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Create online employee tutorials for free

(MoneyWatch) I've worked in enough offices to know that many business tools are often a hodgepodge of barely coherent, poorly documented code. The only way you know how to actually get anything done is through a combination of songs and stories handed down from employee to employee, and possibly a quick-start guide written by someone in IT over a lunch break.

It doesn't have to be this way. Recently, I ran across a promising product that lets anyone add online help to any web page or online application. With minimal effort, you can make your company's tools friendly and usable.

Walkme lets you add step-by-step guidance to your websites and online apps. Specifically, you get to add "tip balloons" that provide the instructions and context that's missing from your apps. Users can see exactly what information they need to enter and what to do next at every step of the process.

Even better, creating those tips looks pretty simple. You don't need any technical know-how; the Walkme plug-in makes associating tip balloons with specific parts of the web page or app a point and click affair. In other words, almost anyone in the company should be able to do this.

But despite the system's simplicity, it has a lot of power. You can specify where text balloons pop up on screen and branch instructions to cover asides and sub-procedures based on the needs of the user. Steps can be triggered by mouse clicks, screen refreshes, timed events and more. Of course, software like this has the potential to get in the way and become an annoyance, but Walkme's steps are skippable -- something users are sure to like.

When a "walkthrough" is completed, it can be enabled by adding a single line of code to the website.

The cost of setting up Walkme depends upon your needs, but you can use it for free -- you get up to three walkthorughs (and 300 uses per month) at no cost. If you need more than that, you'll need to contact Walkme for a price quote.

All in all, this is a pretty cool system. I played with the plugin that lets you create walkthroughs, and it's a snap to learn and use. I'm encouraged that Walkme can make life a little easier for knowledge workers who struggle with office tools that aren't nearly as effective as they could be.

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