Geetesh: How did the PowerPoint FAQ (PPT FAQ) evolve?
Steve: Back before the internet and web became mainstream, Microsoft had several support forums on Compuserve. I used to hang out on the PowerPoint forum and answer questions. In part, it was a great way to learn more about the software and to get ideas for a monthly column I used to write for Inside PowerPoint magazine, but mostly it was fun to be able to help other PowerPoint users.
Of course, newcomers always tended to have the same basic questions. Rather than type the same answers over and over again, I started to keep a couple of text files with “stock answers” that I could copy and and paste as responses. That may seem a little impersonal, but really, it works out better for everyone. Instead of dashing off a quick answer (and maybe leaving out important bits by mistake) I could take the time to write a nice, clear, complete answer once and many people could benefit from it. And that left more time to work on the tricky, less-frequently asked questions.
Then along came the web. Publishing all of these stock answers on my web site seemed like the obvious thing to do. That way people didn’t have to wait for me to reply to their questions on the forums, they could just check the site for a quick answer.
Geetesh: How do you keep all this content updated?
Steve: For a while, I wrote the content and created the links in Word, then exported to HTML for the web. That worked fairly well when there were only a few dozen questions and answers, but the FAQ very quickly grew unmanageable in Word.
You know what they say: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Well, the not-so-tough, if they’re nerds, write software.
I wrote my own program to create and update the questions and answers, create the HTML and publish it to the web. And of course I added features that make it easy for me to find an answer quickly and paste a link to it directly into forum and later newsgroup replies.
This all evolved into a program called Friday (for obscure reasons having to do with a 1950’s TV detective show), that I use to maintain the PowerPoint FAQ, the various PPTools sites, and several other sites.
Interestingly, a lot of the work that went into Friday became the basis for our PPT2HTML add-in for PowerPoint, but that’s another story for another day, I think.
Geetesh: Does the PowerPoint community help you?
Steve: Oh, absolutely! Somebody has to ask questions frequently in order for them to become frequently asked questions.
Without the PowerPoint community, the PowerPoint FAQ (at least my version of it) wouldn’t exist. Between the users’ questions and the contributions of the PowerPoint MVPs and other newsgroup regulars, there’s no end of material for the FAQ. Even with Friday’s help, I have trouble keeping up.
The PowerPoint FAQ really is a community effort. You might say that I’m more the librarian than the author. That’s why this is one of the first things you see when you go there:
“Thanks to everyone on the newsgroups for asking such interesting and challenging questions, and a very special thanks to the PowerPoint MVPs and the OughtaBeMVPs who’ve contributed so much to this site and to the larger PowerPoint community.”
And since I wrote that myself, I couldn’t agree more.