Wednesday, October 29, 2014

whatfix - an interactive help tool, and then some.

Imagine creating content just once. Did you say single sourcing? Let’s try that again. What if I told you that there's this tool that in a single effort (project) can create everything from flat documents, to slideshows to videos? Yes, videos. If I told you the tool starts with a ‘w’, I won’t be surprised if your first thought was ‘Wow!’ It's a very neat idea for interactive help. It’s cloud based, and really simple to use. Very practical. Not to mention that it kicks some serious butt when it comes to the competition in the same area. (Area = interactive tool, not the body part mentioned earlier). Well, it’s not as sophisticated as some of the other tools, but hey, when you see it work, and see how it gets the job done, it will leave you wondering if you really need more. After all, why use complicated tools when you are actually trying to uncomplicate things? Still not impressed? It's also free to try: )

Let's start at the beginning. Two weeks back, GT Nexus Software, Bangalore hosted an STC learning session for technical writers in Bangalore. One of the sessions was about an interactive cloud based tool called whatfix. The capabilities of this tool are pretty impressive. It basically allows you to create a layer of help over any application. Any with a capital A. Augmented reality - check. A one time effort by a writer can be used to create procedural documents and videos simultaneously. This tool is integrated with Google analytics, which as you know will tell you how the content is being used. To integrate help on the application, all that is needed is a small java plug (they provide) that needs to be inserted in the code - once. Users have the option of being hand held through the steps, while they see help as a layer over the application. Pretty neat. Users also have the option to view help as a video, slide show, or a conventional document (with screen shots). Maintenance is a breeze. Any changes to the UI, will mean that only those specific steps need to be replaced, and not the entire procedure. When asked about showing different content to different users on the same application page, the founders said it was possible as an out of the box solution.

What you’ll like
  • How simple it is to create and publish help. We always think about grandma when creating content. Well, in this case, it's grandma's turn to create content!
  • Cloud based. No installations. Scalable solutions. All the benefits of solutions on the cloud
  • It’s like a dashboard. Help and feedback links are always available. You aren’t negotiating with developers for small mercies.
  • Hand-holding for grandma’s friends. Sometimes we are all grand-something.
  • Ability of choosing output (flat doc, video, slideshare) is left to the user.
  • Content can be created as modules and reused
  • The layer that is used to explain things can be used to explain difficult to understand UI. All without getting into the developer's hair. 
  • Some amount of gamification used to encourage users to contribute content.
  • Ability  to add notes and tips along with the content and also provide links for more information without much distraction from the main task 
What will take some time to like/ won't like
  • The color scheme could be simpler/more appealing. Or maybe, I don’t like the dirty orange color used. For a tool this simple, I’d use more whites. I understand all this is customizable. But it’s important to get that first impression right.
  • They are still working on adding audio to videos.
  • You can’t port content. There’s always legacy content. If you choose to switch, prepare to do a lot of scratching… from scratch! But it's going to be a quick scratch to create.
  • The majority of our content is procedural. And the focus of this tool is also on how to do something. It might not be the best tool to explain concepts, complex troubleshooting, why we do something, etc. (They are working on such online help scenarios)
  • Navigation might need some work
  • While most of the UI is intuitive, some of it isn’t. For example, the see live link is actually a hand holding method of showing the user help and getting the user to perform the task, instead of just reading about it. I’d have used something like Let's Do it.
  • Once you maximise the screen, the minimise button goes to the bottom of the page. Most people look for it on the top of a screen.
  • Feedback cannot be gathered at a page level. Again, work in progress.
  • Not 508 compliant yet
  • Video content by default is stored on Youtube. The paid version allows customization to other (private) hosting destinations.
They should have called it something else. whatfix simply doesn't just register. But that didn't seem to be a problem with whatfix customers that includes Flipkart and P&G. There might be some big names who will try to acquire them. I just hope they hold on and don't sell!


  1. Hi Pharoah:
    It would have been nice if you could have added a link to the website atleast. In your excitement, you seem to have forgotten that.

    1. What I forgot to mention was that just before coming up with whatfix, these folks had a search optimization solution. So google for whatfix. It is the first search result.

  2. Thanks for spending time on whatfix and identifying strengths as well as improvement points. As you have mentioned some of the improvements are already work in-progress and will be rolled out soon.

    It was great opportunity to demo whatfix at STC and once again thanks for the blog.