A few years ago, I posted an explanation of how I used Joomla as a publishing platform for technical documentation on a corporate intranet. I continue using Joomla today, but in a different context: now I use it as a web-help system.
Today, I install separate instances of Joomla for each product for which I write supporting documentation on production web servers, which are accessible to the internet. Our product development teams link the help buttons or menus in their products to the appropriate URL for each web-help site. With this configuration, our customers can access online help via the standard Help options in their products, as well as by going directly to the URLs for the web-help sites in their browsers.
Here is a quick summary of the benefits of using Joomla as a web-help system:
- It is free, open-source software. There is no initial purchase price, nor do you have to pay a yearly subscription fee.
- You perform all writing, editing, and publishing tasks in a browser and Joomla stores your content in a database. When users access a web-help site, Joomla retrieves your content from the database and displays it on the site. In addition, Joomla can render web pages (your documentation) in the PDF format.
- Many template design companies create responsive templates for Joomla (“templates” are Joomla’s user interface). Templates are very easy to install and most are easy to customize. I use a responsive template for my Joomla web-help sites and they display nicely on all types of devices – from extra-large monitors to smartphones.
- My Joomla web-help sites reside on their own servers and I no longer have to worry about source-code repositories or file size restrictions. In addition, I don’t have to hit the same code-freeze dates as our development teams, because the online help is no longer bundled with our products.
I am publishing a short series of articles on using Joomla as a web-help system in the Joomla! Community Magazine. If you would like to learn more, take a look. Here is a list of the articles with links:
- Using Joomla! as a Help Development Tool – This is an introductory article in which I explain why I use Joomla as a web-help system.
- Part I: Choosing an Environment – Explains the various environments in which you can build Joomla web-help systems.
- Part II: Installing Joomla in Production Environments – Explains how to install Joomla on production servers.
- Part III: Installing Joomla in Learning Environments – Explains how to install Joomla on a local “learning” environment, which you can use to figure out how it works.
- Part IV: Adding Extensions – Not yet published. This article describes the extensions (plugins) I use on my web-help sites.
I realize using Joomla as a web-help system is a bit “outside the box.” And, that not everyone works for a company willing to let them experiment with new documentation solutions. But, if you are willing to try something new, and you are willing to work through the learning curve, I promise you can create state-of-the-art help systems with Joomla with none of the cost and far fewer headaches than what you get with commercial help development and desktop publishing tools.