Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Content Management Strategies/DITA North America Conference Review

I wasn’t able to attend many of the session since I was manning the Flatirons Solution booth.  Yet from talking with the attendees who visited with us, here are some of the key takeaways:

  • DITA is here to stay. This is not news, but the key point here is that organizations are adopting the standard in earnest, as evidenced by the 150-200 attendees who came despite a bad economy, and discretionary budgets being whittled to next to nothing.  This means that organizations are thinking about DITA as an integral part of their long term strategy.
  • DITA’s scope is not only Technical Publications.  Again, not earth-shattering news.  With specializations like Machine Industry, Learning Objects, and gobs of others, DITA is extending its reach to whole industries that haven’t been able to take advantage of XML before now.  At the conference, I spoke to attendees in a wide range of industries including bio-tech, and manufacturing.
  • Shifting focus from Content Authoring to Content Management and Content Delivery Services.  This is a fundamental shift.  Eric Severson emphasized this point when he demonstrated that Microsoft Word could be used to create DITA for a specific class of users that aren’t the primary audience for more conventional XML authoring solutions.  Obviously this raised a few eyebrows in the audience, but the point is that DITA’s architecture is such that even casual contributors, given a few minor constraints in Word, can certainly provide content that can be easily turned into DITA.
  • DITA will live in Middleware. This is a key point. While the focus of the conference was centered around DITA and content management, there’s more here than meets the eye.  I had the opportunity to sit in on the open forum that discussed upcoming v1.2 features.  Many of these features are centered around link handling (things like keyref, conref push, and conref keys [conkeyref]).  There will be greater emphasis on managing all kinds of linking, including indirect links that could  have significant implications on vendors’ existing architectures.  While it still will be possible to manage small projects from simple file management strategies (including things like Subversion), larger projects and enterprise-wide implementations, particularly those that want to take advantage of these new features will need more sophisticated applications (read: a content management system) to manage the myriad of link strategies being made available. 

    Even rendering tools will need to be more sophisticated to support these new features.  The DITA Open Toolkit is currently working on a new version (1.5) to support these.  Other rendering applications will need to start thinking about how they plan to support these features.

    I’ll have more thoughts on this particular topic later.   Suffice it to say that there are some key assumptions that current DITA adopters take for granted and make impact how they design and create content in the future.
  • XML Authoring tools will get more complex.  To support all the new features coming in DITA 1.2, DITA-aware XML authoring tools will need to be tightly integrated into middleware systems, particularly the CMS.  There will also be a strong emphasis for authoring tools to handle a wide variety of link and referencing strategies.  I anticipate that these applications will be more process-intensive, with larger footprints on a user’s PC.  I also anticipate that the level of sophistication required to “operate” these tools will be much higher.  So the emphasis for XML Authoring tool vendors will have to focus on both features and usability. 

This conference was illuminating on many different facets.  Even the vendors I spoke to seemed to realize that DITA is a truly disruptive technology that has changed the way the entire industry thinks about XML. In the current economic reality, this is the perfect time to be thinking about what this all means and how organizations can take advantage of these innovations in their environment.  Ride the wave.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

XProc and DITA: Random Thoughts

I’ve been following James Sulak's Blog.  He has some pretty impressive detailed discussions about using XProc.  XProc is an XML pipeline processing language, specifically designed to provide instructions for processing XML content. The Recommendation specifies many different kinds of “steps” that can be assembled in virtually any order to control the sequencing and output from one step to another.

Right now, DITA’s reference implementation, the DITA Open Toolkit (DITA OT) uses Apache Ant and custom tasks to process DITA XML content.  One of the principle limitations with the DITA OT is its reliance on XSLT 1.0 and extensions (particularly the Idiom FO Plugin) to handle the rendering.  

With XProc-enabled tools like Calabash, it seems like DITA could easily processed using XProc, along with an upgrade of the stylesheets to 2.0. 

Content Management Strategies/DITA North America Conference

I’ll be attending the conference in St. Petersburg, FL.  Come visit the Flatirons Solutions booth while you’re there.  It should be a very interesting conference. 

Eric Severson, CTO of Flatirons Solutions will be presenting a potentially “game-changing” presentation that speaks to lowering the “barrier to entry” into XML authoring. I recommend seeing this one.