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Planning for Dynamic Content, Part II: Accessibility and Interactivity

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Miryam Brand   Miryam Brand, Suite Solutions

In my last post, I discussed the first two questions for planning your dynamic content effort:
1. Where does your content “sit”?
2. Who are your users and what are they looking for?

In this post, I will focus on:
3. How do your users access your content?
4. And finally, to what degree do your users want or expect to interact with your content?

Accessibility: How Do Users Access your Content?

It is a given that users today expect mobile access to your content. But do they also need offline access? Do they expect the same functionality on their mobile device as on their PC? And what technologies are coming down the pike?

Offline access

Offline access is particularly important to field service employees, who may be sent on calls that are either (1) outside of mobile service areas or (2) suffering from a mobile “black-out”. To ensure that offline access is possible, make dynamic documentation accessible in ePub format or using one of the new HTML5-based output formats. (SuiteHelp and Mobile Bookshelf are good examples of the latter.) Once downloaded to your employee’s mobile device, this documentation can be accessed regardless of a wireless connection, and it is easier to navigate on a mobile device than a PDF would be.

Functionality

The more ubiquitous mobile access has become, the more users have become accustomed to the peculiarities of the mobile interface (like the reduced “hamburger menu” at the corner of the screen). This is good news for you, because it makes it easier to use standard rules for generating the mobile version of your dynamic content. At the same time, customers are unlikely to easily accept a much more limited mobile interface if it obstructs key functionality. Be sure to test your mobile interface, even if it has been generated according to an accepted standard, to ensure that your most important information and functionality is clear and easy to reach. Employee-facing mobile apps can be more focused, including only those functions that are needed when internal users are away from their desks.

New Technologies

Content accessibility is developing so quickly that we cannot even imagine how we might be using the same content five years from now. On the one hand, this is really, really cool. (Hello, Google Glass!) On the other, it makes it harder to ensure that our content will still be useable for future customers.

The good news is that dynamic content is usually based on generally accepted standards like DITA XML, so it is relatively “future proof”. That is, since DITA is not specific to a single vendor or solution, new technologies quickly spawn multiple solutions for extending DITA-based documentation to whatever access technology becomes popular. If you choose a proprietary means of delivering dynamic content instead, make sure that it includes a way to export your dynamic content into a standard, structured format. This will allow you to continue to leverage your content regardless of future developments.

Interactivity: How much do your customers want or expect?

Customer interactivity has become a standard feature of dynamic content. Customers can rate a how-to article and employees can add their own comments to proposed solutions for a technical issue. There are even documentation wikis where all documents are crowd-sourced. (These wikis are usually open to internal users only.)

When deciding how interactive you want your content to be, ask the following questions:

1) How likely is it that your users want to or will contribute to your content?

If your content is principally for customers, however, they may not wish to contribute significantly. If your goal is to build a customer community, keep in mind that your content portal is only part of your community-building efforts. The opportunity to enter a comment does not build a community; being part of a community will make customers want to enter a comment. You can ensure that your content is part of your customer community by integrating it with your community forum through integration with technologies like Jive.

If your content portal is employee-facing, it is already likely that users will want to contribute content. Before you “open up” this functionality, though, you need to make sure that you have the other piece of interactivity:

2) How will you approve “interactive” content?

Even a comment on your how-to article can function as additional content. That’s why you need to have an approval workflow in place before you enable commenting or authoring functionality that is open to customers or other users. Comments or external content that is added by users should automatically enter this workflow so that your corporate content remains consistent and professional.

3) What do you want to learn from customer interaction?

Interactivity gives you the opportunity to learn how effective your content really is. What does your department or organization want to learn from customer comments and ratings? Sample questions include:How often are customers reading the different pieces of your content? Is it clear for them? Does it encourage them to interact more in your customer community?

Once you allow comments and rating functionality, ask the questions that are most important to you, and put analytics in place to take advantage of the new data your system can collect.

What do you think is key to accessibility and interactivity of dynamic content? Let me know in the comments below!

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