Big Blue Button

I was invited to demo Mallard at a DITA Help Subcommittee meeting. They hold their meetings with GoToMeeting, a conferencing and desktop-sharing tool. Unfortunately, GoToMeeting only supports Windows and Mac. That’s a problem for me, because the only thing on my desk is Fedora. I searched a bit and stumbled across BigBlueButton, an open source system with all the bells and whistles of the proprietary ones. The DITA folks were nice enough to use BigBlueButton to talk to me.

There are some quirks. Sometimes the audio is choppy or it drops out. People said my desktop was hard to read unless I massively upped the font size. Some of these issues may just be because we used the demo server, which apparently doesn’t have the best deployment. The BigBlueButton developers, however, were extremely helpful. And they’re actively working on the audio issues.

So even with the quirks, and even though I had to install Flash, using BigBlueButton was a really nice experience. It’s left me wanting something more whenever I have to do IRC meetings. IRC meetings are horribly low-bandwidth, especially for collaborative planning. If I could actually talk to people, and show them what Yelp is doing on my desktop, I think we could be a lot more productive. It’s not quite as good as face time, but it’s a lot better than IRC.

I wonder how we could make awesome collaborative tools like this available to our teams in Gnome. Could we run a BigBlueButton server? Is Flash a non-starter for that? What can Empathy do for us? I know I can have a voice chat and share my desktop with someone, but what about a group of someones? Thoughts?

Faceted Navigation

Ever since Matthew Ellison’s talk at the WritersUA conference, I’ve been thinking a lot about faceted navigation. This is a navigational design where you narrow your focus based on certain criteria. A recent example I’ve encountered a lot lately is in searching for real estate. You can narrow your results by how many bedrooms or a price range. Car sales sites might let you narrow based on color or type of car.

What I always try to do with Mallard is make it as simple as possible to provide rich navigation to help users. It’s not enough to be able to slap some pages on the web; any wiki can do that. The goal is to create something that encourages writers to write and organize well.

I wanted to explore simple and Mallardesque ways of doing faceted navigation, but it just didn’t make sense for any of the application help documents we’ve been doing. Along came the HIG. Our usability experts want to create a new pattern library to augment our design guidelines, and I decided to explore how well Mallard would fit. This, I realized, was my chance to try faceted navigation.

In this simple example, there is one facet with three choices. This is all defined using a simple Mallard extension format in the page file. The topics then declare which facet items they’re relevant for. Deselect ‘Mobile’ and you’ll see this:

This is all very rough at the moment, but it’s interesting. To me, anyway. With enhancements like faceted navigation, I think Mallard would be an excellent base for some new topic-oriented developer guides, such as the following:

  • UI Guidelines and Pattern Library
  • UA Guidelines and Templates
  • Accessibility Guidelines
  • Hacking Intros and Howtos

I’m interested to hear people’s thoughts on this.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work by Shaun McCance is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.