WritersUA 2011 Monday – Adobe RoboHelp’s commenting feature

This week I’m attending the WritersUA 2011 Conference for Software User Assistance in Long Beach, California. One of the sessions that I attended today was an Adobe lab, run by Scott DeLoach, Kevin Siegel, Laurie Edelman and others.

During the conference, there were a number of “lab” sessions. The labs offer a number of computer workstations and software that we could use for hands-on experimentation. A few experts wandered around offering help and advice.

My aim in attending the Adobe lab

I decided to take a look at the latest version of RoboHelp. I have used RoboHelp extensively in the past, but not since RoboHelp 8.

In particular, I wanted to explore the new features in RoboHelp that allow you to gather feedback from users, and allow users to share comments among themselves. I had heard and seen this demonstrated in various places. The idea is that you have an online help system, shared amongst your users, even installed individually on their machines. Each user can add comments to their own version of the help, and share those comments with other users via a central server.

Exploring RoboHelp’s comments feature

In the lab there was no RoboHelp Server available, so we could not see the server side of the functionality in action. But I did manage to explore how it would work. Here’s what I did.

In RoboHelp, create your online help topics as usual. For the lab session, I used one of the sample projects supplied by Adobe.

The next step is to generate your help output, selecting Adobe Air as your output format. The Adobe AIR output is the only format that supports comments submitted by users. To generate the AIR output:

  • Choose one of the a “single source layouts” available. A single source layout basically corresponds to an output format. For this lab session, a few Adobe Air layouts were available. I chose “Adobe AIR – Role Based”.
  • Double-click the layout in the “single source layout” window. You get a popup where you can configure various options for the chosen layout.
  • On the “General” tab, choose an “Output Type” of “Adobe AIR Application“. This is the only output type that will allow comments from users. The other output types are hybrids that weave a Flash solution into an HTML web-based help system.
  • You will need a digital certificate. If you don’t have one (which is likely at this point!) you can generate a self-signed certificate for use while testing. Eventually you will need to get a certificate from a real certificate authority (CA). To generate a digital certificate, click “Create” next to “Digital Certificate”.
  • Supply a publisher name of some sort.
  • Specify a password for the certificate.
  • Next to “Save As”, specify a path and name something like “C:\cert.p12″.
  • Click “OK” to generate the certificate.
  • Click the “Collaboration” tab.
  • Select “Enable Topic Rating”, “Enable Commenting” and “Enable Comment Moderation”.
  • Set a password that the comment moderator will use.
  • At this stage, it would be good to specify the RoboHelp server to enable server-based storage and sharing of comments. I could not do this during the lab, because there was no RoboHelp server available.
  • Click “Save and Generate” to create your online help system.
  • Click “View Result” to see the resulting help files.

The AIR application will start up, showing your help topics in the help system. Now you want to add a comment to a topic.

  • Click the comment icon near the top left of the screen. (The icon looks like a couple of comment bubbles.)
  • A comment area will appear at the bottom of the topic.
  • To add a comment, click the plus sign.

Adding a comment:

Adobe RoboHelp's commenting feature

Adobe RoboHelp's commenting feature

Comments are displayed in reverse chronological order:

Adobe RoboHelp's commenting feature

Adobe RoboHelp's commenting feature

My conclusion

This looks pretty cool. As far as I could see, there’s no opportunity to add graphics or formatting to the comments. They’re plain text. Also, they’re not threaded – you can’t reply to a specific comment. Still, once a server is hooked up it is pretty cool for people to be able to share comments from their desktop apps. I’d be interested to see it in action, and to hear any experiences other technical writers may have had with this feature.

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About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 15 March 2011, in technical writing, WritersUA and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Though the Commenting feature is text-only and limited to Adobe AIR Help, it is a nice addition.

    And Sarah, your enthusiasm is infectious. Thanks for sharing your notes.

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