Today, A Question: Information Delivery Online

Ian Lurie

How can you best deliver training materials and procedures online?
Usually I’m up here preaching at you, which I know can get a little annoying at times.
Today, something different: I need some opinions and recommendations.
One of my main jobs as the CEO at Portent is to teach. I write a lot of stuff down in this document called the Fat Free Guide.
2 months ago I decided this internet thing isn’t going away, and I decided to move from the old, PDF-driven version of the guide to HTML.
I tried 2 different wikis. They’re hideously ugly, and while they’re great for project management, they’re miserable at creating easy-to-read documentation. I could customize the design, but it looks like that could be a bigger chore than it’s worth.
I tried plain old HTML. Right. What was I thinking?!
I tested a few knowledge base systems. Blech.
Bottom line: I want to create something that sticks to my principles of simplicity, ease of use and adaptability.
It’s looking like custom may be my only option. I hate custom. I’m lazy. I want to use something someone else already built.
Any suggestions out there?
The requirements are:

  1. It must support commenting.
  2. It should be super-easy to enter content.
  3. It should support a Procedure >> Step >> Example structure, where each of the previous items have their own page.
  4. It should support reasonably complex navigation and search, so that the 170 pages of information that currently reside in the PDF version of the Fat Free Guide will remain usable in HTML.

Any advice, suggestions, etc. would be greatly, greatly appreciated.

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  1. Have you considered a content management system like Joomla or Drupal? Your site is pretty nice… will it not support the creation of the pages you’re hoping for?
    I know I can create a new “content type” within Drupal and set all sorts of new rules for how others and myself can interact with it. Good luck!

  2. @jlbraaten I’m looking at the Velocity language, which is what drives the design in Confluence (the wiki software we use). Confluence offers the best features for this kind of collaborative document, so hopefully it’ll work. I’ll let you know…

  3. Hi Ian,
    1 & 2 sound like WordPress.
    4 sounds like Google/Google Site Search (if it’s all been indexed). I’m thinking you can probably plug Site Search into WordPress.
    Not sure about 3, you lost me a bit there, but with tagging and categories maybe WordPress could handle that. Maybe not connected/sequential enough though.
    Cecily 🙂

  4. Hi Ian –
    I would use wordpress along with the Thesis theme – absolutely (and easily) customizable (with a good php programmer/sidekick) and combined with a google search, will do exactly what you need.

  5. I think you should scrap the whole interactive model and go with a “choose your own adventure” paperback book.
    Seriously I have no idea what will work, I’m just being a pain.
    But I would be interested to learn what you end up going with and how it works for you – I think there’s a burning need out there to be fulfilled with a great product (if there isn’t one already)…

  6. I echo earlier comments suggesting WordPress or Drupal; there’s also Moodle, a learning-centric version of Drupal, but it’s hideously ugly. If you have design skills, though, you can make a “theme” (like a WordPress theme) and mask at least some of the ugly.
    There’s nothing stopping you from creating a “choose your own adventure” system in WordPress via links; I was in the midst of doing the same myself for an e-course I’m creating, but instead went with Articulate Online (which is Flash-based and doesn’t allow commenting, so wouldn’t be a good fit for you).

  7. I agree with the previous comments that WordPress would likely be a great solution for your project.
    Consider that WordPress offers:
    • Comments that can be restricted to different user types, or left open for discussion.
    • Different levels of users to support collaboration.
    • Uses a WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) text editor for entering content, with support to paste from Microsoft Word. Also allows the posting of photographs, video, PDFs and other content that could be useful in a teaching environment. Also offers support to write HTML in the editor.
    • Categories/navigational structure can go as deep as needed. Tags can be used to group relevant information together. A good programmer can help you organize these categories in a way that they’re functional and don’t overwhelm your layout.
    • Many plugins that will automatically find related content or posts.
    • Plugins to display code inside of a blog post.
    • Highly extensible in that your information can be re-skinned or reused in a multitude of different ways.
    If you’re shy about using WordPress, I’ve found that is a pretty good solution as well. Support for jQuery slideshows is built right in.

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