About: The OASIS Symposium, or worth its salt

"I have met with a philosophical work in which the utility of salt has been made the theme of an eloquent discourse; and many other like things have had a like honour bestowed upon them."
Plato's as translated by Benjamin Jowett

Most conferences serve a particular community. For instance, the attendees at Content Management Strategies are all on the same wavelength. ("We want reuse!")  Not so at the OASIS Symposium, where attendees have a common means (XML standards) for a multitude of goals. The diversity of human endeavor can be a bit mind boggling. NIST naming and design rules, SAML swimlanes, Business Process messaging -- who knew?  Which has a less delightful dark side: who could know it all?  And without a know-it-all, does this important work end up constructing an acronymic Tower of Babel?  Does a standard that solves a specific problem in isolation creates integration problems elsewhere?  That question came to the front more than once.

Some particular highlights from the first two days - Boris Lauser explained how the UN AGRVOC project uses a SKOS taxonomy for world-wide dissemination of information. Also, as an XSLT hack, I found repentance in Terry Brady's talk on a test-oriented approach to writing transforms.

From a DITA perspective, however, the most interesting session by far was Bob Glushko's (from the Center for Document Engineering).  There's a clear convergence between the Document Engineering approach to modeling and DITA as a congenial vehicle for implementing such models.

The common thought is that structure and semantics aren't limited to data.  Documents, far from mere Greek for styling or raw language for text mining, have shape and meaning.  Bob gave an example of a housing development brochure, which provides an introductory summary of the house followed by detail descriptions of the rooms (sequenced by room type) with overall statistics and interior and exterior pictures.  Of course, for a DITA-inclined vocabulary designer, that model cries out for representation in a specialization.

Bob offered some good modeling strategies: collect a variety of sample documents, analyze the structure and semantics of those samples, and identify the essential core for the set.  To convert your analysis into a document design, choose the main element for the document type and build the content hierarchy downward from there.  At that point, you could turn to implementation. (Enter DITA stage left.)

Document Engineering has some differences from DITA.  For one thing, Document Engineering tries to find commonality between preexisting documents while DITA has a focus on the simpler problem of creating agreements within communities on the design of shared documents.

Not having read Bob's book about Document Engineering yet, I'm not able to recommend it, but I have noted the enthusiasm of Bob DuCharme (a smart and helpful XML person).

I did take away from the Symposium a reinforced sense that, once DITA 1.1 comes out with the <data> element, it will be important to make the UN/CEFACT Core Components available through specialized DITA domains.  With common data elements like name and address, the Core Components should improve our ability to share hybrid documents that combine both data and discourse.

Otherwise, good to shake the hand of Carol Geyer (the originator of this site) and to lament with Mary McRae the absence of olive wreaths and even togas at the Symposium.

That's it from San Francisco, where the retail gods (quirky or sullen but always athletic and fresh faced) look down from enormous billboards on windy Union Square and all our scurrying.

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