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Offline rick.ca

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Integrated Help Forum
« on: August 29, 2010, 05:20:21 am »
I think, I will implement some kind of tutorial or online help in version 1.

I hope that will be along the lines of what was discussed early this year in In Line Help.

To summarize, what I advocated there was the use of an HTML compiled Help file created using HelpNDoc. The program would be able to launch the Help and display a contextual topic. That topic could be any HTML resource, which I suggested could be the applicable wiki topic. This approach has three very significant advantages...

1. You would only have to provide the context "hooks" and the code to use them in calling contextual help. There would also be, of course, help menu items linking to more general "how to" topics or tutorials. When adding a new feature in the future, you would just add a new hook, add the corresponding topic to the help file, and link that to an online resource. That resource would likely only be a placeholder at first—because real programmers don't do documentation ;) —but then that resource would be updated by users.

2. All of the help topics would be resources created and maintained online. Instead of being cold, static and becoming obsolete, all topics would be up-to-date and naturally integrated with the online user community.

3. Interested users could install HelpNDoc and modify the help file any way they like.

And now for the best part... The ideal place to host those online resources is right here. You would just create a new "Help" forum that contained a topic for each topic in the help file. The first post in each topic would be the "official" help contact, and would be maintained by moderators. Any user, however, would be able to post to these topics—to ask for clarification, suggest improvements to the topic, post their movies, whatever. I think this would be a great way to integrate the program with what goes on here, and make resources more accessible to all users.

I doubt there would be a flood of user-created documentation, but I can't imagine a system that would make it any easier for everyone to use and contribute to. I imagine each topic being an ongoing discussion—obviously some more active than others. It would be very easy for moderators to copy useful parts of messages posted to the topic and add them to the first post. Users wanting more information than is available in the first post can simply read on. If they still need help, they can post a question right there.

This, of course, begs the question, "What about the wiki?" Well, will version 1 coming and it not being actively maintained, I think we have reason to be concerned. While I very much appreciated the effort that went into it, I believe the lesson has been we really need to find ways to integrate things here. The existing content of the wiki can be used for the initial Help forum topics here.

Offline CAD

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2010, 10:46:01 am »
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This, of course, begs the question, "What about the wiki?"

I have developed a wiki at work (pmwiki).
I have used this to start to create an online help system, that has additional features, like ability to create PDF pages from wiki pages.
see: http://www.videodb.info/forum_en/index.php?topic=1692.msg7736#msg7736
(I can provide my wiki with what I have done if anyone is interested - I don't have the facilities to host any anything)

I researched tiki wiki and it seems to be missing these features amongst others.
Is it feasible / warranted to change current wiki to another one that has extra features.

Who owns the current wiki? How would they feel about a rewrite to make it more PVD centric or changing to a different wiki?

I don't know how using HelpNDoc would work as there would need to be someone central to maintain the master copy.
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Offline rick.ca

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2010, 08:52:48 pm »
The whole point of what I'm suggesting is to provide a way to effectively integrate the program, this forum and helpful documentation of any form. Wiki software that allows the creation of PDF documents does nothing to address the issue. Configuring the wiki (or any alternative wiki) to be "more PVD centric" (whatever that means) does nothing to address the issue. Using SMF (once 2.0 is released [Edit:] I was mistaken in believing this was a new SMF 2.0 feature—t's available now, as stated below) to host documentation (as illustrated here) would provide much integration, but even that wouldn't address the most important aspect of the issue.

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Who owns the current wiki? How would they feel about a rewrite to make it more PVD centric or changing to a different wiki?

Nostra is the "owner." The creator and host, cwdean, has not been here for a year, and it's been even longer than that since he's logged into the wiki. That, combined with the fact the wiki is not being used much anyway, is the reason for my concern. It's been a useful experiment, but the unavoidable conclusion is that no wiki is going to work very well in our circumstances.

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I don't know how using HelpNDoc would work as there would need to be someone central to maintain the master copy.

HelpNDoc is not important. It's just a free tool available for creating compiled HTML help files. According to my proposal, the help file would only contain links from the program hooks to topics in a forum. They would be organized in a hierarchical manner—a table of contents. Other than that, it would be virtually maintenance-free. That, too, is a primary goal in what I'm suggesting. Unlike wikis, this would integrate perfectly into what we're already doing here, and would completely remove the requirement to maintain a separate facility. But most importantly, it would bring together all users in their help communications.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2010, 05:35:15 am by rick.ca »

Offline CAD

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2010, 01:53:13 am »
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Configuring the wiki (or any alternative wiki) to be "more PVD centric" (whatever that means) does nothing to address the issue.

I disagree. I have had great success with developing a wiki in at work. It does need to be focused on its purpose for existing and needs someone to take ownership and drive it.

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more PVD centric" (whatever that means)
I mean by this, all the crap needs to be removed and content focused on PVD.
IMO -The wiki focus should be more of a Content Management System with wiki features.

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the help file would only contain links from the program hooks to topics in a forum. They would be organized in a hierarchical manner—a table of contents.
I see some flaws here:
* someone needs to maintain the links in the forum
* multiple posts would need to be maintained.
* users would need to wade through multiple posts to fin the information they are after.

Document management is always contentious. No one like writing "how to" doco.
From experience, I think a wiki style system would work. it needs to be focused and have features to do other stuff (like act as a CMS, produce pdfs etc). The forum still exists to discuss and fix etc, but when a solution is found, all the discussion is removed and the core solution is added to the wiki.
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Offline rick.ca

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2010, 02:54:28 am »
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* someone needs to maintain the links in the forum

As I've explained twice, a topic would be created for each item in the help file. No maintenance is required.

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* multiple posts would need to be maintained.

If you're referring to the top post in each topic (the formal help topic), so what? How is this any different than the need to maintain multiple wiki topics—except it would be integrated with the forum and therefore much easier. If a discussion indicates a revision to a help topic is required, which do you think is more likely to happen: (1) a moderator (who is likely participating in the discussion) edits the top post of the topic in which the discussion is taking place, or (2) somebody finds the topic in a separate wiki and makes the change? ::)

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* users would need to wade through multiple posts to fin the information they are after.

No, they would not. A help topic would link directly to the top post in the topic. Since that topic is regularly updated to reflect important material as it comes up in the discussion, they probably don't need to look further. But, if they do need more information (or simply want to see what other users have had to say or ask about the topic), they can read on.

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The forum still exists to discuss and fix etc, but when a solution is found, all the discussion is removed and the core solution is added to the wiki.

And I'm suggesting a method of combining the process into one integrated system so that it will be more effective, easier to use—and therefore much more likely to actually work.

I appreciate you may simply prefer the idea of a wiki, but that's not the purpose of this topic. I'm looking for feedback on a specific proposal. I don't care if you're inclined to conclude a wiki would be a better choice, but you're dismissing the proposal without due consideration. I think the idea is worthy of consideration. The alternative of a wiki has not only had lots of consideration, but an actual trial. Maybe another attempt wouldn't fail, but we need to consider carefully why it did fail—and alternatives that might work better.

Offline CAD

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2010, 06:10:34 am »
If it how I imagine it working, i think it will soon become unwieldy.

As a starting point perhaps you could create an index in a forum post with some potential help topics (which you can pin) - This would act as the pvd index and we can create posts to links.

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but you're dismissing the proposal without due consideration.
I think it is unfair to say I am dismissing this without consideration. But if it was as easy as you say, it would have been done many times over.

That said...

Please create a psuedo help index with some basic entries. we can link off and we can trial your suggestion.

A help system is sorely missing from PVD and would be of great benefit to many users.

Look forward to seeing something in the pipeline soon...


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Offline rick.ca

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2010, 07:53:50 am »
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If it how I imagine it working, i think it will soon become unwieldy.

Perhaps you could tell us what it is you're imagining. There's nothing unwieldy about what I'm suggesting. On the contrary, the main point is its simplicity.

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But if it was as easy as you say, it would have been done many times over.

The fact that nostra has not yet implemented the necessary help system (i.e., the code that would call a help file from the program) in no way implies what I'm suggesting is not dirt simple.

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Please create a psuedo help index with some basic entries. we can link off and we can trial your suggestion.

I have no idea what you're getting at or why this would be necessary. You participate enough here to understand how the forum software works. When I say this system would have one forum topic for each topic in the help file, you understand perfectly what I mean. So imagine a "help index" like this one in the wiki (it's not how I would do it, but it's an illustration), and each one of those links going to a forum topic instead of a wiki topic. The first topic in a Help forum could be an exact duplicate of the table of contents (i.e., "help index") of of the help file. This would give an identical point of entry to the help topics whether accessing them via the help file or the forum directly.

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Look forward to seeing something in the pipeline soon...

You're not going to goad me into creating even the beginnings of a Help forum. This is a trial balloon. If there's no interest in the idea, then I'm perfectly happy to let it die. If what you really need to see is a prototype of a help file, I posted one in the In Line Help topic. The links in that file go to the wiki, but it still serves to illustrate how the help file works. And there are a few forum topics included at the end.

Offline patch

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2010, 11:58:00 am »
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Configuring the wiki (or any alternative wiki) to be "more PVD centric" (whatever that means) does nothing to address the issue.

I disagree. I have had great success with developing a wiki in at work. It does need to be focused on its purpose for existing and needs someone to take ownership and drive it.

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more PVD centric" (whatever that means)
I mean by this, all the crap needs to be removed and content focused on PVD.
IMO -The wiki focus should be more of a Content Management System with wiki features.
+1

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Quote
the help file would only contain links from the program hooks to topics in a forum. They would be organized in a hierarchical manner—a table of contents.
I see some flaws here:
* someone needs to maintain the links in the forum
* multiple posts would need to be maintained.
* users would need to wade through multiple posts to fin the information they are after.

Document management is always contentious. No one like writing "how to" doco.
From experience, I think a wiki style system would work. it needs to be focused and have features to do other stuff (like act as a CMS, produce pdfs etc). The forum still exists to discuss and fix etc, but when a solution is found, all the discussion is removed and the core solution is added to the wiki.
+1
Having the primary entry into the wiki pointing to the contents page would go a way to fixing the current one. Better still if a search box was added to it.

The Forum is the best way of exploring new or difficult issues. It is easiest to create as it is just a record of conversations by those who choose to converse that way.

A wiki produces a more readable reference document. Enabling new users to go straight to the current preferred answer on documented subjects and anyone who feels the current documentation could be improved can directly fix it. It does however require a conscious effort to contribute to PVD documentation and some effort to maintain the structure / contents page.

A help index goes some way to bridging the gap but is not as good (from a readers perspective) as a wiki table of contents and the referenced forum threads are not as good as an equivalent wiki page.
« Last Edit: August 31, 2010, 12:02:06 pm by patch »

Offline CAD

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #8 on: August 31, 2010, 12:02:55 pm »
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Perhaps you could tell us what it is you're imagining.
What i'm imagining is a help file built into pvd - called  by either f1 opens a help fiile with a list of hyperlinks or a questionmark "?" that you click and then click on the thing you want help with. The hyperlink takes you to the relevant pvd forum topic.

eg "How to use inline help" url takes you to http://www.videodb.info/forum_en/index.php?topic=1692.msg7764#msg7764

"Is this not what you are advocating?

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The fact that nostra has not yet implemented the necessary help system (i.e., the code that would call a help file from the program) in no way implies what I'm suggesting is not dirt simple.
If it works as outlined above. Any page with as list of hyperlinks can act as the index. when nostra implements it inside pvd, it is a simple matter of porting existing links into whatever he creates.

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You're not going to goad me into creating even the beginnings of a Help forum.
Not trying to goad you into anything. But i would like to see a small trial to see if it would work in principle. As you are the moderator and it is your idea, you would be the most suitable candidate to put something up with the vision of how you see it.

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You participate enough here to understand how the forum software works
Yes and this is why I don't think it is an adequate tool for a help system. Unless the moderator (you) reads every single post in a topic and takes relevant info out and puts it into 1st post, then users have to read through potential crap to get to the bit that explains how to do something and it means a lot of work for moderator (you) in editing posts.

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Offline rick.ca

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2010, 08:11:26 pm »
Having the primary entry into the wiki pointing to the contents page would go a way to fixing the current one. Better still if a search box was added to it.

As I've already said, the purpose of this topic is to discuss a completely different alternative to wikis. If you would like to discuss how to fix the wiki, please start another topic.

This does, however, illustrate the need for an alternative. The author of the wiki recognized the need for this "entry point" into the wiki. But then he abandoned the project before completing this after thought. If the wiki were being used and anyone interested in contributing to it, someone would have finished what he started.

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A help index  goes some way to bridging the gap but is not as good (from a readers perspective) as a wiki table of contents and the referenced forum threads are not as good as an equivalent wiki page.

What is your point? This has little to do with what I'm proposing. On the contrary, I'm proposing the help material be properly indexed using a help file (in fact, I'm proposing a help file that consists of nothing but links to help topics), and that the forum help topics be the exact equivalent (wrt content) of a wiki page. The only difference is the forum help topic will allow discussion of the topic immediately following the help content (the first message). This makes it clearly better than a wiki, and easier to use for both users and moderators.

Offline rick.ca

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #10 on: August 31, 2010, 09:31:53 pm »
Is this not what you are advocating?

Yes, but it's also intended to be the opposite of "unwieldy." What is it about what you are imagining that is unwieldy?

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Unless the moderator (you) reads every single post in a topic and takes relevant info out and puts it into 1st post, then users have to read through potential crap to get to the bit that explains how to do something...

This is circular/false logic. You're assuming topics are not going to be maintained, and therefore users will have to wade through many posts to find the information they need. Why can't you imagine the thing as I've proposed it? Initially, a topic would consist of the best available documentation we have—perhaps something compiled from existing wiki content. Obviously, users will then instantly find the information their looking for. And, if they need to ask a question about that material or suggest an improvement or addition to it, they can do so right there. Then, regardless of who is going to make the necessary change or addition, it couldn't possibly be easier than it would be with this arrangement—where the help topic in question is always the first post in the thread.

But the ease of maintenance is secondary to the main benefit and purpose of the proposal. The help file could be a significant gateway to the forum for users—particularly those who need help but are reluctant to participate here (or just expect to be able to find the help they need on their own). This should be a highly effective way to bring the "help seeker" here and say to them, "Here's the information available on this topic. If you need any further assistance, please ask." Even if this is not going to be as pretty as alternative forms of help documentation (and it's not), it's very well suited to our circumstances. I think many would even consider it revolutionary. A tiny little freeware app—with help fully integrated with its user community. Awesome!

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...and it means a lot of work for moderator (you) in editing posts.

This is another reason why this is a "trial balloon." I'm not going support or take any action on anything that simply means more work for me and is of no interest to anyone else. I already do more that enough here. I think it's a good idea because it's an effective and manageable solution to the documentation problem, and would improve the synergy between the application and its user forum. But it's not going to work if I'm the only one who believes this. It's also not going to work if there's even the expectation I (or someone like me) is going to maintain it. Restricting the ability to modify posts to moderators is a necessary evil. That doesn't mean there can be only one moderator. Moderators are designated by forum. For this help forum, I would suggest any experienced user should be made a moderator simply by asking.

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But i would like to see a small trial to see if it would work in principle.

A trial can be used to see if something works in practice, but we're not there yet. We're still discussing whether it will work in principle. I'm certain I've described the principles well enough already. You've already made a good case for the impact of another principle. The idea may fail simply because users don't understand it, or believe another approach would be better and therefore choose not to support it.

I see no reason why nostra would choose not to implement the help file capability. Even if the context hooks are not feasible or too much work, there's no good reason for not adding the simple capability of launching an HTML help file from the program. Once that is done, starting with a small trial is probably the way to go. It's already clear this will work "in principle." The significant part of the experiment will be to see if users embrace and support it. If it fails, the program will still have a help system. There will still be the option of adding a few links to a view online tutorials, or put such things directly in the help file...

I think I will implement some kind of tutorial or online help in version 1.

The reason I'm bringing this up now is the release of version 1 is going to require a relatively massive update to the help documentation. It seems highly unlikely that's going to happen by people volunteering to update the wiki. Or create another one. This is an opportunity to do it in a way that's more likely to be effective.

I have no idea when version 1 might be released. If it's some time off, and we have some agreement ("in principle"), it may make sense to do a trial in advance. That might include...

1. A 0.9.9.x release in which the help file capability has been added.
2. The addition of a new "Help" forum for which anyone interested in getting this going is given moderator permissions.
3. The creation of a sample/abbreviated table of contents for the help forum—where each item is linked to a separate topic.
4. The creation of a help file with an identical table of contents—where each item is link to its corresponding forum topic.
5. Moderators could start by "dumping" existing wiki content into the application topics. These could then be discussed—if necessary—then edited into appropriate form, cross-indexed to other existing topics, etc.

If we had the basic structure in place, it would be a much less daunting task to document the changes in version 1. Version 1 could also be released with a help file that at least got users into the help forum. Or, nostra would have the option of adding topics for brand new features. These might initially be just very brief descriptions (the kind nostra is famous for), but would be a cool way to inform users of new features, while providing a permanent link to their help topics. In many cases, fuller documentation would naturally (and probably very quickly) evolve from users asking questions and others explaining how the feature works and how it can be used.

Offline patch

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #11 on: September 01, 2010, 12:40:51 pm »
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You participate enough here to understand how the forum software works
Yes and this is why I don't think it is an adequate tool for a help system. Unless the moderator (you) reads every single post in a topic and takes relevant info out and puts it into 1st post, then users have to read through potential crap to get to the bit that explains how to do something and it means a lot of work for moderator (you) in editing posts.

Yep that is the main issue with maintaining a dynamic document in a forum. Only moderators and the thread creator can maintain the opening post. Works fine if the thread creator owns and wants full responsibility for maintaining it. However it actively discourages peer co-operation in favour of a hierarchical approach.

Having the primary entry into the wiki pointing to the contents page would go a way to fixing the current one. Better still if a search box was added to it.

As I've already said, the purpose of this topic is to discuss a completely different alternative to wikis. If you would like to discuss how to fix the wiki, please start another topic.

This does, however, illustrate the need for an alternative. The author of the wiki recognized the need for this "entry point" into the wiki. But then he abandoned the project before completing this after thought. If the wiki were being used and anyone interested in contributing to it, someone would have finished what he started.
No
The table of contents is part of the wiki, a dynamic document so by definition it is never going to be complete. Yes it was started by cwdean but it is editable like any other wiki page so we could continue to improve it.

My point was it is already a better point to take users to who select the wiki tab in this forum or in PVD. Neither of which I can change.
The current home page is OK for those coming to the wiki from the internet as then introducing the project is more relevant.

Offline rick.ca

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #12 on: September 01, 2010, 09:17:09 pm »
Only moderators and the thread creator can maintain the opening post.

If you're going to participate in a discussion, common courtesy suggests you should read what others have posted. I shouldn't have to respond to your misinformation by quoting myself...

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It's also not going to work if there's even the expectation I (or someone like me) is going to maintain it. Restricting the ability to modify posts to moderators is a necessary evil. That doesn't mean there can be only one moderator. Moderators are designated by forum. For this help forum, I would suggest any experienced user should be made a moderator simply by asking.

The table of contents is part of the wiki, a dynamic document so by definition it is never going to be complete. Yes it was started by cwdean but it is editable like any other wiki page so we could continue to improve it.

Uh-oh. You're not even reading what your quoting... ::)

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If the wiki were being used and anyone interested in contributing to it, someone would have finished what he started.

You're one of the very few making any contributions to the wiki. But that's only a few additions and a few edits in the last year. Even if a number of users were contributing at the same level, it would be nowhere near "up-to-date." And even if it were, it's not getting the traffic. If you're so convinced a wiki is the answer, post your ideas for reviving it to this topic. Without some damn good ones, we have to conclude the wiki is not viable.

Offline rick.ca

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #13 on: September 06, 2010, 10:19:29 pm »
I just discovered there's a SMF theme that facilitates (sort of) the kind of "Help" forum I'm suggesting...

A better solution would be wiki functionality fully integrated with the forum software. That is possible using the WikiStyle SMF theme—which is illustrated rather effectively by the SMF Online Manual. I suppose this would be little more than a polished version of the "Help" forum I suggested—"...topics are 'documents' and replies are 'comments'." The ability to sort topics means they can be presented in any form of TOC, and it seems this should be much easier to do than it is with TikiWiki. You'll also recognize integrating such help documentation with the program is as simple as linking the topic URL's via an HTML help file.

I'm not sure how themes work, but I suppose one theme applies to the entire site. If so, that means the help documentation would have to be quite separate from the rest of the forums. For example, the SMF "Online Manual" is at http://docs.simplemachines.org/ while the forums are at http://www.simplemachines.org/community/index.php. If this is the only way it can work, the result would be far from the "full integration" desired. Allowing the same logon for both sites might be feasible, but would require a further mod. It would also not allow posts to be moved to and from the existing forums.

Are my assumptions correct? [Edit:] Fortunately, not. See following posts.

If so, is it possible to make any of these kind of changes to just one forum, rather than all? If not, I still believe what I've suggested is perfectly feasible. I can't imagine why anyone would not understand the first post in a topic is the "help document," and replies are "comments." Nor do I see any disadvantage to the "comments" becoming a discussion.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2010, 05:45:57 am by rick.ca »

Offline rick.ca

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #14 on: September 07, 2010, 04:31:02 am »
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Are my assumptions correct?

Apparently not. According to the SMF Manual, themes can be applied at the board level. See (Modify...) "Board Theme" here. So the WikiStyle theme may give us exactly what's needed.

Nostra, can you confirm this?

Offline nostra

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #15 on: September 07, 2010, 04:56:48 pm »
Yes, it is possible to define a separate theme for each board.
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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #16 on: September 07, 2010, 07:33:37 pm »
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Yes, it is possible to define a separate theme for each board.

Then maybe we should at least test this to determine whether it's viable. Would it be much trouble to install the theme and apply it to an experimental "Help" board?

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #17 on: September 07, 2010, 10:58:44 pm »
I'll try it on weekend, should be easy.
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Offline rick.ca

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Re: Integrated Help Forum
« Reply #18 on: September 28, 2010, 04:02:11 am »
A new Help board has now been added to the Forum. It remains to be seen whether it will be integrated with the program or not. I no longer think that's very important. The program help command can be linked to the help board, or probably better, the Table of Contents. That, along with the accompanying Search, is probably the best "gateway" to whatever help is needed anyway.

Much more important, I believe, is degree to which this help documentation is integrated with this forum. It is, in fact, part of this forum. Searches started in Help will, by default, search only Help, but can be expanded to include any other boards. Searches started in other boards will, by default, search all boards—including Help topics. Comments or questions may be posted wherever they arise. Replies to Help topics are called "comments," but they're exactly the same thing. If a user's comment on a Help topic evolves into a support or feature request topic, that conversation can easily be moved to the appropriate board.

 

anything