Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
At IDBlog, "McBlogging" wonders if wireless Internet access at McDonald's (and similar places) will create a new context for information designers to address.
When speaking of Help, "contextual" usually means providing documentation that is appropriate for the current state of the software. For example, if the SurfWriter application is active and the Style dialog open, then Help should open with information about changing paragraph settings; the most likely task the user is attempting under these circumstances.
In most cases, that's about as "contextually-aware" as Help ever gets. If the help system had additional information available, such as knowing the user is wirelessly-connected to a public access point, could this be exploited for a better Help experience? I think it might, depending on the subject. In the case of SurfWriter, perhaps only the presentation of the Help is changed -- providing smaller chunks as suggested by IDBlog. But if the Help is for a network tool then there's a chance that the Help content could change to be more applicable to the user's situation. Thinking about useful changes to Help, based on the user's location and environment, is an interesting gedankenexperiment.