More Website-like Webhelp

Nothing is perfect! This is where you can post your ideas and wishes for functions you'd like to see in Help & Manual. Current version only please (H&M7).

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More Website-like Webhelp

Unread postby Tobias Escher » Sat Jul 30, 2016 9:50 am

I hope it is ok to post this, since it directly references a competitor to H+M, but I found no better example for what I am after.
If this is not ok, just delete.

The current WebHelp output from H+M looks basically like a "regular" chm help. A side bar with topics and a content area.
I would love to have templates that work more like websites, with, for example a top navigation, a bit search box freely placable on the site, etc..
The best example I could find is Flare's own help:

My biggest "gripes" with the way H+M handles WebHelp are:
- No ability to have an inline menu with subtopics like here: ... _Tools.htm (right of the content). One needs to manually create these link lists even though H+M should be to create them on the fly because it knows which subtopics are there.
- No split navigation. Top Layer at the top, all sublevels in a sidebar
- Static "Frames" concept instead of a single site
- No fixed width in WebHelp. There seems to be no way to say "content area should be at most 900px wide" or so.

I absolutely LOVE H+M, but the limited WebHelp and PDF capabilities always leave me looking at alternatives. What prevents me from switching is the huge prive of them. Even H+M is half a month's wage for me which I had to pay myself :)

Maybe H+M 8 could have some focus on making nice WebHelp and PDF? Or maybe an additional premium pack that can replicate these more rich sites?
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Re: More Website-like Webhelp

Unread postby Martin Wynne » Sat Jul 30, 2016 11:54 am

Hi Tobias,

Did you get PagePlus on offer? You can create web site pages looking like that one from Flare. If you have H&M PP3 you can create field-level topics and embedded Help which can then be inserted into your web page. PP3 also supports the right-hand sub-menus.

In PagePlus, Insert > Interactive > HTML, enter the H&M code for a field-level topic, then click and drag where you want it on the page. Then File > Publish As > HTML.

For myself I think I prefer the classic two-column look. Today's trendy always turns into tomorrow's old-hat. Often within 5 minutes.

But what I am trying to do is to get short H&M topics to appear as callouts in self-pausing interactive FBR videos. An FBR video can replace hours of typing explanations, and can be distributed like EWriter as a separate viewer and updateable content.


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Re: More Website-like Webhelp

Unread postby Tim Green » Mon Aug 01, 2016 6:04 am

I agree with Martin here: You have to be very careful about adding such "cool" features. The main problem with them is that they are primarily designed as selling points and to look cool at technical writer conferences, and not to provide actual benefits to the user. And you will notice that while companies like Flare do make use of them because it's part of their advertising, product documentation making use of these features is as rare as hen's teeth.

It is a little like video documentation. For a while that was the new big thing at tech writer conferences, just as "website layout" is currently. It was pushed very hard and was going to transform technical documentation. It never did. And it never did because the technical writers went home and started to try to actually make video documentation, and they all had their big "Oh...." moment very quickly. Making video documentation is hard, and it takes special skills and even if you have those special skills (which 95% of all technical writer's don't even begin to have) it takes a long long time. I have a lot of friends in the film industry -- one of my best friends here in Cologne is head of the cutting department at the International Film School. She says that even if you have great source material, you should estimate a full 8-hour day for cutting a maximum of 5 minutes of video, even for a low-grade production, and more like 2 minutes for professional quality output. And that is for a professional cutter with years of experience, and does not include actually producing the source material that you're going to cut, which takes just as long or longer than doing the final editing.

The problems with these cute little sidebars are similar. You may not realize it, but they are going to create a huge amount of additional work for the author. You're going to have to start planning complex logic to define what topics are going to be displayed in the sidebar at what point. This is going to fail a lot of the time even if you do plan it, and just as with videos doing the planning is going to take so long that the majority of authors are going to give up on it very quickly. For those who don't, the results will only even approach being useful for the user if the author has the logical discipline and multi-level oversight of an experienced programmer -- otherwise they will be hiding necessary information from the user at the wrong time and showing them things they don't need at the right time.

From the user's point of view things tend to be more confusing with these layouts rather than less. Having access to the full TOC may be "old" but it's there because it works. It allows the user to access anything they want in the entire documentation quickly and easily. Without it, they must depend on what either search or the logical associations planned by the author turn up. They no longer have the option of browsing themselves. Certainly, it looks very cool in a PowerPoint presentation, but making it actually work well is very very hard. Even making it work as well as the existing TOC solution is very very hard; making it work better requires exceptional skills on the part of the author.

None of this means that we will never implement ideas like this. But our focus is on what works, and what is going to be actually used on a long-term basis by working technical writers in the real world, not on what looks cool at a tech writers conference.
Tim (EC Software Documentation & User Support)

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Please do not email or PM me with private support requests -- post to the forum directly.
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Re: More Website-like Webhelp

Unread postby cindynotbrady » Fri Dec 01, 2017 7:15 pm

Ugh. Why hadn't I read this earlier. We got caught up in the "cool" look of Flare, but I'm already regretting it. It is not nearly as user friendly as HelpAndManual. In some ways it's like take a step back into DreamWeaver. They have limited help/additional features for CHM. I can't even get an item to quickly "not include in build." Their help for CHM comes down to basically: "It isn't supported." Blah!

And I totally see how the side-nav could be a total headache for writers. They also like to toot their horn about their search, but it's really no different than the search H&M has, but at least with H&M, I can quickly mesh with Zoom Indexer to anticipate better search results.
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