User Defined Content

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User Defined Content

Postby DurtyMat on Wed Apr 16, 2008 11:00 am

Before I start, I know I created a thread about something similar to this, but I wanted to just get some more information about the possibility of adding user defined content to a htmlhelp or webhelp appication. I am pretty comfortable in most situations that require getting knees deep in code, and I would really like to offer a way for my users to create custom procedures, definitions, tasks, etc. that are unique to their workplace. Our previous help systems were able to incorporate an option to add UDC and I want to try and do the same thing in our new help systems...

I could be way wrong (I have never attempted this..so cut me a little slack :D) but I figured I would need the following:

-WARNING- I HAVE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE .... IT COULD GET SCARY and/or BE COMPLETELY WRONG!! -WARNING-

A page in the help system that comprised of user definable fields whose values are sent to a DB (im assuming its gonna be a mysql db...but suggestions would be nice)
the information from the UDC page is sent to a db and then recalled on a page that creates links based on the name of the new user created page....

so i invision something like this:

UDC Entry Page:

Name Field ____________ (name field has a value like, udc_name or something similar)

Table:
[number field] <- for the user to define the step in the procedure | [procedure information] followed by a line underneath for [result]

and so on....i know this a pretty dirty example but before i spent to much time trying to plan out how i want it to look/feel for the user i wanted to see what i would/wouldn't be able to do within a help system.

the information for the UDC entry page would be sent to a db and then recalled from a topic page that generated links based on the names of the UDC topics.

if this is ridiculous or something that just won't work let me know...but if there is a sliver of hope that might be just enough for me to go and start on this ridiculous adventure....

thanks for any help on this, I know it seems like a lot / might be vague but I hope I was able to get what I invisioned for my help system to the forums :D

thanks-
dm

ps. dont judge me if this is terri-bad :D
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Re: User Defined Content

Postby KevinDAmery on Wed Apr 16, 2008 11:13 am

What you're describing basically is a web content management system (CMS). It can be done, but you're right, it can get scary (even without getting into the possible liability issues if your users modify your help and the modifications lead to other users damaging property or causing harm to individuals--that's a whole other ball of wax, but if your older help systems supported user created content then I guess you're comfortable with it....)

Basically, you'd need a system that could accept new content and recompile a help system using it, then make that system available to users. Large corporations do this kind of thing all the time (most web banking systems are done in a similar way, for example) but a) those systems are very complex, and b) even then they keep strict control over who can edit content and who can approve changes, and change overs happen in a controlled way (usually in off-peak hours).
Until next time....
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Re: User Defined Content

Postby DurtyMat on Wed Apr 16, 2008 12:35 pm

aside from the impending legal issues :D couldn't i code a topic to create a list based on a database, aka pull the name value from the database to generate the list content without having to regenerate the help system on a consistent basis? and couldnt i have the link(s) generated from the name value(s) link to a topic that has fields that were automatically filled with the contents of the database?

aka:

user inputs name into the name field and procedure in the udc_proc field. the links page pulls the name value from the database and creates a list of links based on the name(s) found in the database and link to a page that had the name formatted with a heading 2 (example) and the procedure from the related udc_proc value displayed on the page in a predetermined layout?

i know i am pulling teeth here, but it just seems like something that some code could pull off without ever compiling the help system more then once....
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Re: User Defined Content

Postby KevinDAmery on Wed Apr 16, 2008 12:57 pm

I guess you could, but those topics wouldn't appear in your TOC. So as long as the users in question know to go to your links topic instead of the TOC to find user-developed content, in theory it should work. So basically you're talking about users who know enough about the product and their workplace to know there is a user-developed procedure, but not enough to already know how to do it :wink: Anyone who doesn't know the difference between UDC and vendor-developed content (aka the stuff your writers develop) might not be able to find the UDC very easily. Something to think about.

Implementing glossary terms, search, indexing, etc. for UDC would also be problematic. If you don't mind UDC being a much stripped down portion of the help, that may be acceptable, but it is something to take into account.
Until next time....
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Re: User Defined Content

Postby LTinker68 on Wed Apr 16, 2008 1:04 pm

(Kevin put in a post before I finished writing mine, but I expound on a couple of his points, so I left my post in.)

Theoretically what you're mentioning should work. Don't forget -- the WebHelp output is just individual web pages called in a frameset, with some added functionality that's dealt with via JavaScript. You might get errors when you compile because Flare can't resolve the links or data calls, but you can always ignore those. And you might have to use CDATA tags around the database calls, but that's something you'll have to test. And since Flare isn't inherently set up to allow you to make database calls, then you're going to have to enter all the code yourself. (Or edit the topics in Dreamweaver or another web design program.)

Keep in mind, though, that Flare generates data for the search, index, and glossary panes at compile time. If you use a database call in the first heading in a topic, for instance, then the search XML files isn't going to have the resolved topic title because the search files were generated before the database call was resolved. So you'll want to avoid using database calls in headings, as index keywords, or as glossary terms.
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Re: User Defined Content

Postby DurtyMat on Wed Apr 16, 2008 1:28 pm

well the basic idea behind this came from this:

a client reviewed our help system and was very pleased with the information and layout of the help system and said that it looked like something that would be very helpful to her and her techs (thats always a plus ;)) but it didn't look like it would help the admins when they encountered unique errors or problems in their software. i asked her where she currently keep track of her "unique solutions" and she responded "in a notebook" which made me start to brain-storm a UDC page that would allow those unique solutions to errors/setup/daily procedures could be held instead of a notebook or a post-it note on the side of someone's monitor...

again i appreciate everyone's input on this....now to talk to some of our programmers and see if i can't get the ball rolling on this project...

thank!
-dm
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Re: User Defined Content

Postby LTinker68 on Wed Apr 16, 2008 1:32 pm

DurtyMat wrote: i asked her where she currently keep track of her "unique solutions" and she responded "in a notebook" ...

You could always add Feedback Server to the help. Admins/Tech Support and even the end user could write their comments at the end of the topic and then you could incorporate the modifications on the next build.
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Re: User Defined Content

Postby KevinDAmery on Wed Apr 16, 2008 1:46 pm

Feedback server would certainly be an option. Another option, I suppose, would be a wiki. (An no, I'm not a wikiphile--just seems this is the kind of situation they're well suited to...)
Until next time....
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Re: User Defined Content

Postby DurtyMat on Wed Apr 23, 2008 11:43 am

sorry for the delay, BUT, it looks like we have a solution to the "problem" as we fine tune some of the aspects of the UDC I will bring some release notes and possibly some of the code that we used to integrate it into our help system. i will say it got my programmer very interested in the kind of tools and functionality that our new help systems can and will provide our clients.

appreciate everyone's thoughts on this, i know i normally come to the boards with some pretty odd ball requests, but i think providing unique solutions and stretching Flare to the limits (and its ability to cope with it) is definitely a strong point for this application.

again, looking forward to bring some RL examples of how this thing is going to be integrated into our help system/product.

-dm
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Re: User Defined Content

Postby ScottMartin on Thu May 29, 2008 12:13 pm

Can you say a word or two about the solution you have found? We're interested in doing some similar things, and Feedback Server (though powerful) doesn't seem like the solution.

We're also trying to find a way to allow users to modify help, in particular for resellers to be able to modify just a word or two to better align with their businesses. The classic example is that some businesses use "clients" and some use "customers." We're trying to find a way that a reseller could get into the help, make a blanket change that wouldn't break TOCs and indexes, but not have to purchase Flare to do it.
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Re: User Defined Content

Postby DurtyMat on Tue Jun 03, 2008 9:56 am

well, it has been a while, so i will do my best to catch everyone up to where we are:

for one, we scooped up: fckeditor, http://www.fckeditor.com (hopefully madcap doesnt mind the link) this provides the user with a familiar word processor interface to create their UDC with.

then we began creating the necessary code to enable the fckeditor to create seperate pages per topic (currently a WIP). there are some more things in the works with this project and i will get back with a solid summary of what we did to create UDC in our help system. i will work on getting some form of example of how this all works for some feedback...

thanks for your interest in this project, it has been a fun ride so far :D
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