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Subject: Re: [dita-adoption] who complains about complexity of DITA?

From my perspective as a consultant speaking to customers about DITA in non tech doc areas there is a common theme of not wanting to push knowledge of XML onto users at all.

It's easy for us to suggest that DITA will solve all sorts of problems, but when it comes down to it, the practicalities of doing so are always a lot more complex.

A big challenge to start with is convincing an organisation that XML is the way to go. Without the tools and infrastructure in place there's always going to be a difficult road ahead. For wider corporate use there are challenges from IT departments to accept such changes unless they already fit into an existing IT system - quite often based on Microsoft technologies.

Tech docs teams have generally been a little easier to provide solutions for as their requirements have previously fallen outside of any corporate systems and are for only a smaller closed group of users. This is becoming less the case now.

Overcoming these challenge means that solutions need to be provided that will address the different types of user's needs - considering their user personas if you like.

The work of the BusDocs sub committee is taking a step towards this, and that is likely to introduce more types of content that meet specific needs of different areas in the business. This is very useful work but when it comes down to it, it still ends up being about the tools that are used and the education that is required to adopt them.

For me, for DITA to become successful outside of tech pubs, the focus needs to be on tool vendors taking away the need to know anything about XML and using DITA as the hidden enabler of a content architecture. This brings about the need for DITA-aware tools where XML is never seen - of course there are some of these already (for example Quark XML Author springs to mind).

For many users, features such as conref, keyref, constraints, reltables are too technical for them - these need to described in a context that is appropriate to them and their particular use case, or not described at all as it doesn't actually matter. As a vendor, architect or system integrator they are, again, the enabler - just like a programming language is an enabler to providing a software solution to a customer.

These user friendly descriptions are what the DITA Adoption committee can help with, along with their work on defining benefits of DITA for different audiences.

My concern is that as DITA grows, and it will only continue to grow, it becomes such a complex standard that it will gain a reputation as being as such and perceived as an expensive thing to implement. This is, of course, completely the opposite to the original reason for recommending DITA as an option to tech pubs team, as vendors were able to quickly support and therefore provide a more cost effective solution with, quite often, easily identifiable return on investment.

As the DITA standard grows so to are the requirements for vendors to support it, making XML authoring tools and other systems do more than they were originally intended to do. I am not a tool vendor but I can imagine that implementing the new con ref and key ref features (for example) aren't that straight forward. I just hope that there is still the interoperability between tools now that DITA is not just about parsing XML but also has requires a complex application layer on top of it to implement its features.

Personally, I would like to see an open source DITA interop framework that allows tool vendors to use a common library that implements features in the standard. This can then be integrated into tools in a consistent manner. As the standard grows, this framework would provide the processing logic for DITA's features. It's partly there in the DITA Open Toolkit already ... Which is developed hand in hand with the standard itself.

A long-winded response but I hope provides some useful discussion points.

Kind regards

Mark Poston
Mekon Ltd.

Sent from my iPad

On 6 Dec 2010, at 15:59, "Bruce Nevin (bnevin)" <bnevin@cisco.com> wrote:

Are we entirely clear about the use contexts in which users find the number of elements onerous or confusing? Obviously, the authoring environment is one.  But do architects also object? Do the tools vendors object? This seems less likely to me, but it's not something to guess, we should find out. And is that (the number of elements) the only complexity that they object to?

The constraints mechanism can neatly address the perceived complexity in the authoring environment. (Be it noted that existing mechanisms provided by [some?] authoring tools to hide elements from authors apparently do not reduce these complaints, maybe because the complaints come from users who don't make use of them.) But creating and managing constraints is another layer for architects and designers to deal with.


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