Thu 08 May 2008
MailServe Pro for Leopard Manual takes shape
Category : Commentary/MSPforLeopardManual.txt
I've spent a lot of time the last few days thinking about this - how to develop the MailServe instruction manual so that even a novice could set up a mail server and take advantage of every feature, with zero handholding from me.
It used to be murder, supporting things like Sendmail Enabler and Postfix Enabler for Jaguar and then Panther, four years or more ago.
So, it's an interesting problem - is it possible, through the design of the software's user interface, and the design of the accompanying instruction manual, to make something so complicated do-able by even an idiot (metaphorically speaking :-).
And I'm not talking about clicking a button and turning on Postfix or Dovecot or LDAP. That's not a problem now. I've got that part pinned down pat by all the know-how built up over the last four years.
I'm talking about all the attendant issues that I've had to help a user grapple with - domain names and how do they work anyway?, why can't I reach my server from my own network?, why can't my PHP script send mail past the Smart Host?
I've solved these each time, user-by-user. And I've helped people understand how mail servers work, building their knowledge layer-by-layer. But I've had to repeat the answers every time.
I could have had a forum, but you'd still have to dig through it.
Is there some way to build these answers, solutions and ideas into the narrative structure of the instruction manual?
The web page - with its hypertext links, accompanying graphics, and even animations (if I were so inclined to expend energy doing that) - offers a rich medium on which to organise the information to meet that pedagogical need.
So, I have the information and I have the medium - it'll be a creative act to shape that medium to display that information so that it can be acquired as know-how, internalsed as knowledge, and expended as a new capability by another person.
This is the first page of the new manual. It's like performance art, a work-in-progress. Can the objectives be met? How will it look at the end? I don't mind doing it to find out.