NetHelp is Doc-To-Help's Web-based format. It renders in a browser and is cross-platform compliant. When you build NetHelp using Doc-To-Help, Doc-To-Help takes your content, does everything that it would normally do for you (create a table of contents, create an Index, catalog everything for Search), and also compiles all of the content and project elements into the NetHelp interface.
One of the things we'll be covering in this post is how that interface helps your users find the information they're looking for.
The biggest advantage of a Web-based format is that it's on the Web. While this may sound obvious, it doesn't discount the fact that putting your content online makes it easier to share and update.
All of ComponentOne's documentation is on one central repository on our knowledgebase. This gives all of our users one place to look if they have a question from the Help. NetHelp also creates unique links for each individual topic in the Help, so it's easier to send someone right where they want to go. (And, as we'll find out, there's a feature in NetHelp that makes it even easier).
Additionally, you can set up your Doc-To-Help project so that your content is published directly to the web server when you build. Once you have everything set up, there's no need to transfer files or configure anything, you just build in Doc-To-Help and your content is automatically updated online.
There are other aspects of NetHelp that make it great, but these features highlight how easy to use and accessible the NetHelp format makes your content.
I used screen shots from the documentation hosted on our web server to show how ComponentOne is implementing and using everything discussed in this post.
When Doc-To-Help creates NetHelp for you, it creates it as XHTML content. This XHTML content conforms to the latest Web standards and is compatible with XML parsers. It will render in any browser without loss of functionality.
Doc-To-Help also gives you quick and easy ways to make your NetHelp content 508 compliant. This is a handy tool for anyone writing materials for the government, or anyone that needs to make their content accessible to users with disabilities.
In addition to the Table of Contents and Index that Doc-To-Help builds for you, NetHelp has a Search tab that users can access to search for specific words contained in the entire project.
A list of relevant topics is displayed under the Search field. When the user clicks on one of those topics, it comes up in the topics window with the search hits highlighted in the text.
Once the user has searched for a topic and found that they will need to access it again, they can add it to their Favorites by clicking the Add to Favorites button.
Many users (myself included) have a few topics that they use all the time. By adding those topics to their Favorites, they can access them more easily by clicking the Favorites button when they open the NetHelp.
Quite frequently, I need to share a topic from the documentation with a ComponentOne end user. I use the E-mail Topic button in this instance.
When the user clicks on the E-mail Topic button, an e-mail message is created with the To field filled out to whatever you set it to (Doc-To-Help's has it set to email@example.com), the Subject field populated with the title of the topic, and a direct link to the topic in question in the body of the e-mail.
The user can change whatever they want to in that message and send it along to the appropriate party.
When the user clicks on that link, they will be taken directly to the NetHelp Target topic in Doc-To-Help's documentation. This helps the user by sending them straight to the information they are looking for. If they like the topic, they can add it to their Favorites!
Another useful application of this feature is to have the default e-mail address in the message go to support (like Doc-To-Help's does) or to the documentation team (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org). This allows the people who are actually using the documentation to send feedback, requests, questions, and suggestions on a particular topic directly to the people that write the materials.
Doc-To-Help automatically creates a breadcrumb trail in NetHelp to help users retrace their steps. A breadcrumb trail tells the users where they are in the documentation, where they've been, and how they got there.
The breadcrumb trail is listed just above the topic name in the topics window. It is a useful navigation feature that NetHelp handles for you automatically. It can be especially useful when you are dealing with projects that have a lot of levels to the table of contents that might confuse the user or allow them to get lost in the shuffle.
NetHelp is also completely customizable, from the toolbars to the graphics, to the buttons and icons, to the way the panes are organized. You can use the Theme Designer to change all of these settings, graphics, toolbars, and icons.
Whatever design changes you make, the functionality and accessibility that we outlined in this article will stay the same.
Here is a sample toolbar that our Senior Information Developer created in the Theme Designer:
Here is a toolbar that one of our customers created:
If you are a current Doc-To-Help user, making the switch is as easy as changing the Target to NetHelp and hitting the Build button.
If you are evaluating the software, build your project as NetHelp and see what you think.
You don't need to re-format your documents, since Doc-To-Help pulls all your content from a single source. You don't even need to "switch" over to NetHelp. ComponentOne still ships Microsoft's HTML Help with its Studio Enterprise components. We have NetHelp as another option for our users to help them find the information they seek.
More content is being shared online each day. Get ahead of the curve and put yours online fast and easy with NetHelp.