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July Technical Linkdump 1

Awesome Firefox tip: to jump to the Search box, choose Control K. To move left and right through tabs, do Control – K,  then Tab (that will give focus to your current tab); at this point you can use  the arrow keys to move through all your browser tabs.  (more).  This is a lifesaver. At the moment my lower back and wrist hurt a lot. Any need to move the mouse will hurt. (Don’t worry; I need to take a break and do exercises anyway).

Tom Johnson has written an incredible 17 part series about information design, blogging and technical writing. If I have time I’ll blog more about this piece later. Lots about facets, labeling, reuse, links. I’ll dump some of the comments I have already on his series:

WordPress 3x now will offer more menu control, which should improve navigation considerably.
– one reason Google sucks for finding technical answers is that Google is a commercial enterprise and can easily be gamed.
– facets are interesting, but they are dependent on your help platform. Also they are useful mainly if the users are performing different functions.
– ebooks are an interesting hybrid medium (and one I’m working on right now). Lots of alternate navigation/browsing methods plus better use of hyperlinks.
– agree that mediawiki’s templates make it easier to organize content. But if they are autogenerated (and not watched over by a human editor), they become useless.
–thanks for reminding me that wp search results are in chronological order!
– I think your problem in the first or second part about shallow help pages is a result of a schema like DITA which tends to segment things too narrowly.
– it helps to know how your audience looks for information. A lot of It staff (my target audience) will use search before anything.
– the big problem is that people never know what to search for. All they know is how to describe their problem. I think a glossary can help with that.
– I’m a wordy/prose-oriented person. It was a shock to me when people found it hard to find information in my dense prose. Labels are important — maybe the most important thing…
–that said, for conceptual things, people like content which is a readable chapter.
–hypertextuality has a down side, especially if you need to remove a subset of the docs (for a quick start or something like that).

I agree about the problem of documenting things which are obvious to the user. I’ve written elsewhere that screen shots are unnecessary if the GUI is well-designed and should only be used in special circumstances.

I made this comment about footnotes:

Footnotes have fallen out of favor on the Internet, but they still have an important role to play. If you have checked Wikipedia recently, you will know the reason. Many external links which were added are now dead. Sometimes, valuable information is available online in an offline source like a book or print newspaper. Wikipedia made a decision a few years ago to require that the main text body of their articles link to footnotes at the bottom. The footnotes themselves would contain the hyperlinks to the third party sources.

That is generally a good practice. First, it allows the page citing the source to include bibliographic information in an unobtrusive manner on the bottom of the page. Second, it gives the reader more clues for finding the original source if the third party source has gone offline or if the URL has changed. Sometimes, when the URL has changed on a third party link, if you know the title or some identifying keywords, it can be relatively easy to find the new line if it is still online. Sometimes it is just helpful to keep information about the source on the same page for the reader’s convenience.

While HTML has made it easy to create links to external sources, making footnotes is clumsy and time-consuming (even for people relatively comfortable with HTML). Perhaps the concept of the footnote does not translate well to the browser page; nonetheless,a CMS that automates the use of anchors can simplify the process somewhat of creating and maintaining footnotes.

How  I sued google and won: Part 1 and Part 2.  (He lost on appeal, but he won the moral argument).

Novelist David Rothman wrote a long piece about the potential with the iPad. (I’ll say more about that later).

I recently purchased a license to SnagIt, a souped up screen capture program for $49. In addition to being a good overall product, they have some good video walkthrough demos.  I like Gimp for a lot of simple graphics, but SnagIt anticipates batch jobs and printing tasks.

Here’s a free download to people making print books on Createspace (with generally useful information).

By the way, now that I have an ipad, I do much more reading on my ipad and less on my PC (mostly on Newsrack RSS reader).

Adam Schwabe on designers vs. content producers:

We’ve always made pretty bold proclamations in this industry that Content is King, but it really hasn’t been. Content is all too often considered as an afterthought after wireframes and design comps have been presented to and approved by the client. Relegated to boxes as placeholders and Lorem Ipsum, too many of us take a “do it later” approach with what is most important to the user. People aren’t visiting your site to look at colours and boxes, they’re there for a purpose, and the content should be at the core of any design.

Wireframes and design concepts are much more believable when populated with real content, both to the team creating them and the client reviewing them. Speaking from experience, the worst thing that can happen to me as an Information Architect is when I’m asked to design an experience without any content provided up front. It’s like building a house without having any clue how many people will be living there and decorating it without any regard for the resident’s taste; Ultimately, you’re going to end up with a pretty dry experience, a lot of filler and too much empty space.

Tom Johnson adds:

It’s the same idea that people who wear shirts with a big red x through the words “Lorem Ipsum” are trying to get across. Start with the content first and then create a design for it. Otherwise your design won’t fit the content.

Some technical podcasts worth noting:

I spent 10 minutes trying to find an article I forgot to bookmark. I’ll dump a quote in the next post. But boy! Finding that link was painful—browsing through Firefox’s browser history is painful!

Apparently, a federal appeals court upheld the copyright ruling that upheld the Rule of the Shorter Term. I have updated my Is US Copyright Law hurting Wikipedia? article with this statement:

It looks like a federal appeals court overruled the lower court’s decision about Golan. This latest decision ruled that the Uruguay Rule of the Shorter Term (that put some foreign-produced works in the US public domain back under copyright) was valid. Therefore, Uruguay Round still applies, and those foreign-produced works which were previously in US legal limbo are now safely in US copyright again. Terrible news, and let’s hope the Supreme Court decides to take it. In the meantime, Public Domain Sherpa has a chart which illustrates the complexity of works published overseas. (The famous Hirtle copyright reference chart has not been updated). Wikipedia’s image use templates have been updated accordingly.

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