Tag Archives: DITA

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?

DITA lets the authors drive

This morning, April 1, brings welcome news from the OASIS DITA Technical Committee. Recognizing at long last that DITA authors want and deserve the opportunity to screw up the formatting in their documents, the committee has provided new ways to do just that.

dita-bird-drop“Microsoft Word, the most popular text editing software in the world, lets authors make a royal mess out of their formatting,” explained Technical Committee spokesman Mark Upton. “The users of DITA deserve no less.”

Through XSL transforms, the DITA Open Toolkit has always provided ways to make hash out of document formats. But typically those features fall within the purview of the information architect. Most rank-and-file authors can’t, or won’t, master the necessary XSLT coding skills.

With today’s newly announced features, authors can now create formatting nightmares directly within their DITA topics.

Here’s how it works. Continue reading

Overcoming DITA’s acceptance hurdles

dita-bird_0This is an appeal to the DITA community: the experts and the evangelists, and possibly the tools vendors as well.

We’ve done a good job selling DITA: after years of slow growth it’s gaining momentum. As it does so, paradoxically, I’m hearing more and more anti-DITA rhetoric. While some of the rhetoric reflects a lack of understanding or even a hidden agenda, some is worth listening to.

I’m thinking of two things in particular that the DITA community often touts as selling points: authors no longer have to worry about formatting, and their DITA content can readily be used for adaptive content — output customized for the audience.

As good as those sound, I don’t see content authors raving about them. We need to understand why that is, and find a way to address it.

Leave the formatting to us

I’ve proudly touted this in every DITA class I’ve taught: Freed from having to worry about fonts, indentations, and other formatting issues, authors at long last can concentrate on content.

Except that a lot of authors like to worry about formatting. Continue reading

We’re in DITA – now what?

Every year my talented friends at Scriptorium roll out a list of trends in content strategy and technical communication. This year’s list is thought-provoking as always: it contains some trends that are spot-on and some that I wasn’t expecting.

And one that’s flat-out brilliant: We’re in DITA – now what?

musclecar

Muscle car (1969 Pontiac GTO – source: Wikimedia Commons, Gtoman)

During the webinar in which Scriptorium unveiled its trends for 2016, Gretyl Kinsey described a “second wave” of DITA adoption: a technical writing team has decided to switch to DITA  — either for the right reasons (as part of a carefully planned strategy) or for the wrong reasons (DITA sounded cool and trendy, or they had some extra money in the budget).

Having gone through the process of converting its content. the team is now finding that DITA isn’t a panacea. The 400-horsepower DITA muscle car is parked in the driveway. Now what do we do with it?

This is when some teams throw up their hands, or when buyer’s remorse sets in. The team, especially if they didn’t have sound reasons for switching to DITA in the first place, might want to return to its old tool set. Or, realizing that they’ve sunk a lot of treasure and talent into the DITA implementation, they’re inclined to limp along — driving the car but never getting out of second gear.

Even when the team made the switch for the right reasons, they might feel overwhelmed. All of the reasons for switching, like cost savings through reuse and greater efficiency in translation, didn’t just magically fall into place. A lot of work is still needed. In this situation, again, some teams content themselves with driving the car to the grocery store and back, never taking it out on the freeway.

What’s the right thing to do? Continue reading

Time to follow a new technology path?

In his keynote talk at the recent TC World conference in Bangalore, Tom Johnson makes the case for creating customer documentation through the use of modern web-development platforms that treat content as code.

Jekyll software logo

Jekyll (software) Logo – source: Wikipedia

Tom invites us, the Technical Communication community, to get past our fascination with XML, which many web developers regard as dated. Instead, he wonders if the time is right to start developing content on popular platforms like Jekyll.

Tom being Tom, he backs his words with action. He’s about to embark on an experiment in which, using Jekyll, he’ll try to replicate the features of DITA. He describes this experiment in the comments section of the same blog post that contains the recording of his keynote talk.

DITA logoI’m an old Tech Comm guy, more a dabbler than a true programmer, so I’m a bit intimidated by the idea of tossing aside my comfortable tool set for something I’ve never used. In fact the phrase “treating content as code” sends a chill down my spine.

Yet I believe Tom is onto something. At a time when we talk about breaking down silos, about leading the effort to unify content throughout the organization, why would we want to wall ourselves off by using our own specialized, peculiar tool set?

I encourage you to listen to Tom’s talk. Then, I’d like to know:

  1. Whether you agree with him — and why.
  2. If you have experience developing documentation using one of the web platforms Tom is talking about. If so, were you successful? What advantages did you find to using the web platform? Disadvantages? Problems you overcame?

I’m sure Tom would like to hear about your experiences too.

I can’t wait to hear about the progress of Tom’s DITA vs. Jekyll experiment. And I hope we can have a fruitful and sustained conversation in our profession about the pros and cons of using web-development platforms — and of using collaborative approaches like GitHub — for creating documentation.

An appeal for DITA keys: Powerful, useful, and mostly ignored

Last week, in his webinar on conditional content, Noz Urbina showed a demo of content reuse using DITA’s conref attribute. I took the opportunity to ask for Noz’s opinion of keys and keyref.

old fashioned keyKeys provide a powerful and useful function, Noz replied. But few people use them because the authoring tools don’t do a very good job of making them easy to use. And the tool manufacturers haven’t added the functionality because they don’t think anybody wants to use it.

It’s the classic chicken and egg scenario.

Noz is one of the smartest people in the content publishing space (and I highly recommend viewing that webinar, if a recording becomes available.) But is the story of keys really as simple as he makes it out to be?

Continue reading

Come down to the river: Structured authoring immersion

You can tell that Mollye Barrett has spent time in the South. During a recent talk on the content lifecycle, the Milwaukee-based content-management expert observed that when it comes to structured authoring, “you need to be immersed. It’s no good just to be sprinkled.”

Amen, sister!

Whether your platform of choice is DITA or something else, structured authoring is different from traditional authoring. Continue reading