DITA adoption: What are the numbers?

I just saw this infographic from IXIASOFT about a subject near and dear to my heart: the adoption of DITA.

Cg_W9ieUoAEuhEC.jpg largeLike so many infographics, unfortunately, this one is a mess. It’s cluttered, with so many elements competing for my attention that I can’t tell what its key messages are.

I don’t expect IXIASOFT to know how to create good infographics. That’s not their business. But I expect them to know about DITA and about the technical writing community in general.

That’s why I’m taken aback by some of their numbers:

  • There are 150,000 technical writers on LinkedIn? Even if that’s a worldwide total, it  seems high. What occupations does IXIASOFT lump under the heading “technical writer”?
  • Only 9,000 say they know DITA? That seems about right – as an absolute number, but not as a percentage of the total. Of the people who are true technical writers, surely more than 6 percent know DITA.
  • 4.0 percent of job ads ask for DITA experience? That’s surprisingly low, considering that by IXIASOFT’s own count more than 600 companies have adopted DITA and a growing number of writers claim to know it. I recall seeing another presentation that put this number in the 10-to-20 percent range, but I can’t place my hands on it. Does anybody have data on this?

I looked on IXIASOFT’s website for illumination. There I found a piece in which Keith Schengili-Roberts put the 6 percent figure into context by noting that only 15 percent of technical writers claim to know FrameMaker. That makes me wonder all the more how broad their “technical writer” umbrella is.

I also discovered that this infographic has been around since at least November 2014. In the earlier version (which you’ll find in Keith’s article) the numbers are slightly different. But they still look suspect.

I’d like to find a truer picture of DITA adoption. Does anybody know of one?

12 thoughts on “DITA adoption: What are the numbers?

  1. Sarah O'Keefe (@sarahokeefe)

    These numbers are the best ones I’ve seen. I don’t think anyone other than Keith has done any research. I do think they hold up to basic scrutiny. For example, we know that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports roughly 50,000 technical writers. German numbers are actually much higher. tekom reports roughly 85,000 technical writers as of 2012 (warning: PDF and also in German http://www.tekom.de/uploads/media/235/Branchenkennzahlen_2012_23502.pdf). 150K worldwide then seems, if anything, too low.

    If we know that DITA adoption in Germany is roughly 4% (source, tekom but please don’t make me dig it out), that’s…um….around 3200 people just in Germany.

    I think the issue here is with your definition of “true” technical writers.

    1. Larry Kunz Post author

      Thanks, Sarah. That 85K number for Germany is impressive — much more than I would’ve guessed. As you say, that would mean the 150K overall number is actually on the low side. You might be right that I defined “true technical writers” too narrowly.

  2. Ronnie Duncan

    Larry, I would tend to agree with Sarah. I also believe the fairly low % of technical writers using DITA is probably fairly accurate because most technical writers are not working on the types of giant documentation sets that justify wrestling with a DITA implementation.

  3. Tom Johnson (@tomjohnson)

    Hold on, you’re saying that Germany, which is half the size of Texas, has 85,000 technical writers? But the United States as a whole, which is where a predominance of software companies are located, has just 50,000 technical writers? There are 4 times as many millions of people in the U.S. (320 million instead of 80 million). That means on average, there are basically lots more tech writers per square mile than in the U.S.

    Exactly how does one go about measuring how many technical writers there are? I’ve seen the STC stat of 50,000, but I don’t know who maintains this info and how.

    1. Sarah O'Keefe (@sarahokeefe)

      No. That is not what I am saying. I said that Germany reports 85K technical writers and the US BLS reports 50K technical writers. You took the leap of assuming that those statistics are accurate and comparable.

      German technical writing stats come from tekom. US technical writing stats come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so for starters, we are comparing statistics from two different organizations, one governmental, one not (with different collection schemes). The German numbers are probably more accurate because the country has a well-developed system of education and certification for technical writers. I would assume that the US numbers underreport actual technical writers.

      With that said, US STC conference attendance is roughly 600; German tekom attendance is roughly 3,000. Another data point that shows the strength of German technical writing.

      The two economies are not the same. I find it relatively credible that the German economy is heavier on businesses that require technical writers.

      But that was not my argument. I was only saying that the number of 150K worldwide seems completely possible given numbers from US and Germany only.

      Also, your comparison to Texas is cute, but Germany’s population is much higher than Texas’s.

  4. Martin Edic

    I’ve also been looking for numbers. Bear in mind that the majority of those 600 businesses are not classified as enterprises and many that are only use it in one area of their business. Enterprise businesses often employ hundreds or thousands of writers globally. The reason there are not good stats is that DITA is not even on the radar of most of these big enterprises. At the recent DITA NA conference I heard multiple stories of people accidentally discovering DITA’s existence while trying to solve a docs problem.
    I’ve been getting up to speed on this market over the last few months 9I am marketing lead t easyDITA) and have learned than if you stay in the existing DITA world it is tiny and everyone knows each other, which is a problem. At this week’s STC conference there was not a single program about DITA or structured content and our team estimated that half the conferees did not know anything about it- and that was a big improvement over the year before.
    Frankly, the DITA world has done a pretty bad job of evangelizing the model. Way too much information on the details of working in it and very little on business cases. Watch our blog for a lot about this in the very near future (totally agnostic of our product so far as that is possible).
    Finally, the potential market is absolutely enormous. The vast majority of tech writers still author in Word which is totally archaic and impossible to manage across an enterprise. Look at their demographics- they skew older and older people are much more resistant to change. The growing number of millennial writers and understanding of data management is going to change this but it will take time.

    1. Larry Kunz Post author

      Be careful what you say about older people, Martin. You never know when you might be talking to one. 🙂

      Seriously, thank you for your comment. I think the evangelists — many of the same people you met at DITA NA — have done a pretty good job of making the business case for DITA. If there’s a problem, it might be that their messages are reaching the wrong people: practitioners, rather than middle- and senior-level managers. In your capacity as marketing lead for easyDITA, hopefully you’ll figure out a way to open those communication channels.

      Lastly, while I sense your frustration with the STC Summit, I wouldn’t infer too much from the lack of DITA/XML sessions. I think that the Summit has been moving away from purely technical sessions, especially in DITA/XML where they recognize that other events (like DITA NA) are already filling that need.

      1. Martin Edic

        Haha, Larry, please note, I’m 61!
        I am working pretty diligently to build a business case for DITA that targets decision-makers at the management level. Quite a bit coming on that. But, as a writer (everything but tech writing) who has extensive experience marketing complex technology, the learning curve on DITA is a little daunting. And so much of the communication out there now discusses specific aspects in detail while not presenting the fundamental big issues that should be driving adoption. At STC by far the most popular handout we had was a paper titled What Is DITA? But we also do not really see that audience as our principal market, nor do I see the DITA NA crowd in that light (though they are an important constituency as users and early adopters). We are increasingly seeing larger organizations with very complex needs gravitating towards the DITA model and moving away from proprietary, unstructured formats and closed standards. But it is a slow road, though our growth has been explosive this year.
        Hot button issues are legacy doc migration, training and acceptance, multi-format publishing without conversion/formatting issues, translation and reuse. I can put a strong value proposition behind every one of those. Getting it in front of the right people is the challenge!

  5. ellispratt

    You can search on LinkedIn for profiles that contain the phrase “technical writer”, “technical author” “information developer” etc. and get a rough idea of the number of people in a particular country. Not everyone is on LinkedIn. It will include former Technical Writers.

    When I looked on one day in April 2016, it amounted to 8078 in the UK. Adding DITA to the search string (“Technical Writer” and “DITA”), reduced the number to 571. That’s 9%.

    You can do a similar exercise on the job sites. In April, there were 829 vacancies on Monster.co.uk containing the phrase “Technical Author” and 27 containing the word “DITA”. That’s 4%.

    These are broadly in line with Keith’s figures. He sees these as a positive sign towards DITA; I take the opposite view.

    Regarding tekom, they did research in the early 2000s to see how many people in Germany were writing technical instructions. I think that is the figure they were referring to. The vast majority of these did not have the job title of Technical Writer, and for many it was not their full time activity. So I think that is the potential membership size for tekom.

  6. martinedic2016

    Another note: The big market research firms like Forrester and Gartner are not even tracking DITA usage, I’m guessing in part because its not on their radar at all. The Ixiasoft figures (which I appreciate) are educated guesses at best as far as I can see. And right now, barring investing in a big survey, that’s about what we have to work with.
    I think it might be more valuable to find numbers on ROI like this from Citrix (From a CIDM piece, http://www.infomanagementcenter.com/publications/e-newsletter/march-2011/calculating-the-roi-of-content-reuse-in-a-dita-topic-based-cms/):

    “Since the data gathering would be time-consuming, we wanted to have some evidence that the study was worth the effort. Therefore, we did a pilot study of one author’s content. That author looked at her content for the release cycle in question and counted the number of files she had reused. The results were better than we’d hoped for: in this case, reuse had saved us 268 days based on our established formula.

    Encouraged by the numbers of our pilot, we expanded our study to all authors. Since the individual authors are most familiar with the details of the content and the maps they produced, we asked them to provide numbers based on the parameters outlined above. The results were astonishing. They also explained why we were able to get a large release (and multiple smaller releases) delivered on time and with fewer resources than we’d ever had for projects of similar size and scope. According to the figures, we had saved 1800 days—approximately the work of 7 full-time equivalents (FTEs)—through content reuse over a period of 15 months (January 2009—March 2010).”

    I have been trying to find these benefit-oriented numbers rather than strict overall usage numbers.


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