By Rainier N. via FlickrNavigating through product documentation can be intimidating, so users will often ask questions of your support team before trying to find those answers themselves. However, you can turn that trend around by following these proven techniques to increase self service support, which often also increases customer satisfaction and lowers support costs. These six best practices are taken directly from the successes of the dozens of technology companies I’ve worked with.

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Last week I was in Denver, Colorado at the infamous DEFRAG Conference. DEFRAG is a conference that is devoted to information overload and web innovation. It’s a smaller conference (~500) which provides for a great atmosphere.

The conference provided refreshing insight on innovation, company culture, web standards, startup strategy and more. The speaker lineup included startup CEO’s (LiveFyre, GetSatisfaction), enterprise leaders (Netflix, BestBuy, Microsoft, Google), authors and even Aneesh Chopra from the Executive Office of the President.

I was able to attend most of the keynote presentations and perhaps the most informative was from Adrian Cockcroft of Netflix. Adrian talked about the approach to culture and efficiency at Netflix. He discussed how they have resolved some of the more complex corporate issues by simplifying or even eliminating processes that traditionally plague big business. This insight was especially interesting because of all the negative media surrounding Netflix recently.

I’ll most certainly be attending DEFRAG again next year to soak in the mass of knowledge. The SWAG bags are also the best I’ve ever seen!

This week I’ll be at LavaCon in Austin, Texas where MindTouch will be breaking news.

MindTouch worked with the Gilbane Group, some of our customers, the Society for Technical Communicators and several industry experts to develop a toolkit that provides a “how-to” for repurposing Componentized Content Management Systems (CCMS’s) by adding a social publishing layer. This benefits your customers in profound and measurable ways. If you care about your users, you need this toolkit.publishing-flow2

CCMS’s like SDL Trisoft and IXIAsoft have proven their value to the market by lowering the costs associated with producing, maintaining and translating content. However, MindTouch customers, companies like Autodesk, Paypal, Intuit and hundreds of others, have been proving that this content can be used to create the foundation of a social learning community that increases top line revenues and improves the quality of end user support.

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Technical communication is currently suffering the side effects of a “social revolution” and is failing to evolve to the needs of the customer.

Industry leaders such as IXIAsoft, SDL with Trisoft and others have done an excellent job of innovating the ease in which companies can manage content. Focusing on XML authoring tools and Component Content Management Systems (CCMS) has provided tremendous value by lowering costs. In the fervor to lower the costs of technical writing and translation there is one stakeholder that has been overlooked; the customer.

The end user still has to crawl through PDF’s, sift through compiled HTML (.CHM) or static HTML sites and in many cases companies’ are still relying on disc media to get out the help and product content. Even when there is an online help site output from CCMS systems these take the form of an archaic 1984 knowledgebase, as if this is an improvement. The output from a CCMS, such as SDL Trisoft, should include a social engagement layer, effective search, feedback mechanisms and analytics for informing content, product and marketing strategy. Case in point: Autodesk, which is one of the many customers MindTouch has that have used MindTouch to provide a high value social layer atop their DITA XML publishing pipeline (SDL Trisoft in this case).

MindTouch provides the social publishing endpoint that your documentation needs to deliver for the needs and demands of your users. These days, users aren’t getting help the way they used to. By publishing your DITA and other documentation to MindTouch you can put curated help in the hands of your users.
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Questions? Everyone has questions. Why is the sky blue? You can search and search, from site to site, person to person only to stumble upon meaningless jargon and obscure information that creates even more questions. A waste of time right?

Your alternative? Post your questions for the world to see and let the answers come to you. It is quite often that the question you ask will require you to specify the subject matter you want to know. Questions and Answers allows just that.

MindTouch has developed a Question and Answers plug-in that will allows users to post questions and get them answered by community peers.

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RightScale, the leader in cloud computing management, recently launched their new MindTouch powered Collaborative Network for self service-support and product documentation. This innovative property provides users structure, search and discoverability to what was an inherently unstructured and disconnected knowledge base. Content consists of tutorials, videos, references, and frequently asked questions.

The MindTouch platform made the development of a customized Collaborative Network rapid and painless. Innovations in the property include dynamically updated navigation tools that expose potentially overlooked portions of documentation. Collaborative editing. Rapid application development to serve the community’s evolving needs. And an advanced search interface to the MindTouch integrated enterprise search engine that enables custom queries based on tagging, page and file contents.

The web property takes advantage of the latest capabilities from the MindTouch Lyons release. For instance, page properties are used to define descriptions, icons and navigation options for pages that display in their homepage and tier two navigation. Additionally, the unified look and feel takes advantage of PHP plugins making deployment and future upgrades fast and painless. The overarching user experience of the site delivers an easy and fluid way for visitors to navigate and find desired information, contact support and refine searches.

The key stakeholders at RightScale had the following to say about their engagement with MindTouch:

“MindTouch was helpful during each phase of our project. What impressed me the most however was during the actual launch phase. When it became obvious that our launch would run past the MindTouch Deployment Engineer’s scheduled work hours, he volunteered additional contact information so I could reach him if any issues surfaced.” Greg DeRenne Information Architect – RightScale Inc.

“MindTouch continues to deliver world-class support to match their world-class technology. Our customers might not notice, but we’re using MindTouch as the backbone of RightScale’s new Support site. Thanks to the Professional Services team of MindTouch, we now have a completely customized site with an advanced search, custom navigation, and dynamic content. MindTouch not only helped us meet our tight deadline, they also coached and trained us along the way so that by the end of the project, we were completely self-sufficient. Our only regret is that we didn’t call MindTouch sooner!” Dean Onishi, Communications Manager – RightScale Inc.

Check out http://support.rightscale.com to see how RightScale is using MindTouch to drive their community empowerment efforts.

Damien @DamienH

I’ve been working with a great deal of DekiScript recently and I haven’t really had much time to “show off” any of my developments. Well, just this week I completed a new DekiScript dropdown menu and it’s quite nice so I figured I’d share.

The dropdown menu was developed using a combination of DekiScript and JQuery. It is very easy to implement and doesn’t require using any extensions. Simply just create a new template and paste in the provided code. The template then can by included on desired pages to provide an additional layer of navigation to your community.

The menu that is generated from the template displays two tiers of navigation and originates from the Deki root by default. Alternatively you can specify a path either statically or dynamically using DekiScript to identify where the navigation should originate from.

The code can be cleanly separated into two portions, DekiScript which handles the markup and Jquery which takes care of the CSS. Lets first take a look at the DekiScript as a whole and then I’ll step through individual portions of the DekiScript code.

{{
var langpath ="/";
if ($path) {
let langpath=$path;
}
var langdir = wiki.getpage(langpath);

var topnav = langdir.subpages;
var subnav;
var navhtml;
var tophtml;
var subhtml;
var dropicon;
var topselect;

foreach(var top in topnav) {
  let subhtml='';
  let subnav = top.subpages;
  let dropicon='';
  let topselect='';

  foreach(var sub in subnav) {
     let subhtml..=('<li class="'..sub.name..'">'..web.link(sub.uri,sub.title)..'</li>')
  }
  if (#subnav > 0) {
     let dropicon='<span class="dropicon">v</span>';
  }
  if (string.contains(page.uri,top.uri)) {
     let topselect=' selected ';
  }

let navhtml..=('<li class="'..top.name..topselect..'"><span>'..web.link(top.uri,top.title)
..dropicon..'</span><ul>'..subhtml..'</ul></li>');
}

web.html('<ul id="DWdynnav">'..navhtml..'</ul>');
}}

Now lets break it down into smaller DekiScript chunks to take a look at what each piece is doing. The first part of the DekiScript is responsible for defining the path that the navigation should originate from. I used var langpath ="/"; to set the path default to your wiki homepage. $path is a template variable and is optional. If you are going to provide a path (discussed at the bottom of this blog post) you will do so when you call the template from the page that will display the menu. Lastly I need to work with the page object so I can access the properties and subpages to map out my menu. This is done by using var langdir = wiki.getpage(langpath);. Wiki.getpage returns a page object so if I later needed to I can access properties of the navigations origin page using something such as langdir.title or langdir.author.

var langpath ="/";
if ($path) {
let langpath=$path;
}
var langdir = wiki.getpage(langpath);

The next section is fairly simple. First I am finding out what pages are going to make up my top nav or the 1st tier of the dropdown menu. This is done by accessing the properties of langdir as mentioned in the previous section. You can see that I use var topnav = langdir.subpages; which will set topnav to a map of page objects which I will loop through soon to build my structure. After that I have to define a series of variables that are used to generate the navigations, HTML, CSS and the dropdown icon.

var topnav = langdir.subpages;
var subnav;
var navhtml;
var tophtml;
var subhtml;
var dropicon;
var topselect;

So here’s where it gets a little trickier. To start off I need to loop through each item from the topnav so I setup my foreach loop using foreach(var top in topnav). As I start looping there are some variables that need to be set, they may have different outputs based on the dropdown content.

The first and most important variable I have to set is the dropdown pages. I do this by using let subnav = top.subpages; which will again return a map of page objects which I can later loop through to output the subpages. The other variable are just being reset.

Now that I know the dropdown pages (subnav) I can begin to generate the HTML that will be used to construct the navigation. As I loop through the subnav pages using foreach(var sub in subnav) I am appending new HTML to the subhtml variable which looks like this let subhtml..=('<li class="'..sub.name..'">'..web.link(sub.uri,sub.title)..'</li>')

After I have generated my subnav I need to differentiate my topnav menu items with a subnav from the topnav menu items with no subnav. Basically, if a topnav menu item does have subpage I want to display a little down arrow to let users know. This is done by using if (#subnav > 0). The # will return a count of the objects in the subnav variable, if any. If the topnav does have a submenu I add in a down arrow using let dropicon='<span class="dropicon">v</span>';.

The next part is not really necessary but I added it in regardless. Using if (string.contains(page.uri,top.uri)) I am comparing the topnav page URI’s to the location of the page the the user is on. If their is a match I output let topselect=' selected '; which is later used in the topnav class. This allows users to know where they are relative to all of the pages in the dropdown menu.

The last part simply pulls all of the previous pieces together to construct the final HTML that will be used for the menu. You can see that I am using some DekiScript page properties such as top.name and top.title and I’m also using some DekiScript functions such as web.link. Lastly I’m placing my variables as need throughout the HTML: topselect, dropicon, subhtml.
let navhtml..=('<li class="'..top.name..topselect..'"><span>'..web.link(top.uri,top.title)
..dropicon..'</span><ul>'..subhtml..'</ul></li>');

foreach(var top in topnav) {
  let subnav = top.subpages;
  let subhtml='';
  let dropicon='';
  let topselect='';

  foreach(var sub in subnav) {
     let subhtml..=('<li class="'..sub.name..'">'..web.link(sub.uri,sub.title)..'</li>')
  }
  if (#subnav > 0) {
     let dropicon='<span class="dropicon">v</span>';
  }
  if (string.contains(page.uri,top.uri)) {
     let topselect=' selected ';
  }

let navhtml..=('<li class="'..top.name..topselect..'"><span>'..web.link(top.uri,top.title)
..dropicon..'</span><ul>'..subhtml..'</ul></li>');
}

If you were to leave this output without the additional Jquery code you would have a bulleted list of a page and it’s subpages. Now for the sanity of the readers I’m not going to step through Jquery. All you should know is that it is completely customizable and I created color and style variables at the top to easily modify the look and feel of the menu. You can view a full output of the DekiScript SOURCE with the Jquery at http://wiki.developer.mindtouch.com/User:Howleyda/DekiScript_dropdown_menu/Source. To utilize this code simply copy and page the content into a new template on your Deki.

The very last part which is most important is including the template in a wiki page.

If you want to show the root menu use {{template.DropDown()}}

If you want to specify a path use something like {{template.DropDown{path:page.path} }} or {{template.DropDown{path:"/DekiScript"} }}

Thanks for reading,

Damien Howley
@DamienH

September seems as though it will be a very busy month for us MindTouchers. So far we have planned to attend a notable series of conferences including Office 2.0, Zendcon, BlogWorldExpo and our first conference in France, Paris Capitale du Libre and Open Source Think Tank.

Paris Capitale du Libre will take place September 24th and 25th in Paris and will focus on the “economic & strategic issues related to today’s Open Source Software.” While in Paris we’re also going to attend the Open Source Think Tank conference which will take place September 21st through the 23rd.

We became aware of the Open Source conference through a recommendation from our dear friends from the Linagora Groupe. We’re ecstatic to be a part of the Europeans Open Source circuit and we’re looking forward to both conferences. Please let us know if you’re going to either Paris Capitale du Libre or Open Source Think Tank.

Thanks
Damien Howley

Guest Blogger: Dave Cynkin, BlogWorld & New Media Expo

The team at BlogWorld & New Media Expo would like to invite the MindTouch community out to Vegas, and enjoy 20% off admission. Register with code MTDEKIVIP and you’ll save 20% off of every BlogWorld admission option including: Exhibits Only; Exhibits + Party; Full Access; Executive & Entrepreneur packages. And our normal discount pricing expires Aug. 22nd, so hurry and you can get the 20-off of the already discounted price and save a bundle!

BlogWorld & New Media Expo was created to nurture the fast-growing new media industry, to present an educational, enjoyable and energetic venue for connecting with talented resources, vendors and innovative developers for collaboration, and for discovering the latest advances in blogging, new media technology and social media networking. This is the place to come to supercharge both internally- and externally-facing communications for small enterprise up to the largest corporations.

Dave Cynkin
BlogWorldExpo Team

We’re proud to have MindTouch at BlogWorld, incredibly impressed with the team’s smart, user-friendly approach to enterprise collaboration tools thru Deki, and let’s face it…the electrifying spirit and energy of the MindTouch team on the tradeshow floor is contagious! If you haven’t had the opportunity to meet your MindTouch team and community members in-person, BlogWorld is the place to do it.

See you in Las Vegas, and don’t forget to register by Aug. 22nd for best savings! One last thing…our partner hotel discounts expire Aug. 18th, so book your rooms now, and you’ll have plenty of dough left over for nighttime shenanigans….like our friend Aaron here! :)

Visit the event site to register online and book your hotel room quickly and easily.

Dave Cynkin

The MindTouch team is happy to announce that we’ll be exhibiting at Defrag in early November. Defrag, a conference devoted to the tools and technologies that enable software to leverage social interaction, will be held in Denver, Colorado. This will be our second time at Defrag and it has proven to be one of most popular shows.

If you also plan to attend Defrag make sure you let us know! If you’re a Deki user, contributor, developer, evangelist or just a Deki fan join the MindTouch Tribe and keep up to date with our conference giveaways, events and festivities. As part of the MindTouch Tribe you will be eligible for:

  • $100 Discount Code to Defrag (must use before 08/15)
  • MindTouch FREEDOM t-shirt
  • Access to the MindTouch Happy Hour at Defrag
  • User meetups in your area
  • DekiCon schedule and locations

Learn more about Defrag and the MindTouch Tribe