As pioneers on the Help Center frontier, what I’m going to say may strike you a bit less like Manifest Destiny and a bit more like overstaying one’s welcome. PDF’s are the way of the future.
There, I said it. I truly believe it. This post explains why.
We operate on a simple assumption: If you want your users to RTFM, you need to give them a FM they want to read. It needs to be well organized, well written and easy to find. It needs to be contextual. It neqreds to be factual and clear. What form it takes is beside the point. Is it enough that the manual is a PDF? No. Is it enough that the manual is a MindTouch Help Center? No. Is it enough that they’re both? No, there will never be enough help. But it helps to cover the known issues. Some people will feel comfortable researching a topic online. Others will want the manual delivered to them. Having both sources is a path toward the goal of “effortless product help, anytime, anywhere” our unofficial motto.
We Feel Your Pain
For some folks – arguably the people who use your software who need it most – they trust PDF’s more than they trust the Internet. They’re not as enamored by leaving comments and rating content and all of the social goodies that make MindTouch Help Centers more alive. They are less inclined to dive into a product and more likely to RTFM on dead tree technology than learn by trial and error in the browser. They are also less likely to enlist the services of others in their endeavor. To each his own. We don’t judge. We support. That’s what we do. We’d be the Luddites were we to ignore these facts. We feel your pain.
Facts Have a Permalink
One of the ways MindTouch is unique has a lot to do with our philosophy about truth. Here’s a bit of insight how our product is designed around what we believe:
Each page represents a permalink for truth. We are in the business of disseminating facts and making them more perfect over time. Our customers publish pages with facts on them. Once a page becomes published in MindTouch, it will forever be the location for that truth. As more becomes known, MindTouch makes it easier to update and disseminate.
When you generate a PDF from your MindTouch documentation – whether it’s for printing a book, sending as an email attachment, or printing a couple pages for a colleague to peruse offline – the permalink for that page, and the truths in it, is right there in black and white. The footer of every PDF page contains a link to the guide from which it was made. The footer also includes a QR code, which links deeper to the actual online page that you’re currently reading offline. We think that’s important for two reasons:
- QR codes entice readers who prefer PDF’s to join the conversation online. QR codes are the offline equivalent of a door slightly ajar. We expect to reward the reader’s curiosity if they just open the door to the online version.
- QR codes are the permalinks to that page. Since a PDF represents a fixed point in time (i.e. the date-time that guide was generated) the online version will be evolving as more facts become known. Say you print the manual and come back to it three months later. Wouldn’t it be nice to go online and see if there’s something fresher to learn? With a QR code, knowing where to go is that much easier.
We encourage you to learn a bit more about how to generate future-proof PDF’s of your documentation over in our Help Center. And, of course, if you have any feedback, we love to hear it. We’re here to help. Now and always.