‘Green’ content: How DITA allows us to reduce, reuse and recycle content

From its inception, the Darwin Information Typing Architecture has represented a revolutionary approach to content. Rather than, as Precision Content puts it, seeing written content as a "monolithic, linear flow of information across pages," DITA emphasizes content as a set of smaller, reusable, self-contained components. This architecture allows hypertext-like topics to be warehoused, aggregated, and distributed to meet the ever-changing needs of those who consume content throughout the world.

"DITA allows authors to reduce, reuse and recycle data into new documents."

Several major innovations got their impetus from DITA. The role of the author shed those tasks focused on layout since DITA-based writing uses format-independent XML. Instead, authors became content curators, working closely with subject-matter experts to ensure the highest quality and accuracy of the data found in technical writing. Publication became fully automated as unformatted XML was paired with pre-defined XSL style sheets to deliver beautifully formatted content instantly and on demand.

However, it's DITA's optimization for smaller topics that drives another important innovation: reducing, reusing and recycling data into new documents. In this way, DITA takes on an almost "green" lifecycle, mirroring, in a sense, the global environmental and pollution crisis that drives our collective focus on reducing, reusing and recycling the things we produce every day. Indeed, the glut of information available today means we are putting unprecedented amounts of data and content into the world, clogging data lakes and making content creation wildly inefficient. The Association for Information and Image Management reports that nearly 50 percent of an author's time is spent just searching for information – well above the roughly 5 to 15 percent of time spent actually reading the information.

DITA renders the need to create new documents out of whole cloth because content is constructed from reusable and verified data. Also, DITA's built-in semantic information dramatically improves content searching and research efficiency, virtually eliminating the endless sifting through stacks of potentially irrelevant data.

Building and implementing a successful collaborative writing strategy

As the world has become increasingly interconnected through technology, talent teams have simultaneously grown more geographically dispersed. This is by no means a bad thing – historically, relying on location-based teams limited the opportunity to synthesize insights by lacking a diversity of experience and talent.

“Talent teams have grown more geographically dispersed.”

With new collaborative documentation tools, the ability to remotely create, manage and track changes to documents brings unfettered accessibility, but also creates a creative engineering challenge. How can a team of individuals, all armed with unique insight and talents, come together to create a single document that is greater than the sum of its authors?

Virtual collaboration requires more than just an efficient, dynamic content management platform – it requires talent management in the form of delegation, structuring of responsibility and team accountability, and strategy.

Collaboration versus individualism
According to Rebekka Andersen and Charlotte Robidoux in Center for Information-Development Management, collaboration often runs counter to modern corporate culture. Team members have their value appraised individually by management, with isolated metrics that do not account for their role in the larger group. This in turn leads to a separate set of targets that each team member has on their mind, even when collaborating.

“For technical writers, the individual focus is hard to avoid since the practice of writing is normally a solitary activity,” Andersen and Robidoux wrote. “But when writing practices are automated, writers must transcend the inclination to work alone and own whole documents. Yet if the management framework in which they work does not endorse a collaborative culture, writers will have little reason to change their writing behavior.”

Key to addressing this failure of culture is the ability to provide transparency and accountability through collaboration tools. The act of technical writing no longer needs to be solitary: Tracking changes, annotation and interdocument communications all function by not only serving the final product, but creating a narrative and commentary to explain why changes were made.

Delegation and roles
Another way to avoid the pitfalls of poor collaboration is to establish clear roles with all collaborators, going so far as to have delegated editing privileges that match roles. A simple workflow with designated roles might include:

  • subject-matter expert, a collaborator whose job is to aggregate and sort data to form the document’s foundation.
  • A drafter, who is tasked with creating the initial content that conforms to the chosen information model.
  • A reviewer, who works through the drafted documents and makes broad edits related to improving clarity, focus and coherence.
  • An editor, who focuses on copyediting and verifying data and sourcing.

While each role can likely be performed by multiple team members, having a more narrow focus of expectation can be helpful to ensure maximum efficiency. This can be particularly useful when it comes to expertise-based tasks within technical documentation.

A unified vision
Beyond organization and delegation, a successful collaboration strategy often includes an element of inspiration. A team of technical writers should not be treated as cogs in the machine, with their eyes fixed solely on their one prerogative, ignoring everything else around them. This can lead to a disjointed quality of the writing, redundancies and inefficiencies, as well as a lack of morale.

It falls to organizers to be able to clearly and concisely articulate the vision and purpose of the larger document. Your team needs to be more than just interconnected – they must be working toward a singular goal, with a clear sense of the importance of their work. By talking about the value their work brings to the enterprise, it emphasizes the importance of teamwork and collaboration.

The role of social media in technical documentation

Due to its pervasive nature, social media has reshaped a variety of business operations. When it comes to technical documentation, the intersection of social media with more traditional content-creation functions has many technical writers wondering about the future of their jobs, their skills, and their craft.

Blurring the difference between author and audience
Writing on behalf of Information Week, David Carr claimed that social media has – by way of wikis and blogs – reshaped the technical writing world into more of a “two-way communication.” He discussed how the rise of Internet commentary, largely driven by social media, has “democratized the world of publishing.” This has led to a struggle for some technical writers, as they fight for attention and authority while the line between “author and audience” starts to blur.

Carr pegged the challenge for technical document writers as welcoming “community involvement” and transitioning from creation-oriented processes to curating. In a way, this mirrors the transition happening within the world of technical documentation software: Modern content curation platforms allow for geographically dispersed teams to comment, edit and contribute content, rendering the document a truly collaborative effort. This, from an authorship standpoint, contributes to the work being considered as a living “social document,” versus the tightly controlled documentation of yesteryear.

“Social content has many implications for technical writing.”

‘A natural method’

The publishing and distribution of technical documents has also evolved alongside social media. In a survey published by the Center for Information-Development Management, the authors consulted with a number of companies, representing a strong cross-section of industries, corporate sizes, and business goals. They asked the companies to answer a variety of questions about the social media initiatives they had for their technical content programs.

The CIDM found that, similar to Carr’s assertion, the companies generally used social media in a two-pronged approach when it came to their technical documents: to “push content to users and to pull in user feedback and content.”

“Social media is a natural method for conversational interaction with users and customers,” wrote the study’s authors. “Typically, content is pushed through social media announcements with links to documentation sites and wikis where customers can then post comments, suggestions, and additional content.”

Building communities
The direct interaction with customers was particularly cited as a measure of effectiveness, according to over 40 percent of respondents to the CIDM survey. But soliciting meaningful feedback to technical documentation isn’t as simple as creating a post. The survey revealed that one of the major challenges for respondents was generating and maintaining interest, something that often may take “…a year or more of concentrated effort” to build.

This is what Michael Lykhinin in the STC India Indus blog referred to as the need for technical document authors to “learn how to architect and foster user communities and then how to incorporate user-generated content into their workflows.” Tying back to Carr’s assertion, Lykhinin urged authors to embrace a more curatorial approach to community input, becoming “community information librarians and conversation enablers/facilitators” for external communities.

For internal communities, like the closed loop of authorship software, Lykhinin wrote that technical authors can play many roles, but that the organization and delegation of a team is preferred, with roles designed to match “level of experience with the product, leadership ability, and communication style.”

A plan of action
All the voices cited in this blog advised that technical document authors focus of the creation of one specific thing: a social media strategy. This can help give structure to the way that social media is used by authors, as well as assign metrics to measure its efficacy. The goal is to both foster engagement while successfully establishing governance and standards, for the purpose of enriching technical documentation.

KMWorld recognizes Astoria Software in the 2015 list of 100 companies that matter in Knowledge Management

For us here at KMWorld, knowledge management is an attitude, an approach, not an application, and that’s what we’re celebrating with this list—companies that offer the tools to analyze, augment, enhance, manage and extend information assets to maximize potential for organizations of all sizes. Our judging panel consists of colleagues, analysts, theorists and practitioners. Everyone involved in the judging process has his or her prejudices, of course, but we set those aside, and have assembled what you see listed, 100 companies whose products and services best meet the needs of our readership…. The criteria for inclusion on the list vary, but those listed have things in common. Each has either helped to create a market, redefine it, enhance or extend it. They all share a fundamental motivation to innovatively meet and anticipate the widely diverse needs of customers with robust (but sometimes single-point) solutions to meet evolving customer requirement challenges.

— Hugh McKellar, Editor-in-Chief, KMWorld Magazine

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Astoria Software selected to the eContent 100 for 2015

The EContent 100 list is now in its 14th year, and it has not gotten any easier for the judges to narrow down the list to just 100 companies. This year, we had three new judges and lots of new companies to consider. We also included a new category: Big Data. These days, data is the driving force behind almost everything on the web. From the targeted ads you see while surfing your favorite sites to the articles and videos that those sites serve up to you, data is behind it all. The cross-channel experiences we now take for granted are made possible by the data that is collected and analyzed by some of the companies we have honored on this year’s list. We look forward to seeing what new and innovative experiences these companies can help content providers come up with next year.

— Theresa Cramer, Editor, EContent Magazine

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Astoria On-Demand recognized as first XML CMS vendor to adopt DITA 1.1

As DITA continues to grow in popularity, the standard has expanded to embrace more types of documentation. DITA 1.1 was ratified as standard in August 2007, superseding version 1.0 (ratified May 2005) of the standard. DITA News tracks DITA compatibility over seven categories of vendor products. In the category of “DITA XML CMS”, Astoria Software was the only vendor showing support for DITA 1.1 as of April 2008