The history and future of embedded user assistance

Embedded User Assistance (UA) has always been considered a "Holy Grail" in software user assistance because it improves usability. Its immediacy makes embedded UA more relevant than ever: a new generation of software users want their answers quickly – and embedded UA fulfills this need.

Text by Tony Self Nicoletta A. Bleiel


The history and future of embedded user assistance

The history

hat we now collectively call “user assistance” has also been known as “Online Help”, “wizards”, “bubble help”, “What’s This? Help”, “diagnostic Help” and “decision support”.

Online Help made its first mainstream appearance in 1988 (with the Help in Microsoft QuickBASIC, a DOS application) and has been in refinement ever since. One early feature was “context-sensitivity”, which enabled Help systems to predict the most appropriate topic to present by providing hooks or cross-references between the application user interface and topics within the Help. Help systems have evolved over time (WinHelp, HTML Help, and browser-based Help), introducing various improvements that enhance the user experience, but they all have one thing in common – they open in a eparate window of the software application.

A logical progression was therefore to “interactive” or “dynamic” Help, where ...