Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Smart Buckets and onscreen documentation
Michael L. Nelson's dissertation "Buckets: Smart Objects for Digital Libraries" explores a collection of documents where each piece of content is wrapped in a "smart bucket" that provides a consistent, flexible way of accessing and displaying the document's contents. In contrast to most archival systems, where the organization, meta-data, and display methods live separate from the documents, in Nelson's system the documents are autonomous and carry their "smarts" with them.
This idea, if implemented by authors of onscreen documentation, would allow a customer to assemble their own reference library that is more easily accessible than today's frustrating mix of PDF, HTML, plain text, and Help files. The long, but interesting, QuickTime movies by Nelson demonstrate the flexibility and universal-access such an approach might bring, with only the addition of a simple front-end to the library.
See also "Communications of the ACM, May 2001, pgs 60-62.