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Oh, this is not a good idea

[Update: According to Aseem, comments are back on and turning them off was unintentional.]

In an earlier post, I linked to a blog posting from the Adobe Product Manager for FrameMaker, who requested product suggestions via meetings and email. But, unsurprisingly, the requests went into the comments. And most of the commenters are asking for a Mac version. And now we have this (from a comment on my post):

It appears the ability to comment on that post has been turned off. If I had been allowed to comment, here is what I would have written.
[another request for Mac support with a detailed recommendation on how to do it]

I suppose that it’s possible that Adobe’s blog system limits each entry to 16 comments?


Probably not.

I don’t think that a flood of “gimme back my Mac” was what Aseem was looking for. (Hi, Aseem!)

Blogs are a two-way conversation. Sometimes, the person you’re talking with changes the subject. And hitting the mute button is really not the best way to deal with that.

[I will now await a flood of comments that will make me eat my words.]

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And now, a word from FrameMaker product management…

Posted today on the Adobe TechComm blog by Aseem Dokania, FrameMaker product manager:

I have noticed discussions on some blogs and mailing lists regarding the future of FrameMaker. Let me assure you, as the Product Manager of FrameMaker, that FrameMaker is here to stay. We would do what it takes to keep FrameMaker at the leading edge of technology.

Aseem also requests feedback, and I know my readers have opinions, so get those comments going, either here or directly on his post.

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Pod people and RoboHelp

The RoboHelp reviews keep coming, and they’re getting ugly. DMN Communications says in their podcast that the new release of RoboHelp shows “almost contempt” for RoboHelp users (approximately 12:30 into the podcast).

On a more constructive note, the podcasters speculate about the lack of integration of RoboHelp with FrameMaker. They point out that RoboHelp’s competitor, Flare, imports native FrameMaker files, whereas RoboHelp requires use of the intermediate MIF (Maker Interchange Format) files. One of the speakers then muses, “Does Adobe’s agreement with Quadralay [to include WebWorks Publisher Standard Edition in the box with FrameMaker] preclude them from integrating RoboHelp?” (11:40)

I don’t know the answer to this question. Random guesses are so much more fun than the generally mundane truth (whatever that might be).

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There’s no such thing as bad publicity, or so the saying goes.

But RoboHelp is trying.

MonkeyPi weighs in with his, er, unique style. In a lengthy discussion of a recent Adobe webinar on RoboHelp, he says this:

But the kicker comes when [Adobe product evangelist] Jacquez says, “…the closest [online help tool] to RH is Microsoft’s HTML Help Workshop.” The clear implication is that RoboHelp is teh awesome, and teh other toolz are teh suxors. Why even Micro$oft’s crappy free tool places higher then our pathetic competitors!!

Adobe says that their competitors’ claims were misleading:

Jacquez says, “…competitors telling people that [RH] is dead… one has to wonder what the competition is going to say when their customers begin to return their product because they bought it under the pretense that RH was dead.”

Let’s get something very clear here. After Macromedia bought eHelp, they killed RoboHelp. RoboHelp was dead — Macromedia was interested in RoboDemo (now Captivate) and not in any other component of eHelp’s product line. So, they laid off most of the RoboHelp team.

Enter MadCap. Many of the ex-RoboHelp people thought that there was still a market for a help authoring tool, so they formed the new MadCap Software and built Flare. And much of Flare’s marketing was based on the idea that 1) RoboHelp is not going to have any updates and 2) Flare is the natural successor to RoboHelp.

Fine. But then Adobe bought Macromedia. And Adobe does have a significant presence in the technical writing market, so suddenly the strategy changes. Adobe decides to resurrect RoboHelp.

All of this makes perfect sense. And there’s nothing particularly nefarious about what happened. RoboHelp didn’t make sense in Macromedia’s web-heavy product line-up. RoboHelp can make sense for Adobe, especially if they market RoboHelp, Captivate, Acrobat, and FrameMaker as a core set of technical writing tools, along with Photoshop, Illustrator, DreamWeaver, Flash, Acrobat 3D, and others for more specialized requirements. You can see some of this positioning beginning to happening in the Adobe webinar.

Meanwhile, though, response to RoboHelp 6 has been, at best, mixed. One day after MonkeyPi’s dissection of the webinar, we have 10 Reasons Not to Upgrade to RoboHelp 6 at I’d Rather Be Writing. They include the following (read Tom’s blog for an explanation of each item):

1. Communication from Adobe is bleak.
4. Not compatible with Word 2007.
5. Requires at least 15 macros to clean up [print] output
9. Interface is 1996.
10. Its apparent ease of use is only because you’ve been using it for 10 years.

The writer seems particular offended by Adobe’s lack of response to questions and comments during the webinar and on their new TechComm blog:

[…] Adobe’s RoboHelp blogger either is totally clueless about responding to comments, or he doesn’t understand that a blog is not a PR marketing vehicle. […] Sorry Adobe, but you really get a D when it comes to communication.

This is interesting. Five years ago this would have been a non-issue — obviously Adobe gets to control the content of marketing communications on their web site. No more.

As I use RoboHelp about once every five years, I don’t really have an opinion on the merits of the tool. But I am watching the blog-kerfluffle with some interest, especially as I wonder what reaction to FrameMaker will look like, when they release their next version, probably in mid-2007 (according to public statements from RJ Jacquez).

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Authoring styles and art

Norm Walsh tackles topic-oriented authoring and makes a comparison to art.

Imagine that instead of authors, we were painters. In the narrative style, a painter (or perhaps a group of painters) begins at one side of the canvas and paints it from beginning to end (from left-to-right and top-to-bottom). They may not paint it in a strictly linear fashion, but the whole canvas (the narrative whole) is always clearly in view.

Interesting point, and he uses an image of a Vincent Van Gogh painting, chopped into unattractive bits to illustrate what goes wrong in topic-oriented authoring. The flow of the picture is lost.

But what if your content more closely resembles something by Mondrian?

one of Piet Mondrian's cube paintings

Writing useful technical documentation is really, really hard. Using a narrative flow makes it a little easier to ensure that you’ve got the big picture — missing information jumps out at you just as Norm’s chopped-up painting shows.

But topic-based authoring has advantages, too.

Do you need those connections from piece to piece or can individual parts stand on their own?

Are your documents Mondrian or Van Gogh?

I hope for your sake that the product you’re documenting does not resemble Jackson Pollock‘s work.

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VC pitch template

This week, I attended the Southeast Venture conference, held at the new Umstead Hotel in Cary, North Carolina. The conference was only about two miles from our office and the opportunity to see this brand-new, five-star aspiring hotel was too good to pass up. (Hard to justify staying there when home is less than 20 minutes away…)

The conference included a series of 10-minute pitches from various companies looking for funding.

After seeing a couple dozen of these sessions, I have put together a helpful template for anyone looking to do a demo pitch.

First, be sure to use the following phrases:

  • “addressable market is over $X billion”
  • “unique value proposition”
  • “sustainable advantage”
  • “barriers to entry”
  • “strong intellectual property assets”

Then, you’ll need two charts. The first one shows revenue and looks like this:
Revenue from 0 today to $50 million at some future date
The second one shows profits and looks like this:
Profits currently zero, drop to negative, then increase to $50 million at some future date
So. Hockey stick and check mark. It’s all very simple.

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A business built on accessibility

In this month’s issue of Inc. Magazine (which I read religiously), you’ll find a feature article on Anna Bradley, who runs a business called Criterion 508 Solutions. (Unfortunately, the full article isn’t available online until later this month, but you can see the abstract here.)

My interest in the article is personal — one of the Criterion contractors featured in the article is Brian Walker, who I know from his presentations on accessibility at WritersUA. Congratulations, Brian!

Web site accessibility has been in the news recently because of the lawsuit. (Target’s web site has major accessibility problems.) Ms. Bradley points out that making web sites accessible is inexpensive — certainly cheaper than litigation and horrid publicity (i.e. “Target doesn’t care about blind people”) — and furthermore, an accessible web site allows an organization to increase the number of customers that use the site. In other words, from a business standpoint, it’s pretty easy to justify spending money to ensure that more people will be able to buy things from you.

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