Thursday, October 21, 2010

W3C Mobile Web Best Practices and HAT-Based Mobile – Part 5

Next, a recommendation that applies to a common feature in online help and doc, popups.

13. [POP UPS] – Do not cause pop-ups or other windows to appear and do not change the current window without informing the user.

The first part, about pop-ups or other windows, is what most applies to tech comm. The W3C states “Many mobile devices cannot support more than one window… attempting to open one will have unpredictable results.”

It’s safe to assume that, for now, the mobile devices we use can’t show popups. Trying to open a popup may produce an error message, as in RoboHelp’s ePub, get converted to a jump link, as in Flare’s WebHelp Mobile, or do something else unpredictable. But popups are common in online documents and online help. What do we do?

The answer is to back up to the top level of abstraction and define two things, our project's outputs and their priority. We’ll then define a feature set based on the priorities. For example, do we want online help and hard-copy, with online having top priority? If so, we’ll define a feature set that’s best for online but may not convert to and work as well in hard-copy. If our priorities change, the feature set may have to change to match. (The authoring tool may even have to change.) The crucial thing is to consider how the feature set will work across all the desired outputs, not just focus on the top priority output.

Consider this approach in regard to popups …

• If our outputs are online and mobile and online has top priority, we pick features that are most effective for online and conditionalize them out for mobile. For example, we create popups and use them in the online output but conditionalize them out for the mobile output.

• But if our outputs are online and mobile and mobile has top priority, we may not use features that don’t work in mobile without considering that they do work in online. Ensuring that we consider all the outputs might instead suggest that we create and use popups but still conditionalize them out for the mobile output.

In summary, the question of whether to use popups depends on two things:

• Knowledge of strategic and business issues – what outputs you need, with what priority, and on what devices used in your market.

• Knowledge of technical issues – what microbrowsers or standards are used on your output devices, what help authoring tool features they support, and how those features convert.

It comes down to doing a needs assessment and configuration analysis before starting the project – the same requirements that we’ve always had to deal with but simply taken in a few new directions.

More to come…

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