I’ve seen it first hand in several companies I have worked for: Field agents or other colleagues that work closely with individual customers come to me in the documentation department and ask me to make sure that their standard product documentation is always up to date. And then, they want to add a little bit of special information for each customer.
“Oh, and by the way. In the field agent office, we have this standard guide that is only for us internal specialists. Can you make sure that is always up to date as well? Then I only have to go to the configuration database and fill in the form with the customer specific configuration information – by hand.”
One of the main drivers in Open DITA is allowing writers with little or no XML skills to benefit from the most important reuse capabilities of the DITA standard. So let’s cherry pick from the rules of the Open DITA manifest and explain how they achieve reuse of your content.
But before we get to that, let’s take a step back and consider WHY we want to reuse. Let’s be honest. Reusing content creates a certain amount of complexity. For that reason we had better make sure that this complexity is worth our while.
DITA XML makes advanced content development and management possible, but DITA XML itself is a complex thing. For some, this complexity makes DITA XML inaccessible, and for others, the complexity over time becomes a chaotic cobweb of references and dependencies. Just looking at all these tags and attributes scares some writers off.
In a recent survey, we uncovered strong indications that the complexity of DITA XML is hindering the spread of structured writing across departments. For this reason, we created the Open DITA Manifest to make a framework that allows other ways of achieving some of the most important benefits of DITA XML, even for those who do not want to work with the complexity of XML. Open DITA is meant to allow everyone access to the power of structured writing.
“Looks cool, but couldn’t we just stick to what we have?”
“Being able to grab a piece of content like that would be nice, but I don’t have the time to learn this new tool.”
“Yes, I’d like to be able to publish a white paper using parts of your updated documentation, but all these tags and attributes? I don’t know…”
We have all heard these complaints.
Since DITA XML became an open standard and DITA 1.0 was released in 2005, people have been trying to spread the use of modular and structured content beyond the traditional documentation department. Some have been successful, but many have been hitting a brick wall when they present XML templates and XML tools to Marketing and Development departments.