Qweri: From Legal Publishing to Technical Publishing

Lexum started investing efforts into what would eventually become Qweri in response to the demand of online legal publishers in need of a better solution for the delivery of secondary legal information. It has become obvious that large PDF files are inadequate for the online publishing of complex text-heavy documents used as reference material. Qweri was thus designed as a simple way to convert various input file formats into an interactive online user interface. Lexum quickly realized that the same recipe could also be applied to other type of legal information, such as legislation and collective bargaining agreements.


What Lexum has not initially anticipated is the interest from manufacturing and high tech companies looking to improve the experience of their own clients accessing product documentation. Having spent the last 20 years focusing on the legal sector, no one at Lexum has ever heard of technical writers or technical communicators before. But when you start thinking about it you come to realize that lawyers authoring legal publications fit the definition of the Society for Technical Communication: they help people understand or use something (a legal concept instead of a product).

Those publishing annotated legislation or complex product manuals run into the same kind of issues. First of all the documents they are handling are made out of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of pages of text that are at the same time obscure for the neophyte and often boring even for the specialist. Nobody wants to read those documents from top to bottom. The typical user has a very narrow question in mind and want to quickly locate the portion of content addressing it, before moving on to something else. For the user, efficiency is the key.

Proponents of wiki-like solutions argue that the best approach to this situation is to break down long documents into small bits of information. Unfortunately it is not always possible or desirable to do so. It is sometime essential to scroll up and down in order to understand the context in which a complex procedure should be undertaken or not. Clicking back and forth between short paragraphs proposing partial answers will not do. The more complex the concept or product, the more inadequate this approach happen to be.

That is precisely why Qweri process large documents into an HTML5 paneled interface, while preserving their integrity. Its dynamic table of contents allows users knowing where to look to immediately drill down into content. This is always done in a snap, since content is displayed in chunks of approximately 150kb. In other words, clicking on the title of a large chapter does not trigger the download of the complete chapter, let alone the complete file. Mobile users can be in and out in seconds as well, since Qweri is loaded in the device native browser without requiring the installation of any application. For users not knowing where to look, Ctl-F are replaced by an intelligent search engine integrating technologies such as subphrase queries (identifying expressions within queries), stemming (searching for plurals and derivatives), and proximity search (searching within a sentence or paragraph). Advanced users can even build a personal layer of knowledge by inserting personal notes over the content, and share some of these notes with colleagues.

Another common ground between legal and technical publishing is that changing how content is authored is not always an easy task. The drafting of reference material is often completed collaboratively and implies complex processes. In some environments content is produced using Microsoft Word, as others use more advanced authoring platforms generating HTML, XML, or proprietary formats. Replacing those processes and platforms involve costs and risks that are not necessarily welcome. By accepting a wide range of input file formats and fully automating the conversion process, Qweri completely remove these costs from the equation.

Lexum designed Qweri to improve the online publishing of reference material without impacting how content is produced. It is very exciting to realize that the experience acquired managing and publishing legal information is also relevant to those producing technical documentation. It should enable us to replace more and more large PDF files with Qweri over the years to come.