Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Don't tell me you love me
The iOS app Ember is called out for its unique approach to gathering user feedback. An in-app survey asks for the user's opinion on the app. If they indicate they love it, they're invited to post or tweet about their affection. If they indicate that they find the app confusing, they're directed to RTFM. Or, if they're unhappy, they can send off a poison pen letter via email. Spread the love, indeed.
Are we not men?
Bryan Cantrill, CEO of Joyent, writes about how using gender-specific pronouns in code comments is a firing offense. Is your documentation also gender-neutral? Cantrill's article is well worth reading, as is the train wreck of comments around the issue.
Books aren't dead yet
A recent survey by Voxburner found that 62% of people between 16 and 24 years of age prefer printed books over ebooks. Speculating as to the cause, it may be because physical books are better designed, imbued with some prestige, and offer a better browsing and discovering experience. Frankly, I'm skeptical, and I doubt the fondness carries over to the mundane user guide, but nonetheless there might be some life in the printed word yet.
Simplified iOS 7 screen shots
The OS X utility Status Magic allows you to easily customize the status bar shown in iOS screen shots. This can be very useful for cleaning up unnecessary or distracting icons, such as Bluetooth, battery, and carrier information. It can also be used to harmonize the time shown at the top of every screen. The website Mac Stories has a nice overview.
A stick figure explains cryptography
Jeff Moser, an Indiana-based software engineer, has created A Stick Figure Guide to the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Presented in four acts, it progresses from an everyman description of cryptography to a detailed discussion of the math involved. I particularly enjoyed the well-timed exit of portions of the audience as a way of indicating the increasing degree of specialization behing presented.
Linking: All things in moderation
Gerry McGovern, writing No Link Is an Island: The Problem With Silos on the Web for CIDM, makes the argument that "silos of information" result in confusing navigation and hard-to-find documentation.
McGovern's advice makes sense, but the nature of silos is that you don't have control over your neighbors. So unless you're able to coordinate exceptionally well, sometimes pretending that other sites don't exist is the only way to bring structure and order to your own. It's one of the biggest challenges for technical documentation on the web, I'm sure we'd agree.
See also: To Link or Not to Link
The unspoken meaning of punctuation
UI writers and editors have endless debates about such practices. Many will argue that full sentences must be correctly punctuated. Others are emphatic that tool tips should almost always be sentence fragments. Scrivener is a great app, I use it myself, and after seeing this tweet I explored its many, many Help Tags. The implementation is generally very good (except for that full sentence thing in some cases), and what's going on here, I think, is the bane of Consistency. All the other Help Tags have periods and so must these, even when the tag is only being used to provide a name for an unlabeled control.
Documentation that drains willpower
A must-read article, Your App Makes Me Fat — Serious Pony, describes how cognitive taxation affects willpower. Although primarily a plea for simpler to use apps, the same logic applies to documentation, too. If the tenet that documentation is used only as a last resort is true, then your readers are already drained when they come to what you've written. Will your complex help system and overly-long instructions bleed the last of their rational mind, or will it solve their problem so they can recharge?
Everyone's a tech writer
On the Internet, everyone is a journalist, photographer, and comedian. Now everyone can be a technical writer too. Dozuki, a service that sells hosting services for do-it-yourself instructions, has released a Tech Writing Handbook. Despite the inherent debasement associated with the democratization of a profession, it's quite good.
See also: Dozuki Wants to Host Your Manuals
Neven Morgan's Choose Wisely examines the seemingly simple wording used for accessing the Camera Roll across several different iPhone apps. The argument is made that consistent wording matters not just within your app, but across the platform. Definitely something to consider the next time you're writing UI text for your product.
Reading Usable Help without Google Reader
First off, you have my sincere thanks for reading Usable Help. Although I probably would continue this site even if I were only talking to myself, it's so much more rewarding to know that you're kind enough to grant me a little bit of your thinly-spread attention. I appreciate and always try to honor that.
Hundreds of you have been reading Usable Help through Google Reader. But Google has heartlessly discontinued that service. Personally, I now use Feedbin. If you're looking for a replacement too, I think Feedbin is worth the small expense. But no matter what tool you now use, you can add the Usable Help RSS feed to keep up with the latest postings.
But perhaps you're giving up on RSS entirely or you want to try something new. There are other ways to keep up with Usable Help and I hope that you'll find one of them works for you. You can find Usable Help on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Flipboard. You can also subscribe to the email edition.
Easy online code documentation
DAUX.IO is a script for generating lovely, responsive documentation websites. It eschews complicated markup and tools; you simply create a folder structure with Markdown-formatted pages then use Daux.io to render your site. Although designed for developer documentation, it can be used for other types of information too. The project's documentation, and indeed entire site, serves as an example of what the tool creates.