We were delighted to welcome representatives from the following nations at the highly successful UA Europe 2010 conference in Stockholm, Sweden:
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and USA.
Read Ultan O'Broin's blog Observations from UA Europe 2010.
Video of Panel Session at UA Europe 2010
One of the sessions at UA Europe 2010 featured a discussion of user assistance trends by a panel of leading Help Authoring Tool vendors. Contributors included Ankur Jain (Adobe), Mike Hamilton (MadCap Software), Tim Green (EC Software), Martin Petts, (MindTouch), and Dennis Crane (Indigo Byte Systems). You can watch a video of this discussion here:
Anne Gentle was Inspiring 2010 Keynote Speaker
Anne Gentle, writer of Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation, was an inspiring keynote speaker at UA Europe 2010. Anne updated us on the impact of the social web on user assistance, and offered valuable insights and tips on collaborative authoring.
UA Europe 2010 Speaker Index
Matthew has 25 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.
Anne Gentle has worked as technical writer for Rockwell Automation, BMC Software, Advanced Solutions International, and now Informatica. She is the author of Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation. She serves in an advisory role for LugIron in Austin, Texas, working on community analytics and social media marketing efforts. She volunteers as a documentation maintainer for FLOSS Manuals. She's an active member of the Society for Technical Communication, chairing of the Editorial Advisory Panel for STC's Intercom magazine and as a member of a special Social Media Task Force. As the mom of two young boys, she loves to be busy and on-the-go. She writes a blog at justwriteclick.com and welcomes conversation there.
Roger Hart (Red Gate Software)
Roger is a Technical Author (increasingly a Content Strategist, too) at Red Gate Software. He creates user assistance for Red Gates flagship SQL Tools products.
He worries that a brief secondment to Marketing might have damaged him somehow. But the result seems to be an enthusiasm for bringing the skills and values of Tech Comms to the organisations wider approach to the web.
Roger blogs about technical communications, content strategy, and things that generally get his goat.
Alex Johnson (Fitness First)
Alex Johnson is the training and documentation lead for the Members First project at Fitness First, the worlds biggest fitness company. He has been responsible for taking the Members First documentation online using MadCap Flare to produce software help and operation manuals in 6 languages for 10 countries.
Alex supports a team of 10 contributing authors and local translators using MadCap X-Edit and Lingo, with a (potential) readership of 6000 users. Alex has a BTech Hons (Information Technology) and has worked for 14 years in the software development industry, producing diverse documents from government tenders to bird watching guides.
Ultan Ó Broin (Oracle)
Ultan Ó Broin is a director of Oracle Applications User Experience, responsible for user assistance (messages and Help) guidelines, patterns and standards deliverables for enterprise application designers and developers. With 20 years of experience in user assistance development and localization since 2002 he has rolled out Arbortext authoring environment training (DocBook and DITA specializations) to Oracles writing teams on three continents. With Oracle since 1996, he has an MA, MBA, and MSc in Information Systems, has published widely on the using XML for global content development and delivery, and is technical editor of a book on XML internationalization and localization.
Mark Poston (Mekon)
Mark Poston is a senior technical consultant with over 12 years in content and publishing. He has gained a broad knowledge and understanding of the publishing requirements of clients. As technologies have changed and moved forward, the solutions he has worked on have reflected these changes. He is now heavily involved in the analysis, design, and implementation of XML publishing solutions and is an active member of the OASIS DITA Technical Committee and Enterprise Business Documents Sub Committee and the DITA Open Toolkit project.
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.
Erika Noll Webb (Oracle)
Erika Noll Webb is a manager of Oracle Applications User Experience. She is responsible for user experience research on all aspects of enterprise software user assistance including messages and help, guidelines and patterns on multiple platforms, including desktop and mobile solutions. Erika is an expert in both usability and accessibility, and has worked in the field of user experience for 15 years. She holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuropsychology with a minor in Human Factors.
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.
Michael Zwecker (LogMeIn, Inc)
Michael Zwecker has been a user assistance professional for over 12 years, with experience at companies such as American International Group, Euronet Worldwide, and now LogMeIn, where he is the Director of User Assistance. At LogMeIn, Michael planned and executed the full migration to DITA XML. A major focus of his efforts is to push single-sourced documentation content directly into product GUI.
UA Europe 2010 Session Index
- Keynote: Social Web Strategies for Documentation
- What Kind of Assistance Do Users Really Need?
- Panel: Discussion of Current User Assistance Trends and Technologies
- Optimising the Googleability of Your Content
- The Design of User Assistance on Mobile Enterprise Applications
- Writing for Readers Who Can't Read
- Help Authoring Tool and Localisation Case Study
- The Spork / Platypus Average: Content Strategy at Red Gate Software
- User Assistance Trends
- Climbing the Levels of Collaboration
- Comparison of Current Help Authoring Tools
- Using DITA to Implement Writing Patterns for User Assistance
- Single-sourced Tooltips from DITA XML Content
- The Wonders of SVG
- An Update on DITA Features, Tools, and Best Practices
- Interactive Dynamic Assistance - Engaging Users with the Functions They Want
UA Europe 2010 Session Descriptions
Social Web Strategies for Documentation
For the first time in history, we have social tools and web analytics for our content. If you and your company are in tune with this shift, you want to deliver content in a way that involves your users and opens more collaboration opportunities. But challenges abound. Social media seems overwhelming and a productivity drain. Without knowing how to approach it, social media seems like a hit or miss proposition with large risks. Ideally, you'd like to find your role on the social web and effective placement for your content. In three steps, find the hits and avoid the misses to meet business goals.
- How to listen and monitor conversation on the social web
- How to define a role as a technical writer - instigator or enabler of conversation
- How to align your efforts with business objectives
- Best practices from others who are implementing social web content that is conversational or based on community goals
What Kind of Assistance Do Users Really Need?
We often think we know what our users want from our software documentation and user assistance. Based on the assumption that users prefer step-by-step instructions, our documents are liberally sprinkled with neatly formatted numbered lists. We also carefully describe all the fields and controls that make up our applications. But do we actually understand why users turn to our assistance? What kinds of problems are they having, do they need guiding through an entire procedure, or are they simply seeking a small fragment of information that will help them on their way? Based on findings from research earlier this year, this session reveals the questions that users really ask. It also recommends design patterns and techniques that will most effectively provide users with what they need and enable them to become more productive.
See Sarah Maddox's blog for a report of this presentation, delivered at the 2010 AODC conference in Darwin Australia.
- The most common obstacles that prevent users from being production with software applications
- How the level of previous experience with an application affects the kind of questions asked and the assistance required
- The most useful types of information that user assistance can provide to users
- Recommendations on design strategies for presenting information to users
- What to look for in a third party search engine, and what's currently available
Discussion of Current User Assistance Trends and Technologies
Ankur Jain (RoboHelp Product Manager, Adobe)
Mike Hamilton (VP, Product Management, MadCap Software)
Tim Green (Head of User Support, EC Software)
Dennis Crane (CEO, Indigo Byte Systems)
Martin Petts (Channel Manager Europe, MindTouch)
Chaired by Matthew Ellison
This lively panel session explored a range of key technology trends and challenges that are facing today's user assistance professionals. Topics covered by the discussion will include user feedback and collaboration, search technologies and techniques, team-based authoring, content management, and the future of Microsoft Help. There will also be an opportunity to put questions to the panel from the audience.
Optimising the Googleability of Your Content
Despite our best efforts at developing user assistance, it is increasingly likely that your users will turn to Google for answers to question about your software. The success Google has in providing quick answers to difficult questions has made it a natural resource for help with software - even if the software provides online help, FAQs, forums, and e-mail support. Since this trend will probably continue, we need to learn how to "embrace the beast". There are a number of things you can do to improve your Googleability with too much time and money. This session will describes how Google indexes information and what you need to do to be visible, how to use search engine optimisation techniques (including the use of sitemaps and metadata), how writing styles affect indexing, and what other search engines you may want to support.
The Design of User Assistance on Mobile Enterprise Applications
Mobile device enterprise applications require user assistance (error messages, alerts, and help) to explain functionality to the user, assist in task completion, and address usage fundamentals such as setup and preferences. This case study discusses how to understand mobile applications users, including the challenges and opportunities of mobile work methods and the devices themselves. It explores how mobile application user assistance delivery is influenced by different usability heuristics and design priorities. For example, mobile applications user assistance must accommodate the mobile contextual design paradigm of a compressed, unpredictable time available for mobile users to act; their varying locations; and their requirements for convenience, relevance, personalization, and so on. The case study describes the use of multiple usability techniques to understand users needs and wants (survey, focus groups, structured interviews, usability testing) followed by the development and real user testing of mobile user assistance design patterns and guidelines for use by user assistance designers.
- Key user considerations for user assistance design on mobile enterprise applications
- How using multiple usability techniques (survey, focus group, structured interviews, usability testing) can provide qualitative input to drive the next stage of an informed design process
- How to develop user assistance design patterns and guidelines for mobile applications
- How to test mobile enterprise applications user assistance design patterns and guidelines with users
Writing for Readers Who Can't Read
At conferences last year, Tony Self suggested that a new generation of people entering the workforce will have a limited ability to read anything other than short texts. If he is right, and the future readers of our user assistance can't read as we do, how are we going to write for such an audience? In this session, Tony returns to the subject and proposes techniques that we can adopt to write for readers who cannot read.
The approaches to reach these new readers involve re-thinking the phrases and terms that we use. For example, surveys have shown that typical computer users don't know the difference between a browser and a search engine. New readers sometimes cannot spell the words they want to search for, so we have to cater for this deficiency in the design of our search. One study suggests that our message must be transmitted in 63 words, and we would have to develop new skills to work within such difficult constraints. At a much higher level, we also have to move away from writing content that requires "deep reading", and create content that suits "power browsing". This points towards the inclusion of more multimedia materials, and a move to visual work instructions and tutorials for procedure documentation. The challenges in writing for readers who can't or won't read are many, but these are challenges that we must as some point face up to.
- How the reading abilities and literacy of the audience for our user assistance is changing
- How it is easy to make the wrong assumptions about reader knowledge
- How multimedia and visual instructions are growing in importance
- How new readers want to create as well as consume information
- How we need to design user assistance to suit the method of searching that new readers expect
Help Authoring Tool and Localisation Case Study
This case study explores the journey that Fitness First has taken to change their method of deploying technical documentation from monolithic Word documents to online user help created with MadCap Flare. The introduction of standard software in all the clubs provides a unique challenge for the documentation team to produce valuable user assistance for a youthful, multi-lingual and impatient user base.
- The lessons we learned using MadCap Lingo both to translate internally and to manage translations by an external agency.
- How we use MadCap X-Edit to allow contributions of content from the software design team
- How we included the operations manual along with the software Help
- How we deploy and market the documentation to the users and how we measure its take-up
The Spork / Platypus Average: Content Strategy at Red Gate Software
Content strategy is this years buzzword. 170 people from 18 countries came to the Content Strategy Forum in Paris. But what is it all about and what does it have to do with us?
Well, its based on doing what a lot of technical communicators have been doing for a long time: delivering content thats optimised for user and business goals, and making sure it stays that way. But now companies are starting to take notice.
By presenting itself as a revenue centre, not a cost centre, and extending into an organisations entire web presence, content strategy is a new opportunity for technical communicators to add significant value to a business.
The session concluded with how we did this for SQL Tools at Red Gate, how we design, measure, and curate content, our new collaborations with marketing, and gave some pointers for selling content strategy in your organization.
Climbing the Levels of Collaboration
Groups can take action even quicker than before thanks to tools that amplify group communications, such as wikis, blogs, forums, social networks, and instant messaging. There are distinct levels of collaboration that a group can attain and what they accomplish directly correlates to the level of collaboration.
- Information sharingFinding information as any technical writer does, via email, phone calls, interviews, and so on. A brief collaboration exercise shows the power of information sharing
- CooperatingA discussion of Agile development techniques to help shape a web application and the online help that accompanies it. Introduces the use of wikis for documentation
- CollaboratingA case study of how a new in-person collaboration method called a Book Sprint is run (with subject matter experts identified and working together to create an information deliverable). FLOSS Manuals' wiki platform serves as an example.
Comparison of Current Help Authoring Tools
Although most of today's tools for authoring user assistance generate similar end-results, the process for creating, managing, and maintaining content varies considerably between them. Choosing a tool with a paradigm that matches your own required workflow is critical the wrong decision can be extremely costly in terms of wasted time and effort. This session provides you with the information you need to make an informed decision about tool selection. It covers some of the major options including the latest version of Author-it, Doc-To-Help, Flare, Help & Manual, RoboHelp, and WebWorks ePublisher. The session also discusses the various advantages and disadvantages of using a specialist Help Authoring Tool as compared to other solutions such as Wikis and XML-based content management systems.
- Whether a Help Authoring Tool is the most appropriate type of tool for your development environment
- The key criteria that you should consider when selecting a Help Authoring Tool
- An overview of the available tool options
- The workflow of each of the major tools
- The key strengths and weaknesses of each of the options
Using DITA to Implement Writing Patterns for User Assistance
Using the concept of the user experience design patterns and an XML authoring environment, the Oracle Applications User Experience team has brought the concept of the writing pattern to life. Patterns provide high-level guidance to technical writers on the best way to consistently design, organise and write Help topics.
This case study outlines Oracle Applications approach, including the design and implementation process, the research on user requirements, and the usability techniques used for validation. The resulting writing patterns are an easily learned, scalable way for writers to efficiently design and deliver effective user assistance.
- How the concept of writing patterns can be applied to user assistance and how they integrate with an overall product user experience.
- Lessons from the process of developing and refining writing patterns
- How the patterns can be applied directly in an authoring environment
- The benefits of this approach
- Ideas for future use you might like to explore too
User Assistance Trends
Joe Welinske presents an overview of latest trends and key technologies in the field of software user assistance. This provides a valuable update on what's new since last year's conference.
Single-sourced Tooltips from DITA XML Content
We all know that no one looks at the User Guide. So bring the User Guide into the interface (well, at least part of it).
In this session, you will see how content written primarily for a User Guide can be tagged and extracted for reuse as single-sourced tooltips. This approach allows you to deliver information that helps users make decisions without forcing them to open a PDF or Help file. Content is single-sourced, so it costs you little extra other than set-up time and a little extra planning. We'll look at a live implementation and discuss the key issues.
- How to identify content as tooltip text
- Whether you can reuse your content directly from your DITA XML source, and whether you will have to convert
- The challenges of writing material that must work both as a tooltip and as User Guide content
- How minimalist principles (task orientation) apply to this solution
- How to manage localization
The Wonders of SVG
SVG is an XML-based vector graphics format, and offers some great opportunities for technical communication. The text in SVG graphics can be found in search, the images are scaleable, they are well suited to mobile browsers, the text within is easily translatable, and some images can even be automatically generated. SVG is ready for prime-time, with support by many graphics tools, browsers, and authoring tools. DITA and SVG also work well together. In this session, we explore what SVG should mean to technical communicators.
- The basic technical fundamentals of the SVG format
- How SVG graphics can provide benefits to documentation quality
- What tools can be used to create SVG graphics
- How DITA and SVG work together
An Update on DITA Features, Tools, and Best Practices
While DITA adoption is slowly gaining momentum, the DITA standard itself is undergoing a renovation, with DITA 1.2 recently released by the OASIS DITA Technical Committee. DITA tools are becoming more sophisticated, new DITA tools are appearing on the market in abundance, and familiar tools are adding more and more DITA support. As the improvements that the new 1.2 standard allow filter down into authoring and publishing tools, the capability and efficiency of a DITA workflow will become even more attractive. The rise of new document delivery platforms, such as eInk devices, eBooks and iPhones, is also relevant to DITA adoption. Perhaps because DITA is an open standard, and many tools are open source, finding best practices for DITA implementation from the range of approaches is a challenge, and some guidelines can smooth the road. In this session, we will take stock of where the DITA methodology has been, and is going.
- The status of DITA as a practical platform for user assistance
- About the range of DITA authoring, content management and publishing tools
- How Help Authoring Tools are implementing DITA support
- The delivery options for DITA content
- How DITA best practices can streamline a documentation project
- The new major architectural features in the DITA 1.2 standard
- How specialisation and a constrained authoring environment can improve efficiency
Interactive Dynamic Assistance - Engaging Users with the Functions They Want
Whilst content management and authoring are essential to the creation of any technical publication, the benefit an end user can realise is the ultimate aim. This (not too technical!) presentation focuses on how new XML-related developments, such as XML native databases and XQuery, can be used to create more engaging deliverables for end users.
Using relevant examples, Mark shows not only how these new developments provide a more efficient means of delivering content but also how content can be delivered in ways that would otherwise be difficult to achieve. For example, how user documentation, wikis and blogs can relate to each other more effectively.
- What interactive dynamic assistance can mean for your organisation
- How DITA can be delivered dynamically using XQuery and XML databases
- About publishing dynamically and avoiding the standard, static outputs created by the DITA Open Toolkit