Daylights: Day 3 of DITA 2006

Day Lights

Endings always signal new beginnings. As the DITA 2006 conference draws to a close, its time to reflect on the meta lessons that are emerging from the presentations, discussions, and experiences.

RTP area:
Many thanks to Kay Ethier for hosting this conference.  The facilities have all been good for the sessions and breakouts.  And RTP has many interesting venues (food and entertainment) to offer the traveller who has some spare time and can find their way to these destinations. I got to hear the Robbie Reid Band do a rendition of Jimi Hendrix' "Little Wing" that was truly poignant--and great blues from those bros.

Saturday sessions:
The scheduled sessions largely deal with specializations and tools.  MIchael Priestley started things off with an all-hands overview of the design points behind this technique that really puts the "X for Extensible" into XML.  I heard that his follow-on meetings wrapped up with all the techies gathered around laptops, ardently trying things out.  I attended Royce Espey's sessions on using Ant to manage team build and review processes, and he managed to show me some useful tips that I found myself trying on my laptop on my way home.

This subject has come up several times in subtle ways.  I've mentioned the issue of how to help the single- to several-person team that needs to evaluate and eventually adapt DITA tools into a small-scale authoring process (possible solution by providing scenarios with sample files and install packages for the freely-available tools).

Buy-in and industry consensus:
Last year, the vendor exhibits were largely single-function offerings--pure databases, pure editors, and so forth. This year we saw many examples of integrated solutions that married CMS, editors, workflow support, and production all in single offerings.  The concern we should have is whether this represents hype and mass delusion, or is it a real movement?  This is a theme worthy of deep introspection, but I'll offer this quick thought: in my discussions with vendor representatives, I gather that they are thrilled that DITA is a content standard that enables them to provide consultation services much more quickly and with better reuse of tools and investment for both them and their customers.  There are many examples of data standards that faltered due to lack of buy-in.  The DITA wave seems to be the result of two important pressures: users recognizing a standard that can model their data in an interoperable way, and vendors recognizing this interest as a reason to provide competitive value-add.

The year of Specialization:
One of the popular hallway discussions has been "DITA out of the box--is it usable?"  As Dave Schell pointed out in his keynote, the answer is undoubtedly Yes, you can download the DITA Open Toolkit, find the right editor for you (part of my scenario concerns above), and start creating deliverables within a concept-task-reference information architecture right out of the box.  Michael's all-hands presentation presented the decision points for taking the next step: evaluating why, when, and how of using specialization to define your organization's particular data and business models.  There are several opportunities for consortiums of activity in open space for creating shared specializations. Undoubtedly, many companies will be developing private specializations that support business process.  The general understanding about how to use DITA for topic-oriented deliverables in now pretty well out there, in books, conferences, and articles.  Now its a matter of how to make the process easier to apply.

If you are looking for business opportunity with DITA this year, my prediction is that the next needed tool is something to help manage the process and design patterns for teams to use to develop specialized designs and processing that is fully compliant with DITA specialization principles.

A visit to an Irish pub across the street from the park with Raleigh's signature giant acorn statue and it was time to head home. Focus Areas: BPEL | DITA | ebXML | IDtrust | OpenDocument | SAML | UBL | UDDI
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