Important Announcement:

I am "archiving" the HyperTexas website and asking my loyal visitors to go to my new site, where I will be updating more frequently. Since 1993, I'm proud to have participated in the growth of the WWW and will devote more time to creating fresh and relevant content for both Adobe RoboHelp and Adobe Captivate at the new site. I wanted to keep this site up for archival purposes, so it will remain indefinitely.

WinWriters Session Update - New slides released

Thanks to everyone who attended my session! Much of the material presented at the conference is available on the WinWriters site. For convenience, you can download the presentation here. It includes several slides I added that are not in the printed proceedings.

Daigle Case Study Session Final

A Case Study of Context-sensitive Web Application Help Using the WebHelp API

Don't worry if you don't know what "API" means. This session is for non-programming authors (web developers are invited, too) who want to learn "under-the-hood" techniques of building context sensitive user assistance into web apps.

We'll use a real life case study of the Builder Data Bank, a web application for homebuilders. See "how the sausage is made," as we follow the first stumbling steps of planning. Then, on to a finished "live" site. We'll also take a look at some inexpensive camcorder usability testing that led to decisions on how the online help was implemented.

While the application in this case study uses Active Server Pages (ASP), its context sensitive techniques apply just as well to most any kind of application whether written in Visual Basic, Visual C++, Java, or other dynamic database-driven technology.

As a foundation for the help system, the Builder Data Bank uses RoboHelp X3's WebHelp Application Programming Interface (API). However, many of the techniques will be valid regardless of the authoring tools used. You'll learn:

The Builder Data Bank - a web-based application

The Builder Data Bank is a web application for homebuilders and architects - a sort of "photo/file-sharing application on steroids." Homebuilders can upload, download, search and otherwise keep track of graphic and AutoCAD drawing files from a web interface using Active Server Pages (ASP).

The challenge

The challenge was to create online user assistance for three distinct audiences:

These groups represent a wide range of computing expertise from rank beginners to power users.

The user assistance solution

A context-sensitive online help system was developed featuring three access points:

The content is presented using WebHelp which is RoboHelp's uncompiled output for cross browser/cross platform compatibility. Users may access WebHelp with browsers such as Netscape, Internet Explorer or Opera running on UNIX, LINUX, Macintosh or Windows operating systems.

RoboHelp x3's WebHelp Application Programming Interface (API)

While there are many ways developers "call" a specific help topic, most of them involve using snippets of JavaScript code called functions. These mini-programs create the window that displays the help topic.

The WebHelp API provides a list of ready-made JavaScript functions that help developers avoid reinventing the wheel. It is also built upon methods used for older WinHelp and HTML Help systems that can be easily "ported" to WebHelp.

Finally, the Context Sensitive Help Test Tool is used to make sure the right topics open in the right windows.

A free sample web application and context sensitive help system will be provided to attendees in digital form for analysis and "reverse engineering".



Ken Pieper & Associates, (with a staff of 20 artists and AutoCAD professionals) is one of the nation’s largest providers of architectural renderings and illustrations to homebuilders coast to coast. These homebuilders send AutoCAD drawings to Ken Pieper. Artists then render illustrations, floor plans, etc. either computer aided or using watercolor by hand. Homebuilders then use these illustrations in many formats (TIF, GIF, JPG, PSD, etc.) for use on websites, newspaper ads, brochures, etc.


The problem


The solution

The Builder Data Bank is actually a web service or sub-site of and is an Active Server Pages application that provides homebuilders a way to upload, download and otherwise manage graphic and AutoCAD drawing files from a web interface.


Clients of the Builder Data Bank are already clients of Ken Pieper and therefore a lot of the About Us, What’s New, etc. that is typical of websites is left out. This allows the Builder Data Bank application to focus strictly on graphic asset management.


Shown below are five screenshots of the GUI which point out access points to the help system: A Help Link, a Tip link and a QuickDemo Flash movie.