10 Reasons Why Zoho Wiki should be your Help Authoring Tool

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At AdventNet, our parent company, we offer a host of tools for the enterprise ranging from network management to help desk to log analyzers. We also offer frameworks for OEMs to build their own customized solutions. All these products have quite a lot of technical documentation associated with them.

I joined AdventNet in March 2001 and remember the days when our tech writers used RoboHelp for building the documentation package for our various products. RoboHelp’s a nice tool as it allowed easy arrangement of pages based on the Table of Contents, there was an automatic tree view generated in the left hand side panel, there were the Next, Previous arrows in each page for easier navigation, it had a spellchecker and it offered index, content searches. Once the documentation package for a product was done, it was made as a zip file and uploaded to our site. The zip file was then downloaded by our users and extracted to a local directory for consumption.

But the above method of doing help documentation had a good many disadvantages. We will see below how we have overcome these disadvantages by adopting Zoho Wiki and the top reasons for why you should choose Zoho Wiki as your help authoring tool-cum-hosting solution.

1. Accessible from anywhere
A help authoring tool is pricey and needs to be installed in each of the user machines. And you are tied to your PC or laptop for accessing your work. Since Zoho Wiki is available on the web, you can access your help contents for editing from anywhere. When you sign-up for Zoho, you have for free, two wikis with unlimited number of pages.

2. Collaboration
With the conventional help authoring tool, our team of tech documentation writers always found it difficult to collaborate. Each member had to work on a different page, topic or section and finally it was all brought together. Not so with Zoho Wiki. The wiki administrator can set page-level permissions allowing for fine-grained access control to who sees what. For example, when a product’s help pages are being created, the Read/Write Access is set to Group, meaning no one from the outside world can view it. Once the documentation gets done, the Wiki permission is set to Public and everyone is able to access those pages. The same’s true for new documentation pages getting added all the time to a Wiki.

3. WYSIWYG Editor
Most wikis need the wiki syntax to be followed. For example you have to write **Zoho** in order to make Zoho appear as bold. This is one reason why wikis haven’t proliferated as much. But we want Zoho Wiki to be a wiki for all. It has a powerful WYSIWYG editor which allows you to format text as you like, insert URLs & tables, play with pictures / images etc.

4. Page Organization
The sitemap provided by Zoho Wiki allows creation of sub-pages and lists them as a hierarchical index (folder view) of the wiki pages. Pages could be created and re-arranged easily by drag-and-drop.

5. Version Control
Zoho Wiki saves all versions of a web page. And the evolution of the documentation can be tracked as any two versions of a page can be compared. A page can be reverted back to an older version, if need be.

6. Search Engine Optimization
The zip file we had for our help documentation didn’t help when it came to search engine optimization. There were lots of valuable info in those pages which the search engines didn’t have access to. But all wikis made public in Zoho Wiki are crawlable by search engines. And the tags you add for wiki pages automatically make up the keywords meta tag. The name of the page is taken as the title tag. Also, Zoho Wiki has a good PR in Google. Since all the wikis you create are sub-domains of the Zoho Wiki URL, you have a nice chance of getting a good page rank, resulting in your pages turning up tops for related search queries.

Searches for Olympics 2008 stats, entrepreneurial marketing, CRM online help in Google all have Zoho wikis within the first 3 places.

7. No Expertise needed
There is typically a learning curve involved with any help authoring tool. It takes some time to know all the functions and master them. But with Zoho Wiki, you can hit the road running. Sign up for free with a username / password, get invited to the appropriate wiki and start working on the content right-away.

8. Searchable
The pages of a Zoho Wiki are regularly indexed and hence are easily searchable. There is a search box available in evey page where you can type page names, tags, words or text phrases within a page and search for them within a wiki.

9. Customization Options
With help authoring tools, you should have a thorough knowledge of HTML in order to make your web pages appear the way you want. With Zoho Wiki, there are a lot many customization options available. Like having the side panel to the right or left, including your organization logo, customizing the header/footer panes, choosing a skin color etc. There is CSS support too. If you know how to work with style sheets, you can easily make your wiki look unique (like this one, for example).

10. Easy maintenance
Before, we had to upload zip files to our site and it required webmaster’s help. Whenever there was a small change/addition to any of the documents, a whole set of steps had to be followed. The tech writer updates the specific page, a new build (a zip file) is made to reflect the changes, the zipped file is mailed to the webmaster team, the webmaster team uploads the build to a test site and mails back to the product team asking for approval, the product team downloads the zip from the test site and sees whether everything’s OK, gives approval to the webmaster for uploading to the site and finally the webmaster uploaded it onto the site. Now with Zoho Wiki, it is an one-click process. Make the necessary changes in the appropriate wiki page, save it and you are done. The latest changes get reflected on the site.

Some of the tech documentation that we have on Zoho Wiki : Zoho Invoice, Zoho CRM, Zoho Wiki‘s itself, Zoho Show, ToonDoo and more. Going forward, we plan to host almost, if not all, of AdventNet’s / Zoho’s web pages on Zoho Wiki in a phased manner.

Switch to Zoho Wiki now for all your help documentation needs.

Zoho Party

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To celebrate our Million User milestone (and to make an announcement – or two), we are hosting a party at the Office 2.0 Conference in San Francisco next week. We’d like to invite all Zoho Users and all attendees from the Office 2.0 Conference to this event.

Location:

Vitrine @ St. Regis (4th Floor)

125 3rd St

San Francisco CA

The party starts @ 6PM on Sep 4th. Our Millionth user Dean Detton from Prestige Home Automation will be joining us as well.

If you are attending the party, please take a few seconds to drop us a line. This will help us plan the event.

Do mark your calendar for Sep 4th from 6PM to 9PM. Looking forward to seeing you in person.

Here are some photos from our last year’s party.

Zoho Notebook for your Stock Research

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Some users like managing their portfolio using a simple spreadsheet like this one (it uses our recently launched VB Macros, BTW).

While a spreadsheet is good one for such use, research is a different story. Apps like Zoho Notebook comes in handy in such cases. Good news about Zoho Notebook is, you can even include such spreadsheets inside your notebook.

Mike Hogan from Barron’s talks about using Zoho Notebook (and Google Notebook) for your Stock Research.

BOTH NOTEBOOK SYSTEMS make it easy to sort out the HTML-bound text, pictures and videos you want to keep from those you want to lose. Yes, popular desktop applications accept hyperlinks, graphics and other HTML gingerbread, but not with anything approaching predictability. Web elements can change a receiving file’s formatting; and, if your mouse stumbles over an embedded link, you can find yourself transported to an image or video application or some other Web page.

Google Notebook is better at selectively stripping out Web links and other formatting, or turning a big note into plain text with the click of an icon. Zoho Notebook is more oriented toward page-building than text conversion. It has standing menu options that let you create multimedia notebooks by mixing images, RSS feeds, spreadsheets, presentations and other non-text elements, or even record audio and video directly to a notebook. In addition to text- editing tools, it has a drawing toolbar for page layout and object manipulation — and a truly impressive ability to deal with disparate Web-page elements.

Google Notebook’s strength is in on-the-fly research, where the fewer mouse clicks, the better. But Zoho’s multimedia elements make for greater comprehension, and facilitate sharing. In this age of social media, being able to bounce your research and ideas off other market speculators is an important part of investing.

Both services let you create public folders online — including password-protected ones accessible only to approved collaborators. But Zoho Notebook has more version-control and collaborative features for group projects, as well as chat access via Skype’s (www.skype.com) instant-messaging and phone service. Both can be included as toolbars in Mozilla’s Firefox browser (http://en-us.www.mozilla.com). With a right mouse click, you have the option to capture a Web page’s URL to Google Notebook or the entire Web page to Zoho Notebook.

Full article here.

Research is obviously the core usage of Zoho Notebook. We have been making some good progress towards it for the next version to further simplify the research process with a better plug-in etc. More on that later.

India retains World Youth Chess Olympiad title

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I know the Olympics just ended. But I am not going to talk about it, because India was, like 50th in the medal tally. Did you know no Indian had ever won an individual gold medal before, until this Olympics. If you said “Indians suck at sports”, I would say you are being too polite.

So we prefer to celebrate the wins we do get, like this one from The Hindu:

India, which crushed Russia 3.5-0.5 in the second round but almost lost its way in the second half of the 10-round competition, caught up with the top seed at 28.5 points and took the honours due to superior tie-break score.

What is particularly thrilling to us is we at AdventNet had a small hand in it. About a year ago, the Hindu carried an article that said a gifted chess player in our state was looking for help acquiring a laptop, so he could polish his game. We gifted him one. He is one of the players in the team that won the World Youth Chess Olympiad.  Congratulations, Priyadarshan, you make us proud!

I want to emphasize that our role in this is small and incidental, but we are really happy it made a difference. There is plenty of talent where he comes from. One of the most satisfying things we do at AdventNet is to help surface such talent – in the field of software. But there is a lot more than software talent in India, that is waiting to be discovered.

Zoho Projects : Create Project templates, Bulk upload documents and more

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Today’s Zoho Projects update brings in a few more goodies.

Project Templates : Zoho Projects has had Tasklist Templates for quite some time now. This has now been enhanced to include defining whole projects as templates. In addtion to defining tasklists, you can now have Milestones (consisting of various tasklists), documents, forum posts & users added to a template. And whenever a new project is created, you needn’t start from scratch but make a copy of a suitable project template (whereever applicable).

Bulk Upload Documents : Typically, when a new project gets started, you upload various documents like requirement docs, drawings, design plans, test procedures etc related to that project. What better way than to choose once and upload all of them in one go? Zoho Projects now offers multiple file uploads.

Log time : Logging time has now been made easier. A clock icon comes on moving your mouse over the days in the calendar view. You can click on it and log the time for your tasks in that project.

You can also log time, edit the logged time in the List View under the Timesheet tab now.

Do try the latest features in Zoho Projects.

Introducing Zoho Share: Sharepoint Meets YouTube

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Many of you have used our applications to create, share and publish content. While you’ve had control on the creation part and the sharing part, there was little visibility on the published content. The documents you published are a list of URLs. We plan to change that with our new addition to Zoho Suite – Zoho Share.

Our vision for Zoho Share is Sharepoint meets YouTube: the business benefits of organizational document repositories, presented for the YouTube generation, with a friendly, familiar interface.

The Sharepoint part is very important: Zoho Share is a central place where we bring together all published content. If you are an individual publishing your documents, the content appears in Zoho Share under your profile. Zoho Business users have an option to publish the documents within the organization. In this case Zoho Share acts as a published document repository within (and only within) the organization. The analogy here is an organization’s internal Sharepoint repository, but with YouTube style enhancements.

Zoho Share is about content that is published and the people who publish it. All the public content from Zoho Writer, Sheet & Show can now be viewed in Zoho Share. You can browse through various documents, presentations, spreadsheets and PDFs under the Content section of Zoho Share. These different types of documents can be viewed in different modes. You can Comment, Rate, Bookmark, Email and Embed the content from Zoho Share.

The following video provides a quick overview of the application.

One of the unique functionality of Zoho Share is the ability to define a license for the content you upload/publish. Users can also view the content by the license type.

Under the People Section, Zoho Chat is integrated into Zoho Share to facilitate interaction between content creators and content consumers. ‘My Area’ section lets you view all your documents from Writer, Sheet & Show.

Currently documents published with Zoho Writer, Sheet & Show will appear in Zoho Share. Other content will follow. Going forward, we will also add the ability to publish documents directly to Zoho Share from other Zoho Apps.

Please note that only published documents will be listed under Zoho Share. Any shared documents will continue to remain private. If you wish to remove any public documents, please do so from the ‘My Area’ section in Zoho Share or the appropriate Zoho applications.

Please do give this a try and let us know what you think.

(Update: Reviews at TechCrunch, Webware, Mashable, …

Many reviewers think of it as “YouTube for documents” which Scribd & Docstoc have popularized. We view Zoho Share more of as “Sharepoint Meets YouTube” or “Sharepoint for the YouTube generation” which is a key difference. In keeping with it, we have avoided too much Flash (!) and kept the players as simple HTML/Javascript. It is an intentional design choice.)

So what’s in it for Zoho?

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My last post on why we compete with Google attracted a bit of attention, and quite a few questions. Ignoring the questions on my IQ or my competence in English (isn’t the internet great?), let me come to the most central one of all: if business software is so much less lucrative than consumer internet offerings, why does Zoho want to be in it? To rephrase it, if the argument is that it won’t prove to be lucrative enough for Google, why does Zoho want to do it?

The pat answer, of course, is “Zoho is not Google”. The long answer is “AdventNet is not Google”, and what that means is you should understand our history. In a nutshell, for AdventNet, this market means moving up in the value chain, while for Google, it represents going down that value chain. Here are a couple of quick examples to illustrate this process: why does McDonalds want to compete with Starbucks while Starbucks clearly isn’t going to enter the fast food business? Why does Wal-mart want to offer organic foods, while Whole Foods is never going to offer clothing or toys? Coffee has better margins than hamburgers, organic food has better margins than clothing.

AdventNet, the parent of Zoho, is an unusual company: we have never ever raised any outside investment in our 12+ years in business, and we still remain private. We are over 850 employees now, and the company has multiple divisions, Zoho being the most recent and the most glamorous. But we haven’t forgotten our roots. We are still the leaders in the market we started to serve 12 years ago. That is the business of selling software to network equipment vendors (the so-called OEMs). It has been a good business for us, but it is also a famously low margin business. We cut our teeth in that tough business.

So why would we enter a low margin business? Leaving aside the IQ question of the CEO, a low margin business let us get a toehold with relatively little marketing/sales/branding investment, relying purely on our engineering skills.

By 2004, we had gained sufficient scale to enter the next higher level in the food chain, with our ManageEngine suite of products, sold directly to business customers. It offered us the opportunity add more value than we could in the OEM business, but it also required higher investment in marketing and branding. We have been quite successful in that business.

In 2005/2006, we took the next step, with Zoho. Clearly, Zoho addresses a far bigger market than what our OEM or ManageEngine product lines address. To address that larger market, much larger investment in infrastructure, marketing and branding would be required. Fortunately, AdventNet is at a size now to be able to afford that investment. Of course, Zoho also offers us more opportunity to differentiate our offerings, which is the key to creating higher value.

None of this is particularly original. Most bootstrapped companies go through these phases. Microsoft started as an OEM software company. Oracle was originally a consulting company. 37Signals started out as a design consulting company, before evolving to be a strong player in software-as-a-service. Atlassian started out offering issue tracking software, before branching out into Wikis and enterprise collaboration, which is a much higher margin product. Let’s not forget that Google got its start OEMing its search engine to AOL and Yahoo – a much lower margin business than the one it is currently in.

The reason this model looks odd to most people is the relative rarity of bootstrapped companies in recent times. The venture capital model enables companies to leapfrog these evolutionary stages, directly going higher in the food chain, in their quest for rapid value creation. That comes at a price, which we have not been willing to pay at AdventNet – more on that topic later.

So to answer the question on Google vs Zoho: the business software market makes perfect sense for us, as a move up the value chain. I am not sure it makes all that much sense for Google.