The use of technologies is a defining element in the identity of software user assistance professionals. Enhancing a product’s usability requires transforming our words and ideas into digital form using a variety of technologies. In our survey we provided a list of popular user assistance technologies and asked the respondents to value the importance of those technologies in their current development efforts.
The use of Microsoft’s proprietary Help standards continues to diminish. Fewer than one in five (17%) respondents indicate HTML Help as a key element in their work.
Other formats for Help are used by very small percentages of respondents. Some of these are helpful in very special use cases. Others represent legacy support.
PDF (79%) is at the top of the list as the most valued technology used for producing support manuals. Using PDF as a delivery format has become a staple in our documentation sets. PDF files can be delivered to users in any number of ways. In the past, this technology was mainly used for legacy print documents like user guides, and also for supplemental white papers and troubleshooting information. Today we find many organizations using PDF files as the primary distribution format for product documentation.
Print is still important for 22% of respondents. Many organizations have legal or contractual requirements to product a print component, in addition to digital content.
ePub (7%) has not moved the needle in popularity over the past several years. The standard has not been effectively integrated into major browsers and rendering on mobile devices can differ from platform to platform. Other digital books formats seem to have only minimal support in the UA community.
The World Wide Web (67%) continues to be a key element of our user assistance as evidenced by the strong showing in the survey. This includes content that is distributed through the public Internet and private intranets. Quick reference materials (61%) continue to show strong support. Knowledge-bases (47%), and Multimedia tutorials (43%) are valued highly by about half of respondents.
Collaborative technologies like discussion Forums (25%), Wikis (24%), and Interactive Helpers (22%) have maintained roughly the same level of popularity for several years now. It is very surprising that the use of Social Media (10%) has not increased in popularity despite the high mainstream consumer interest in this category.
We cover specific tools in a separate Tools Survey.
Here is the complete list of skills presented in the survey. They are separate into functional groups. The percentages are of responses rating a technology as “Very Valuable” or “Invaluable”.
Microsoft Help Systems Table
|HTML Help 1.x (.chm)||17%|
|Help 2.x for Visual Studio (.hxs)||2%|
|Help Viewer 1.0 for Visual Studio (.mshc)||1%|
Other Help Systems Table
(WebHelp or any HTML/XML-based Help content displayed in a browser)
|Oracle Help for Java||3%|
|Oracle Help for Web||1%|
Manuals (User, Admin, Installation, or Reference Guides) Table
|Print (distributed on paper)||22%|
Other Delivery Technologies Table
|World Wide Web or intranet content||65%|
|Quick reference (Reference cards, Getting Started guides, release notes, job aids)||61%|
|Knowledge bases (web-based repositories for reference information)||47%|
|Multimedia tutorials (Video, Flash, simulations)||43%|
|Forums (discussion groups, blogs, Twitter)||25%|
|Interactive helpers (wizards, troubleshooters)||22%|
|Social sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.)||10%|