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A Browsing Approach to Documentation

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000131501D
Original Publication Date: 1982-Jun-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Nov-11
Document File: 7 page(s) / 30K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Yvan Leclerc: AUTHOR [+5]

Abstract

Ever discovered after weeks of working on a software problem that your colleague down the hall solved it months ago? What you probably needed was a system like this. There are those who would argue that the OS/360 six-foot shelf of manuals represents verbal diarrhea, that the very voluminosity of manuals represents a new kind of incomprehensibility. And there is some truth in that. Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. I

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

This record contains textual material that is copyright ©; 1982 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Contact the IEEE Computer Society http://www.computer.org/ (714-821-8380) for copies of the complete work that was the source of this textual material and for all use beyond that as a record from the SPI Database.

A Browsing Approach to Documentation

Yvan Leclerc, Steven W. Zucker, and Denis Leclerc,

McGill University

Ever discovered after weeks of working on a software problem that your colleague down the hall solved it months ago? What you probably needed was a system like this.

There are those who would argue that the OS/360 six-foot shelf of manuals represents verbal diarrhea, that the very voluminosity of manuals represents a new kind of incomprehensibility. And there is some truth in that.

Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. I

As Brooks implies above, the sheer volume of information required for research facilities to function makes that self-same information both difficult to retrieve and difficult to comprehend. His response to this Catch-22 situation (in the case of the IBM 360) was to compile a carefully organized set of manuals through which specific information such as the details of a programming language or the parameters of a subroutine could be easily found.

While the time-honored technique of manually searching through extensive indexes does adequately allow for the retrieval of such information, it does not lend itself to the simple and leisurely discovery of that information. In other words, it is difficult to browse through the information in order to discover just what is or is not available. Computerized documentation systems such as the VAX/ VMS HELP facility2 offer more flexibility in their information retrieval capabilities than hard-copy manuals, but they are not particularly well-suited to browsing either. The purpose of this article is to describe one experiment in the design of a documentation system that provides mechanisms for both needs -- retrieval and comprehension.

The decision to design and implement a documentation system with browsing capabilities was made when we noticed that many members of our laboratory tended to "reinvent the wheel" by needlessly duplicating the efforts of others in the laboratory. Even though these previous efforts were documented in various ways, most people were unaware that a particular topic (e.g., fast Fourier transforms or pseudocoloring of images) had even been explored by another member of the laboratory. Even The McGill University Computer Vision and Graphics Laboratory fewer knew precisely what that other member had done. Also, whenever it was known that a particular topic had been investigated by a particular person, the original investigator spent considerable time explaining exactly where the documentation for the topic was to be found and in furnishing general...