Re: The ultimate help system

Tom Musgrove wrote:

> I have an interest in substantially improving the help systems that are
> provided for Free software.  Specifically, I'd like to make them easier to
> use, and more useful for both power and new users and reduce the number of
> 'stupid'/'repetive' questions that are asked in the IRC channels.
> First my critique of current help systems
> The reason users use help as a last resort, is that help is generally almost
> USELESS to users who are not skilled at picking the search terms that the
> help creator used.  Instead, they will ask someone who is knowledgeable
> about what they want to do, or is good at searching help.  Another reason
> that users use help as a 'last resort' is that there is a fairly good chance
> that what they want to do may not be explained in the Help.  The third
> reason is that help does not necessarily explain the answer in such a way
> that the user can understand.
> In order to solve the above problems, I propose the following
> 1) synonym mapping of search queries
> If a trusted developer can map the search terms that a typical user types to
> more accurate terms, then a large step towards eliminating the problem of
> using different search terms from the help creator can be made.  I'd guess
> that 50% of the time that naive users don't find the help that they are
> looking for is because the term that they are searching on is not the same
> as what the help document author used.
> To make it even more useful, fuzzy matching can be used for misspelled words
> (another common problem with searches by unskilled searchers...) or
> alternatively offer other potential spellings (as is done on some of the
> popular search engines such as google.)
> 2) help linked to IRC
> If the query doesn't immediately find what the user was looking for, the
> question can be submitted to a IRC help channel (one populated with
> 'trusted' respondents so that they don't get profanity, etc. as a response).
> The IRC person then searches help and maps the question to the question
> listed in the help (if the answer exists in help).  The question then goes
> to a database to be added to the help system on the next update.
> If the query does not exist, then the following can be done...
> a)  Request more information - the IRC person creates a yes/no question for
> the user to solicit more information
> again, submitted to the database for future reference (this would be similar
> to the Microsoft guided help...)
> b)  Create a tutorial on how to solve the problem - this could be a script
> description generated from actually doing the action, with comments
> inserted.
> Thus for 'how can I make my text bold faced' - I would select text, click on
> the bold font character.
> Two scripts would be generated, one a text description as above, the other a
> visual hint system, that would highlight the next action to be done.  Thus a
> small box near the text say 'highlight text'.  Then after the text is
> highlighted, a box above the boldface icon 'click on icon'.  This would also
> be amendable to text to speech (TTS) software as well.  This could also use
> the custom mappings of the user, so they can use their keybindings in the
> explanation...
> This addresses all of the problems above, and could save tech people and
> users many hundreds of hours.  Tech support at some companies would likely
> voluntarily hang out in the IRC help room (or be required by management..).
> 3) submit more information
> if the help person in the IRC channel does not have sufficient information,
> then a button can be used that submits a screenshot of the users program.
> Also, a brief listing of current software can be submitted (I.e. - I am
> using Debian Potatoe version with Gnome version fuz.baz, etc.)
> This can avoid the problem of having the user look up the assorted
> information themselves, and save the tech and the user time.
> 4) put my computer in the users state
> The above info can be used to put the techs computer in a state similar to
> the users computer temporarily.  (the degree to which this can be done will
> certainly vary, but at least going to the same window manager with the same
> programs open might be useful...).
> Of course once the user has been helped, the question and the solution can
> be added to the help system (if not automagically, then with a small amount
> of clean up, or with a review by a 'trusted' developer).
> I sincerely believe that this might cut the amount of time spent helping new
> users and solving problems on free software operating systems substantially.
> This would also give us a significant edge in ease of problem solving over
> many of the commercial software systems.
> I'd appreciate your thoughts and comments,
> Tom M.
> TomM pentstar com

Add this one too:

5) A build environment for the developers to assist in developing the project
documentation, if possible as a bonobo component.

Yes, This is really a great idea. I've been thinking to have a "Gnome Help
Constructor Module" inside Anjuta IDE, but didn't get anywhere as the present
"Gnome Help System" looks more like a static page viewer rather than an actual
help system.

I would also like to participate in this project for three good reasons:

      1) To implement the "Gnome Help Constructor Module" in Anjuta IDE
          requires the detailed knowledge of the  proposed help system.

      2) Developing the 'Help system' and the 'Help constructor' in parallel
          will be much better considering the fact that both actually will be
          playing in the same pond.

      3) I had enough frustrations with the present help system.

The propose for the system as a bonobo component is debatable,
if you consider the current state of Bonobo development.



Was my SOY LOAF left out in th'RAIN?  It tastes REAL GOOD!!

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