Flying in from a rather cold and wet East Coast of the USA, San Diego was a beautiful sea-change. The Californian sun was warm, the skies were sensationally blue throughout and I had MadWorld to attend.
Everything from the conference location to the speaker list, from the variety of presentations to the cool Hospitality Lounge made an immense impression.
Anthony Olivier, the founder of Madcap Software kicked off MadWorld by welcoming a room packed full of Madcappers (or so one would hope!) and introducing us to our keynote speaker Wayne Cotter.
I’ve been to a few TW conferences, but I was forewarned by more than 1 person “there are conferences and then there is MadWorld“. Who else would have a speaker who wanted to bring humour to a keynote.
Wayne Cotter comes from an engineering background and one would assume has worked with Technical Writers/Communicators, because he was spot on with his remarks about most things us Tech Writers do. Talking about a recent OS update he made to his laptop, had to say this “Windows is like a trophy wife. Expensive and when you get a new one, you still have to support the old one.” He spoke at length about our profession being an unique one in that we get to catalogue human stupidity and kept the audience in splits for almost 45 mins, with some sparkling gems about warnings, troubleshooting sections etc.
What a brilliant start to the conference!
Well, I was told this could get addictive and it did.
The following are summaries of sessions I attended:
You’re Using Capture with Flare, Right?
The Power of Print in MadCap Flare
Best Practices for Going Mobile
Case Study: Goodbye Tripane, Hello Frameless Top Navigation
Managing a MadCap Flare Project
Developing Topic-Based Thinking
Embedded Video Production and Integration Tips for HTML5
In between all these presentations, there was ample time to catch up with some friends, old and new and some great networking opportunities. The Happy Hour at the Local Pacific Beach, with its Hawaiian fare made provided an ideal foil to a day packed with content goodness and was a great place to unwind, watching the sun go down on the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.
This was my first MadWorld, but I am sure this won’t be my last!
P.S. A few photos of the great conference venue…
Presented by: Catherine Horsfall
A lot of documentation I’ve created in the past has been linear; in that it starts with an overview and then proceeds to branch into related content. In the last few years, working with online documentation, I’ve attempted to keep the content as separate as I can, so that I can single-source as well as reuse it across different projects.
I attended this presentation with a view of finding out how to approach a “topic-based” mindset, especially working with a large number of content contributors and reviewers.
A few notes from Catherine’s presentation:
What is a topic?
A topic is a discrete piece of content that is about a specific subject, with an identifiable purpose and can stand alone on its own.
In saying that, a topic should be brief.
What is topic based thinking?
Topic based thinking is a mindset where the author can disconnect from the totality of the project/document and write:
a. Discrete pieces of content
b. About a specific subject
c. With an identifiable purpose
d. Totally on its own.
In topic based thinking, you can work in chunks and separately.
How do you get contributors to think “topic-based”?
Involves behaviour change and lots of training. Catherine spoke about a process she used at her organisation of getting developers and other contributors to think “topic-based”. based on Tuckman’s theory.
How does topic based thinking work within Agile environments?
Quite well, actually. In agile environments, the content cycle can be based around:
Short topics – This leads to quick turnaround times.
Features based – Authors can focus on a particular feature at a time.
Small chunks of info – Manageable blocks of information produced in a sprint.
One huge benefit of topic based thinking is that every page in Help can have an unique tag/id. This can help massively with customer support directing users to the specific topic.
Presented by: Dave Hodgson
Videos have become an inevitable part of content and there’s no denying that they complement other written content in a large number of scenarios.
In his excellent case study, Dave gave us an overview of the different video formats and tools and how their team went about embedding and using videos in their help content at Keysight Technologies.
A few things to think about, while embedding videos in HTML5 content:
a. Videos look great on a larger display (tablet, desktop etc), but how can one work with content on smaller devices. One answer is to de-emphasize branding to enhance screen space on smaller devices.
b. Are you including video because it will really improve your users help experience or just because it is “cool”?
c. If you are including MP4/MPEG videos in embedded help, make sure you check for licence requirements
d. Best practice – Avoid intros and outros in videos to keep videos sharp and relevant.
e. Design your videos for maintenance.
f. Design for future edits and changes. Make updating video content as easy as updating text content.
To summarise, Dave reckons users will come to expect video in content and if it’s absent, they’ll notice.
Presented by: Paul Pehrson
Amongst other things, one thing that any Technical Writer is expected to provide is visibility of the content produced. This may take any shape or form (reports, dashboards, spreadsheets), but the key requirement is to provide some statistics around content created in any project. Madcap offers a number of products as part of the MadPak suite that allow you to track your projects and report on various parameters.
In his presentation on how to manage a Madcap Flare project, Paul showed us a few options/features he uses to keep a track of his work.
Possibly, the number one feature that Flare provides is Tags. It is possible to track file status with tags. Think of file tags as metadata for tracking files. You can learn more about file tagging here.
Some really good tips I picked up about tags from Paul’s presentation:
a. Create a File Tagset. File name and tag type are 2 different things!
b. Have 1 tag type for all different tagsets. You can assign multiple tags from 1 one window.
c. You cannot set a tag to a folder, only to the objects in the folder (images, files etc)
Another strong feature in Flare is the File List.
The File List window (accessed via View –> File List) shows all files in the project.
a. You can select types of content you want to see (html, images etc) using the Filter drop down.
b. You can customise columns in the File List window using the Show/hide columns option.
c. Most importantly, you can export this data to an external CSV file for processing.
Towards the end of the presentation, Paul quickly demonstrated another tool from Madcap: Analyzer.
Analyzer integrates with Flare and allows you to report on a number of things related to your projects. You can use Analyzer to find out broken links, missing content, unused styles or images and create custom reports to identify issues.
The key takeaway from this presentation was how to effectively use tagsets/tags to report on project status.
Presented by: Paul Stoecklein
We recently moved to Flare v11 at my workplace and one of the first things I immediately liked was it’s ability to produce frameless outputs, that allows systems such as SharePoint to index content for search capabilities. This feature alone makes it worth the upgrade, in my opinion.
Paul’s demonstration was very timely in understanding how easy it is to convert existing “tripane” outputs in to a more modern and fresh looking “top-navigation” one.
Madcap Flare is not about creating online help or user guides, it’s about creating information.
Why is it a big deal?
a. No more tripane
b. Frameless and flattened – Better for SEO and search
One could argue how the traditional idea of a TOC and an index fit into the top-navigation concept. What about the index? Who cares anymore? When was the last time someone used (in an online sense) an index to search for something? Top-nav focuses on the main thing – content, which makes searching easy.
This tied in nicely with Daniel’s session on Day 1 about Supercharging Search.
In his demonstration, Paul described the key 4 elements and shared some quick tips on converting online outputs to the “top-nav” format:
a. Top navigation skin (or skinless)
Menus are fed in from TOC, so have an appropriate level of information in the TOC. The Top nav skin is always responsive. You can control the TOC depth as menus in top nav.
Search bar, menu and search results proxies are new in V11 of Flare.
You can add proxies to master page. There is also a context sensitive option for the menu proxy.
c. Skin components
If you do not want to use all of the “Top-Nav” skin, you can use one or more of the individual components: Menu, Search Bar, Search Results or Topic Toolbar.
As Paul mentioned, a skin and a proxy is only going to get you so far! You still need good CSS to style your output in its entirety.
Use divs to position your proxies, menus etc. Using HTML5, you can now embed videos in Flare v11.
Paul then proceeded to walk us through the process of converting content from the tripane to the top-nav format, through a series of steps he followed with his project. Read more about his approach at: Advanced Conversion to Top Navigation Output
This was an immensely informative session. The new top-navigation feature brings a certain kind of completeness to Flare’s offerings. It was possible to do all of this by using CSS and bootstrapping Flare outputs before this, but by including this within Flare, the product has definitely added unique value to the outputs.