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Author Topic: Need something that doesn't exist: online help authoring system w/UI object ref  (Read 2254 times)

JavaJones

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Hello again everyone. It's been, um... 2 years since I posted here? I missed this place. :D I hope I'll have time again to stick around, we'll see. But for now I need this magical community's rabid genius to bend to my will and find me something that I don't think exists. If you just want to read my software request, skip down to the bold bit below. ;)

Right, so the quick back story is I'm working at a software publisher, on a complicated piece of software, and it's part of my job to handle documentation. Or at least to manage it. I'm sorry to say I hate doing it, it's my least favorite part of the job.

One of the most laborious parts of it involves documenting the whole UI and the many unique "objects" in the software. For this task I've been using Dr. Explain, a frequent feature on this forum last I was here. I'm usually a free/open source software kind of guy, but this one I bought. It seemed very unique at the time; still is from what I know. And overall it's been a pretty good solution, despite some quirks and limitations. The automatic screenshot capture and labeling of UI elements is priceless for a job like this. I'll show you why: http://www.planetsid...uk/docs/tg2/noderef/

The problem is it's clearly not finished, and there's a long way to go. Dr. Explain did half the job quickly, capturing and labeling all the controls. Thumbs up there. But now there is scads of writing to do. And I don't want to do it alone. The problem has been that I am really the bottle neck. I'm not the only one who knows the software, not even the one who necessarily knows it best. Others on the team certainly know particular areas better than I and could directly contribute their expertise... if only they could edit the thing directly.

Shuttling around Dr. Explain files just isn't feasible. Nevermind that one of the devs mostly runs on a Mac, it's just not a functional way to collaborate. Not to mention that I've frankly found Dr. Explain to be a bit cumbersome and unstable with files the size I've got going here (over 100 nodes documented, each with upwards of 50 controls, plus the rest of the UI).

So, finally, to the software request: Basically what I want is a collaborative, online help authoring system, similar to a Wiki or knowledgebase, but with a decent WYSIWYG editor and - here's where it gets tricky - somehow the ability to reference specific UI controls on screenshots of parts of the UI. The whole mouseover graphic box thing that Dr. Explain does isn't necessary - normal tooltips/mouseover effects would be fine - but I do want the control to link to its explanatory text easily and quickly. Maybe even a nice lightbox effect with pop-up explanation.

Basically I want Dr. Explain, but online and collaborative. Ideally this would also include the ability to capture UI controls like Dr. Explain does. The grand vision would see it done as a Java applet that would work cross-platform. Or, if not that, then a sophisticated browser plugin or web-based app, like Techsmith's Jing. But I think that's going a bit far.

Anyway, do-able? Does it perhaps already exist even? If it doesn't, heck I'd even pay a decent sum to kick start development. I think this thing could be useful to a lot of people.

Feel free to reply if you know of a solution or if you don't! Even posting to say you too would find this useful would be helpful.

Thanks everyone!

- Oshyan

JavaJones

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Ah well, it seems either no one was interested in this, or no one had an answer. But I thought I'd update just in case anyone has a similar problem.

I've continued to research and essentially concluded - perhaps not surprisingly - that a wiki is the best currently available option. What I realized is that it should be fairly easy to include image map functionality in a wiki. In fact there are plugins for both MediaWiki and DocuWiki that do just that. The task now is converting Dr. Explain's output (HTML image maps) to wiki syntax for these plugins. I think it may be quite do-able. This could end up as a surprisingly effective solution. In combination with a WYSIWYG editor it will be a nearly complete solution.

Still, I've never entirely embraced wikis. They've always felt clunky to me. We'll see how well this works out...

I'm also still hoping to find a free/open source, or at least cheaper, stand-alone application that does the kind of UI screenshot auto-labeling that Dr. Explain can do. If anyone has any advice on that it would be great. How cool would it be to see that added to ScreenshotCaptor?  :D

- Oshyan

mouser

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Oshyan,

Sorry i didn't reply earlier -- is great to see you posting again.  Yeah i don't have a great solution to you, but your proposed solution actually sounds interesting and I'm very curious to hear how it turns out.

I've thought about adding that feature to Screenshot Captor.. though i fear that the # of people who would actually make use of it is really tiny.

JavaJones

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I think you might be surprised how popular such a feature would be. I'm not aware of any other stand-alone apps that can do it, and it's immensely useful for documentation purposes. Technical writers would love it (I know of one in my own house :D). It may just be a matter of connecting with the right audience...

- Oshyan

Perry Mowbray

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+1 for me: if you're counting  :)

fenixproductions

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+1 for me: if you're counting  :)
From me too :)