Thursday, March 18, 2010

March 17 STC IDL SIG Tools Webinar - Notes and Answers to Questions

This post contains answers to questions that I received during my portion of the webinar, and some related notes. Some of the questions that came in apply to several of the tools that were presented so, if I missed your question, feel free to get in touch.

From KB:

Q: I will look the book up. Do you know if Adobe have a user's group for Captivate?

A: Yes – see

Q: is there a way to add a TOC into Captivate?
A: Yes, for an individual movie through the skin editor and for a group of movies through the aggregator.

Q: I found that the online captivate training is a little lacking. Can you recommend a good book to purchase to learn Captivate 4?

A: Look on Amazon for the books by Brenda Huettner and Kevin Siegel.

Q: Would like more on Captivate. Maybe another longer seminar with just Neil. A session dedicated to best practices on questions in Captivate would be a suggestion.
A: Something might be arranged thru the SIG at a later date, but that wouldn’t be for a while. In the meantime, if you’re near Philadelphia, I’m doing a half-day Captivate 4 workshop for them at their annual conference next Saturday - I’m doing the same half-day workshop again at the annual conference in Dallas, and a regular session on Captivate as well. If you can’t get to any of those sessions, email me offline and we can look at other options.

From MA:

Q: Would you quickly run through the differences between version 3 and 4?

A: The main changes, IMO, are the addition of a “review” output based on AIR that lets reviewers comment electronically, project templates as a part of the app itself, variables, customization via “advanced actions” and Flash-based “widgets”, movie tables of contents, multi-movie tables of contents created the aggregator which replaces the old MenuBuilder. Take a look at the Captivate 4 page on the Adobe site for a complete listing.

Q: I have trouble getting true video files to play within the Captivate movie once it's published & moved to a different location (intranet)--can you speak to that?

A: I’d need to know more about the types of video files you’re using – “true video” – before I could take a stab at this. Feel free to email offline if you’d like.

Q: Can you speak more about the "game" usage?

A: Basically, introducing an element of play to the learning process. Beyond that, I’d need to know a bit more about what you’re thinking of.

From LS:

Q: Can we see a question slide inserted?

A: Done. LMK if you had any questions about what I did.

From JR:

Q: Will any of these publish to Silverlight, WMV or other Microsoft formats?

A: Captivate will not. MadCap Mimic will publish to Silverlight, and I think Camtasia will also but you’d have to verify that on the TechSmith site.

Again, feel free to email offline if necessary.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thoughts on “Context-Sensitivity” and Dynamic Output Reconfiguration

I wrote the 2010 trends article for STC Intercom magazine. One of my predictions there was the emergence of “dynamically reconfigurable output,” which I took from an item in the News Digest section of an issue of ComputerWorld from around 2005. That item’s take was that XML, and xMetal in particular, could let us do cool things, such as creating online information that was sensitive to its “context.”

If you’re in tech comm, you may have been doing context sensitive online help systems – that know where you are in the application and display only relevant information – so what’s the big deal? But that wasn’t the idea of the item in ComputerWorld.

The idea there was online information that changed depending on its context, the example being an aircraft service manual whose content changed automatically based on whether the temperature was above or below freezing. (So this manual served two “audiences”.) Or consider smart phone and mobile device apps whose display mode shifts from portrait to landscape automatically, depending on whether the device is horizontal or vertical. (So this manual also serves two “audiences”.)

From tech comm’s perspective, this idea of “context sensitivity” has two interesting angles.

First is simply the idea that “context” means different things to different people and we in tech comm can no longer take that meaning for granted. (The article Context Matters by Beth Schultz, in the September 21/28 2009 issue of ComputerWorld, discussed “context” as the tagging of equipment in a hospital to define its location and make it easier to find. Anyone hired to do “context sensitive help” for that hospital who assumed the standard meaning of “context sensitive” would run the risk of creating the wrong project.)

Second, and odder, is the idea of dynamic reconfiguration as a means of serving different audiences, like below-/above-freezing or horizontal/vertical in the examples above. Such situations are easy to handle using today’s help authoring tools – create one project and, using conditionality and other single sourcing features, generate one version of the output for each audience. We then leave it to some other mechanism to direct users to the right version of the help depending on the circumstances – temperature, physical orientation, etc.

The problem with the multi-output approach is that it’s cumber- some. We have to create one output per audience, which can become challenging as the number of outputs grows. Better to create one output that can modify itself.

We’re slowly heading there. Mark Logic ran a webinar in October 2009 entitled “Dynamic Delivery Is Where It’s At: Custom Documentation From Multiple Formats” that offered some possibilities. And I’ve been told about various proprietary, code-level experiments in online help authoring. I’m just not aware of any developments at the help authoring tool level yet.

If you’re aware of any work on dynamic output reconfiguration using help authoring tools or as proprietary, code-level experiments that can be discussed, I’d love to hear about them on general principles, or possibly as an Intercom column or, if you can get to me between before March 19, possibly as a proposal for the Beyond the Bleeding Edge session at the annual STC conference.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

“Beyond the Bleeding Edge” is Back, and Looking for Proposals!

(for STC's annual Tech Comm Summit (aka annual conference) in Dallas, May 2 to 5.)

Sometime between now and May of 2010, might you…

…develop one online document conditionalized to be viewed on a desktop PC and an iPhone?

…create a document containing dynamically customizable content?

…create a hybrid document?

…perform a hard-dollar cost-justification of your documentation group’s work?

…or do something else that’s bleeding edge, and applicable to technical communication?

Many technical communicators are hard-put to keep up with the daily grind, let alone have time to look into emerging technologies. “Beyond the Bleeding Edge”, which debuted at the 1999 annual conference, addresses this by presenting summaries of technologies and methodologies that are too new or unusual to make it into traditional Summit sessions. After a three year hiatus, “Beyond the Bleeding Edge” is back and looking for presenters for the Tech Comm Summit in Dallas.

Is there a technology or methodology that you’d like to discuss? It can be:

· New… Are you creating online help that can change its contents depending on the outside air temperature?

· Existing, but fairly new to technical communicators, like physical context-sensitivity for mobile devices.

To be accepted, a “Bleeding Edge” topic must be fairly new as of early 2010. A “Bleeding Edge” presentation should be:

· Short – You’ll have about 20 minutes to cover your topic and take questions.
· Informal – Attendees prefer handouts but this is at your discretion.
· Level-appropriate – You can cover a topic at whatever technical level you consider necessary as long as you warn attendees what to expect.

If you enjoy new topics and like to discuss them, we want to hear from you. Send your proposals to Neil Perlin, Hyper/Word Services, or 978-657-5464 by March 19, 2010. There are only three slots this year, on Wednesday, May 5, from 8 to 9:15 AM. Slots fill up quickly, so don’t delay!