Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
O'Reilly Mac OS X Con follow-up
Yesterday, Jessica Kahn and I presented a session on how to author for the Apple Help system in Mac OS X, discussing the "how and why" of many of the important features. It was especially rewarding to have an attentive and interested group attend the talk -- many excellent questions during and afterwards.
At the conference's keynote speech by Tim O'Reilly, there was some discussion about paradigm shifts. The built-in Internet support in Help Viewer, I believe, lays some groundwork for a completely different approach to documentation. Many of the people who attended our session seemed to agree. The "old fashioned" notion that a help system is hurriedly created just in time for the shipping product, then frozen in time until the next product revision, is a thing of the past. The Help Viewer's ability to automatically show and update itself with the latest content, with almost no extra effort on behalf of the author, leaves only excuses for documentation that is out-of-date or not constantly improving.
The Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) help system hasn't been available too long, and its auto-updating is mostly invisible to the user. (Well, ahem, aside from that long pause when it opens.) It is great to get to spread the word. The crowd at the OS X Con is forward-thinking and tech-saavy, so in addition to the usual list of capabilities, we spoke of possibilities. I think we'll see some new uses of Apple Help as a result. How wonderful. Well-done, and thank you for the opportunity, O'Reilly.