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© 2010 Ugur Akinci
Alan Porter of WebWorks help authoring software has released a new white paper titled “Delivering Help for Today’s Web” which can be ordered from firstname.lastname@example.org
Porter raises a number of important issues that I’ve also been thinking about for some time.
It’s true that yesterday’s static help file system is losing its utility fast — especially if it’s not context-sensitive. If when you press the F1 key all you get is a static HTML or PDF file, then that kind of “user assistance” system has very little use indeed.
But even context-sensitive files are getting out of date for one very simple reason: we are now in the age of user participation and social networking where “learning” has become a “participatory event.”
The outcome is usually measured as much in terms of “user satisfaction” as the good’old fashioned criterion of “important facts delivered.”
Yesterday’s model of pushing “facts” out of a static database into client machines are long gone.
For one thing, even the machines themselves have changed. Gone are the big static desk tops, and even laptop. The trend is for mobile phones and mobile “pads” and “readers” of all kinds. And the new generation who are using these mobile gadgets want interactivity. They not only want their searchable information whenever they want but also on any gadget of their choice.
A wiki system comes to mind, but perhaps less complicated, and something that can be attached to any software package on any platform. Easier to use and contribute to. Something that would exist in and accessible from a “cloud” of servers instead of the traditional static HTML servers.
Yet all this does not answer the all-important questions of security, authenticity, and veracity.
SECURITY — how are we going to secure proprietary or confidential information in an environment where all participates and contributes freely?
AUTHENTICITY — when identity is r4educed down to an arbitrary user name and “avatar,” who will guarantee the authenticity of the information received, or created?
VERACITY — how are we going to know that something is “true” when increased participation implicitly recognizes every actor’s potential authority in way that the idea of a “cyber democracy” was perhaps never supposed to work?
The help systems of today need to be enriched through reader inputs via social networking platforms like Twitter, Facebook etc. but I do not believe the above three questions have been answered yet to everyone’s satisfaction.
These questions may sound moot if the help system in question is that of a cookbook or a home-entertainment system. But when we think of such mission-critical systems as passenger airlines, power plants, banks and financial institutions, and defense installations … then the distance we need to go in the direction of a “Web 2.0 Help Platform” becomes obvious.
Imagine yourself in an airplane, circling over an airport due to a mechanical problem.
Would you like your captain refer to a factory-installed and sealed proprietary help system written by engineers and professional tech writers back at the factory…
a “very popular” one put together in the form of a “wiki” and modified on a daily basis by tens of thousands of self-proclaimed “aeronautics and powered-flight experts” over the Internet?
Ultimately, that’s the tough but significant question we all need to answer in the near future without any equivocation…
What do you think about all this? Please feel free to share and comment…