Archive for April, 2009

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When Number One Isn’t Enough

April 18, 2009

Like many people, I periodically drop various key words and phrases into Google to see how well my sites (this one, plus xmlpress.net and managingwriters.com) fare. If you run a business, the “vanity search” is no longer a question of vanity; you need to be near the top of the first page of results for keywords that matter to you and your business.

To that end, I dropped “technical documentation” into Google, and was a little surprised to see that the first hit was docs.hp.com, a site I know well because at one time I managed writers who contributed content to it. Probing a bit deeper, I found that it also comes up first if you search for “HP documentation.”

Good job, Hewlett-Packard…. But, wait a minute. At the top of the page, there is a note, in red, that reads, “Documentation moving March 2009.” Following the link, here is what I found:

In March 2009 the documents on this website will begin to move to the HP Business Support Center (BSC) website. The move will be gradual and conducted in stages. During the move, you can expect uninterrupted access to documentation. After a group of documents moves, you will be redirected to the new location on the BSC. Use the Feedback to webmaster link below to submit any questions.

Click here for more information about the BSC. At the bottom of the BSC info page, click Visit the HP Business Support Center. On the Business Support Center page under Resources, click Manuals.

So, being a dogged fellow, I followed the link for Manuals and landed on a page with a potpourri of product categories and a search box. When I searched for hp-ux (that’s HP’s Unix operating system), I ended up on a page that contains links to a somewhat random collection of PDF files. In fairness, this is a work in progress, but two things disturbed me:

  1. Why abandon a sub-domain (docs.hp.com) that gets superb positioning in Google? Companies pay big money to get good placement on Google (and often fail in the effort).
  2. Why abandon HTML as a format? In fairness, maybe HTML will be part of the new solution, but so far, I see nothing but PDF on the new web site.

docs.hp.com has never been a perfect site, in particular, it never fully cracked the very difficult problem of making it easy to navigate very large documentation sets, but it is very popular (Google doesn’t lie) and offers a wide range of documentation in HTML and PDF form.

Burying it makes no sense (and I mean really burying it; the site (memorably named h20000.www2.hp.com/bizsupport/TechSupport/Home.jsp) where this information is going doesn’t show up on the first six pages of a search for “HP documentation”; I gave up after that). And, even with the smaller number of documents currently on the site, it is clear that they are no closer to cracking the very large documentation set problem. Abandoning HTML documents, if that is what happens, will just make things worse; PDF is great for print, not so good for online.

I’m no longer at HP, but I’m still disappointed that this is happening; I hope HP gets its act together and preserves both docs.hp.com and documentation in HTML (and it wouldn’t hurt if they took a serious swipe at the very large documentation set problem).

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DocTrain/DITA

April 16, 2009

I’ll be headed to Indianapolis for the DocTrain/DITA conference (June 2-5) to talk about DocBook, of all things. More on that in a moment, but first a quick plug for the conference itself.

If you have been to any of the DocTrain conferences, you know they combine in depth pre- and post-conference workshops with excellent keynotes, demonstrations, and talks. I like the flexible format; talks and workshops range from an hour to all day, depending on the topic, so you can get a taste or full immersion in the topics of your choice. This one is devoted 95% to DITA (my DocBook presentations are the only exceptions I’m aware of).

Until April 30th, the organizers are offering a great hotel+conference offer that includes the full conference, workshops, several meals, and three nights hotel for $999. Details here, or call Eileen Savary at +1 978-649-8555 and use discount code “Conference Plus Hotel.”

I’ll be doing two sessions, the first titled: DocBook in the 21st Century: Yes, Virginia, There is a DocBook, and it is Alive and Well, which has the following blurb in the program:

The latest release of DocBook, V5.0, is a significant break with earlier releases. While the differences between DocBook V4.x and V5.0 are quite radical in some aspects, the basic ideas behind DocBook remain the same, so moving from earlier versions to V5.0 is straightforward.

DocBook V5.0 includes new markup for annotations, a unified markup for information sections, and a new and flexible system for linking. In addition, V5.0 is more extensible; it can be more easily modified, and it can be extended in separate namespaces to allow you to easily mix DocBook markup with SVG, MathML, XHTML, and other XML-based languages.

This talk will start with a quick orientation to DocBook for those who have not seen it before, then look in depth at V5.0.

I’ll also be doing a workshop titled Getting Started with DocBook, which is designed to do just that. Here is the blurb:

This workshop will get you up and running with DocBook. If you bring your laptop with you, by the end of the session you should be able to create and publish a DocBook document in html and pdf output formats. The workshop will include basic information about the DocBook schema, DocBook stylesheets, supporting software, and how to put it all together.

If you’ve wondered what DocBook is all about, if you are evaluating it alongside other schemas, or if you want to use DocBook for a new project, this workshop will get you started.

I’ll be interested to see how much, if any, interest there is in DocBook at a DITA conference. I’m cautiously optimistic that there will be enough curious folks to fill the room; we’ll see.

In one last moment of shameless promotion, there will be copies of Managing Writers for sale at the conference.