on these traits for success, and explained how writing less user assistance can give you the opportunity to write better content that adds greater value.
- The Hockey Stick Curve and the law of diminishing returns
- Why users don't read procedures
- The importance of providing contextual knowledge in user assistance
- Why user assistance needs to be a mile wide and 30 seconds deep
- How to ensure that users read the user assistance
Enabling Feedback and Collaboration Within Help
Help for software applications has traditionally provided a one-way flow of information to the user. However, many major software vendors now include mechanisms in their Help that enable users to provide feedback on the value of the information they have just read. It has also become possible for users of some Help systems to add their own comments and annotations, and to share these with other users. In this way, Help is beginning to emulate the collaborative nature of wikis and forums.
But just how useful and effective are these feedback and collaboration features, and how many users actually take advantage of them? And how can you build these features into your own Help systems? This session addressed these questions by using a case study to illustrate the extent to which users take advantage of feedback and collaboration within software Help. It also surveyed the range of methods and technologies that are currently available for enabling this kind of two-way communication.
- How users of software are becoming increasingly collaborative
- About a range of real-life examples of feedback and collaboration systems
- The advantages of a Help system over other collaborative resources such as wikis and forums
- How collaboration can benefit both users and developers of Help
- What tools and technologies are available for implementing feedback and collaboration
Case Study: Docupedia, SAP Documentation on a Wiki
This presentation provided an overview of SAP's documentation wiki docupedia. Docupedia was designed and implemented in 2008 using a user-centred design approach, and has been live since December 2008. It is an internet-based platform that enables members of the SAP Community Network to view and comment on SAP's documentation. In addition, members can discuss, rate, share, and augment the content.
- About the motivation and driving forces for docupedia
- How the implemented solution looks in a demonstration
- Future plans for the solution based on the lessons learnt so far
Case Study: Work Smarter - and Save Time and Money
This presentation explained how 7T has developed a range of strategies and techniques for streamlining its development of context-sensitive Help, user documentation, and training course materials. Single-sourcing is achieved using MadCap Flare, but many of the principles and techniques can be applied to other authoring tools and technologies.
When you work for a small company and the ratio of technical writers to developers in broad terms is "1:Many", you need to get your act together and look at optimising your processes. Once you have a baseline of good processes and procedures, you can focus on what your job is really all about.
But this is not all: when you focus on single-sourcing and optimising your processes, you will automatically save time and money. You can, for example, lower your translation costs if you consciously reuse text throughout your project, and the added benefit is a higher level of consistency and thus better quality in the output. You will save time if you consider your project structure before you start the content development. A well-thought-out structure is key to keeping maintenance as low as possible, but the user will also experience a more user-friendly product.
- How to minimize development costs for implementing context-sensitive dialog Help
- How to achieve consistency in modular help using Flare's global project linking
- Techniques for producing training material and product documentation from the same project
Using DITA for Help
This session investigated the practicalities of creating Help systems and other forms of user assistance using DITA. The first problem is that DITA is a storage format, not a delivery format. This led us to learn that DITA can easily be transformed into outputs such as HTML Help. In fact, DITA's topic-based architecture is fundamentally similar to most Help formats. It is also technically possible to incorporate DITA content into an application's user interface, making it potentially suitable for embedded user assistance. It's not all smooth sailing by any means... context hooks, for example, are not catered for in DITA. The session addressed the question of what benefit a DITA approach might have over using a traditional HAT. It explained that DITA is currently a legitimate choice for Help authoring, but has the potential to become a wise choice!
- What separation of content from format and delivery means
- How Help deliverables are generated (transformed) from DITA source
- The shortfalls and the benefits of DITA-sourced Help
- How Help Authoring Tools are supporting DITA
- How DITA-sourced content can be used for embedded user assistance
Update on Microsoft Help Formats: Present and Future
In this session, Joe Welinske and Paul O'Rear discussed the current and future status of Microsoft Help technologies.
One of the new elements is Microsoft Help 3 a new client Help system. Initially shipping as the product Help system for the next wave of Visual Studio products, this system is being positioned to potentially become available to all Windows developers in the near future. This would be the first wide release of a Help system from Microsoft since HTML Help 1. The upcoming release with Visual Studio 10 will be offering a system for delivering context sensitive Help that represents a major upgrade from the current HTML Help standard. Some of the factors that distinguish this from past efforts are:
- Browser neutral, Cross-browser capable
- XHTML/XML-based markup
- Offline and/or online content storage
- The possibility of using it on non-Windows platforms
Turning Search into Find
If you offer users of Help the choice of using the table of contents, index, or search to locate the information they need, most will opt for Search. And yet very often Search yields disappointingly poor results, ranging from an unhelpfully long list of hits to nothing at all. This leads to negative attitudes towards Help and a tendency for users to look for answers in alterative sources.
This session explored a range of emerging techniques for improving the quality a Help system's search feature, making it more focused and less likely to return "Not found" results. The benefits of these techniques include a better chance of users finding the information they need in Help, reports of more positive experiences with Help, an increased uptake of Help, and more productive users as a result.
- The key criteria for assessing the quality of a search system
- The critical role of metadata in improving search results
- Other emerging techniques for making search more usable, relevant and accurate
- How the search features of various Help formats including HTML Help, WebHelp, AIR Help, NetHelp, and the new Microsoft Help 3 format measure up with each other
- What to look for in a third party search engine, and what's currently available
Content Migration: Practical Tips for Success
This presentation examined one of the often forgotten steps in the process of moving from one system to anotherthe Migration Plan. The method you use to migrate your legacy content is as important as the tool you choose. Get one wrong and you can negate many of the benefits of the other.
Migrating your content to a new system provides a good opportunity for you to remove all the duplicate, redundant, outdated and superfluous (DROS) content. The task may not be as large as you think. It may be possible to eliminate 50% or possibly even more of your existing content.
Another really important aspect is how you manage your content once you have moved over to your new system. Setting up a robust change control process is vital.
- How to create an inventory of content
- What to include in your Migration Plan
- How to analyse content for re-use
- How to set up a change control process
Architecting UA Topics for Reuse
It's one thing to shop around topics that you have already written to see what can be reused; it's another thing to plan and architect to facilitate reuse. This presentation examined three common scenarios for reuse and how user assistance architects and information developers can keep their reuse options open in each scenario:
- Same topic in different documents
- Same content within many topics
- Slightly different content within one topic
Examples showed how to use DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) to maximize reuse, but all of the principles discussed in this presentation can be applied regardless of development environments or tools.
- How to anticipate reuse opportunities
- How to categorise the scope of reuse
- How to select the appropriate reuse method
Case Study: UA Design and Implementation for iPhone Applications
The iPhone application development market has exploded since Apple opened the App store. Apple recently celebrated the one millionth application developed for their mobile platform. For UA developers this represents a new market for our services it is also an area with numerous challenges in uncharted waters. While many mobile applications are fairly simplistic, there is a rapidly growing list of applications with relatively robust capabilities. This means that micro-concise instructions regarding difficult concepts are increasingly valuable for improving the user's initial experience.
Joe Welinske is currently working on the design of Help for a range of iPhone applications, where his focus is on features that are not easily discovered. The early design process has involved a number of interesting decision such as how best to integrate content displayed in the iPhone browser with web-based applications and knowledgebases on a desktop or laptop computer, whether animated screen shots work better than live video, and how much text to use within the minimal available screen estate. He shared his experiences in this session.
- How the key issue of limited screen real estate was handled in several iPhone application projects by the presenter as part of ongoing UA consulting in the mobile space
- How to choose words and phrases for optimal communication
- How the lessons learned can be applied to the user assistance for applications on a range of mobile platforms
Case Study: Designing the Documentation for Drupal.org
A Community-Driven Approach
Leisa described her experiences of designing Drupal.org, the official website of Drupal (an open source content management platform) and in particular the strategy behind the Documentation section of this site. Her innovative community-based design approach offers a potential model for other user assistance projects, and Leisa shared a number of important lessons learned about working within a community environment. The session provided a sneak preview of the new site design which is yet to go live.
- How to approach the documentation design of a highly flexible and customisable framework system
- Ways of involving the user community in the user assistance by using a collaborative, crowdsourcing design process
- How to select the best tools and technologies for a community-based approach
- A range of practical tips and lessons learned from the Drupal documentation project
Writing to STOP
A writing methodology known as STOP Sequential Thematic Organisation of Publications was developed at Hughes Corporation in the 1960s. The purpose of STOP was to improve the speed of document production, and to allow multiple authors to work simultaneously on the same document. Hughes found the technique very effective, and it was later adopted by many other organisations. It led to other writing methodological innovations such as Robert Horn's Information Mapping. The STOP approach still resonates in the age of online documentation, as we still have the same needs to reduce document creation times and to work collaboratively. This session looked at how the STOP approach worked, and how it might be re-applied even more effectively in the 21st Century.
- The background and history of the STOP approach to publications
- The underlying principles of STOP
- How thesis sentences can guide topic development
- How the enforced use of illustrations can influence communication
- How STOP principles can be re-applied in modern technical communication workflows
Exhibitors at UA Europe 2009
UA Europe 2009 Vendor Presentations
Considerations when planning for localization
Presented by Rob Sexstone and Paul Ballard of 3di
3di provide expertise in technical communication and localization. This presentation provided guidance and examples to help prepare you for when you get the opportunity to plan, or influence the planning, the localization of your software application. It covered:
- When and how to involve your localization partner
- Whether terminology preparation and management is worthwhile
- How to get the best from your territory reviewers
- How to assess the potential for automation tools at every stage of the process
Twitter and the Social Web: Developing a strategy for technical authors
Presented by Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf
This presentation looked at some of the research into how people use Twitter and social networking sites, and investigate the different communication strategies you can adopt. It covered:
- Whats the point of Technical Authors using Twitter and the Social Web?
- How can it help fulfil your personal goals, as well as the goals of the Technical Publications department and the organisation?
- Where does it fit in alongside everything else?
- What are its limitations and where are the "bear traps"?
Help & Manual 5
Presented by Alexander Halser and Tim Green of EC Software
This presentation provided a short and entertaining introduction to the capabilities of Help & Manual 5. The main features covered were single-sourcing, conditional output for multiple builds, multi-user editing and group authoring, extensibility with templates and skins and XML for localization and translation. The presentation also briefly covered the tools included with the program (graphics editor, screenshot tool, PDF layout editor, index tool, reports tool and project synchronizer for updating translations).
MadCap Software - Flare v 5
Presented by Mike Hamilton of MadCap Software
This was an opportunity to see MadCap Softwares new version five of its flagship product Flare in action! A complete overview of MadCap Flare with brief introductions to other MadCap Software products was presented. Attendees were shown new project creation, external content import, the Flare editor, and the publishing process.
Real Time Performance Support: More than "Context Sensitive Help"
Presented by Peter Stroes of Triview
Contextual Help and Support for software applications are, by definition, limited to what the technical communicator knows of the application. The "moment of need", when a user first reaches for Help directly within the application, is the best opportunity and, often, the most disappointing.
This talk outlined "Real Time Performance Support", the idea of linking contextual help and support to workflows that spread across software applications from multiple vendors. It outlined the narrowing of information: from the detailed user guide, down to the abbreviated contextual help, and finally the performance support snippet. The presentation discussed how organisations want to include "Help" links to their own live content repositories such as KnowledgeBases, SharePoint, online tutorials, and even SCORM based eLearning courses.