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May 2, 2006

Standard for user assistance?

There’s growing interest in establishing a standard for user assistance. Microsoft’s announcement that Vista will not include a new help viewer may be largely responsible.

To me, though, there’s a bigger issue. If you have a requirement to deliver cross-browser, cross-platform help, your output choices are constrained by your authoring tool:

But why should this be? What if you like the WebHelp interface better than WebWorks Help, but you have content in FrameMaker and need to use WebWorks Publisher to output your help?

Some vendors have put a significant amount of effort into creating cross-browser, cross-platform help. One company, Omni Systems, has made their OmniHelp format available as an open source download.

OASIS has now announced the formation of a new User Assistance Discussion List:

The User Assistance Discussion List is a place for members of the user
assistance and technical communications community to define the
requirements for a User Assistance Authoring standard based upon XML.
The availability of such a standard could simplify interoperability
between authoring, help output and content management systems. The
standard would be based upon XML in order to allow content reuse,
multi-channel publishing and other forms of single-sourcing. The
standard could help to bring some order to the variety of
platform-specific and company-specific help formats in existence.

The list and its archives are open to everybody. Anyone who wishes to
participate may do so by sending a message to
[email protected].

I’m going to refrain from making jokes about herding cats. Oops.