Casting a wider net for content

I spoke with Rachel Potts, technical communications manager at Red Gate Software this week. They have done an innovative, seamless content combination for their Support Center ( to combine Author-it HTML output with technical support articles. Forums are one click away from those articles, and the authors include both technical writers and customer support pros. As she describes it herself, “The Red Gate support site is a help and support portal that comprises content such as product help, a knowledge base, marketing videos and public forums.”


I’m impressed and enjoyed speaking with Rachel about how they combined content from different sources. To integrate their output with the customer support articles, massive XML transforms are built against the Author-it output to populate the custom content management system that runs the support website. The content is not locked behind a support login, though.

Rachel has written an extensive article about their use of Google Analytics on the site, titled, What can web analytics do for technical communications? It’s a great article, one I’d been hoping for, that describes the useful metrics and what to glean from those data points, such as page views, unique page views, exit rate, and time on page. She also extensively analyzes search data. I also appreciated the section on identifying pages that no one reads. Fortunately, they don’t have that problem with their content.

She’s looking for examples of people who are pulling content from multiple authors in different areas in the company and also people outside of the company. Here are the three I sent her.

  • Adobe’s community help search is described on this page, and you can link to it to try it from there as well: It’s described as “This search index includes content such as product Help, language references, TechNotes, Developer Connection articles, and Design Center tutorials as well as the best online content from the Adobe community. Searchable content is chosen by experts at Adobe and in the design and developer communities, meaning you find the focused answers you need faster than with any standard web search.”
  • Sun Microsystems has projects where technical writers are gathering different types of content. NetBeans Ruby is the project I heard about at the STC Summit in 2008. Here’s their wiki: They post screencasts and tutorials to
  • Cisco has done some remodeling on their support community, for the better, by combining more content:

I’m interested in hearing your examples as well as talking to people who have cast a wider net to gather content for support sites. What are your favorite sites, either as a consumer or creator of support information?


  • December 10, 2009 - 7:48 am | Permalink

    I think Rachel and I saw the same presentation by Sonia Fuga of Northgate-IS Ltd at the 2008 European Online Help Conference, where she showed a similar system. She was using WordPress as the “framework”, with custom XML import programs drawing in content from other sources.

    The developments with Semantic Web technology (such as RDFa) should make this all a lot easier. Some companies are funding development work to put this technology into Drupal 7’s core, which may mean so we see similar sites coming initially from Drupal-based sites.

  • December 10, 2009 - 7:49 am | Permalink

    I meant to say similar solutions, rather than similar sites.

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