Thursday, January 24, 2008

Contextual help - BestTos

So when I was at AGU in December I met a few people from Google. After my talk, one of them who had some responsibility for KML asked me 'how could we change the design of KML to incorporate your ideas on design?'. KML, for those who don't know, is the type of code that Google Earth uses to record the data that it lays on top of the satellite data. The question really stumped me, most of what I talk about on this blog could be best promoted by Google Earth staff changing the Google Earth tutorials, some changes in the way the Google Earth itself works could also help (e.g. timelines) but changing how KML works doesn't really help. I've had a long think but I still can't think of any major changes worthy of mention. However, it did get me thinking about how to change Google Earth the program to help design.

The idea I came up with is contextual help. The program I know this from is Moodle, an open source Learning Environment, it has little orange question mark icons, the screen shot below shows you one and the the window that opens when clicked.

Contextual Help Screen Shot from Moodle

Its a neat way to show help: not sure what an option means? Click the yellow question mark to find out directly rather than having to look it up in help. Nice. But wait! contextual help does more, it mixes in best practice as I've circled in red, so it not only tells you how to do something but how best to do it as well. This would work wonders in Google Earth, when you are designing a placemark you could have a little contextual link by the icon button which tells you some basics of how to design an icon well with links to more details on a web page somewhere.

In fact that's a term that we should see more of, there are lots of 'how to' blog posts (or HowTos) but we also need BestTos.


Charlie said...

So to extend that idea to KML, it might be useful for some elements, like placemarks, to have a <help> element that can be attached to the kind of contextual help you're advocating for Google Earth. Then somebody's kml document could provide its own application-specific contextual help.

I like this mindset of thinking in terms of applications that run on the Google Earth platform, rather than passive documents that you simply view in Google Earth.

MattFox said...

The one big thing I can think of is ability to turn overlays, etc. on/off from the balloon.