DITA – friend or foe?

Dame DITA vs the german CMS Champ

"Dame DITA" vs the "German CMS Champ"

DITA, or as we in Germany call it, „Dieter“, is a not so new XML-based standard for topic-based structured content. It is most commonly used by technical communicators but other implementations are in development.

DITA has the advantage of being an OASIS standard and there even exists something like the DITA Open Toolkit ( which can be used to process and publish content (not for the authoring, though)

So, DITA has been around for a while and even though it has not yet fulfilled all of its initial promises (to end all content pain, single-source made so easy  etc) I had no idea that using DITA (or not) could be such a controversial topic. But at the tekom-Jahrestagung in Stuttgart, there was a lot of commotion about DITA or not to DITA. I must admit that I have my information only from following discussions online (mostly via Twitter) as I visited only one day an had no opportunity to visit a DITA-bashing track. What surprised me was the impression that there was the anglo-american Pro-DITA crowd vs. the german (only german?) pro-CMS crowd. As if using DITA or a CCMS had to be a complete contradiciton?

I would really appreciate if I there was better interoperability. At the end of the day, I (or my boss or your clients) do not want to know about theoretical advantages or ideological reasons pro or con DITA or anything else. My money and my comapany´s knowledge went into that content – be it in a complex (german) CCMS, in kilometers of ring binders or in DITA topics (which might be handled and organized in an expensive german .. whatever).

I can understand – from a business point of view – that it is nice for an CMS-vendor to lock away a client in an expensive tool that generates continuous cash flow without an affordable way to transfer the data (which is the customer´s, by the way) to another system. But I expect them to have the high demands of themselves to have a solution that is so good and always technologically cutting edge that they do not have to bash DITA (or that inferior other CMS) to make themselves look better.

tweets for german DITA sceptics

Flattering tweets for german DITA sceptics

The last thing I want is that there is a disconnection of the leading heads in the english-speaking world (also India, when looking at the DITA adoption rate) and the fragmented „rest of the world“. Even small and medium businesses are nowadays competing on an global market and this it not the time for those who should communicate as a profession to stick to national insular solutions (can I say that in english? german: Insellösung).

I had the impression, that there is coinciding opinion that information should be structured, single sourced even intelligent (how far you want to define that is another topic) and most of the time you will end in some sort of XML-based content which has to be authored and managed with some tools you can afford and are somehow usable by the content creators. It is our responsibility to create the rules that define the possibilities and boundaries which enable the creation, administration of content over its life cycle – but also make sure that the knowledge within that content is not locked in one system (you know, that silo stuff). DITA is one very good option to do that – not more and not less and definitely not the best for everyone.

As for most standards in continuous development, sometimes one could wish for faster development or different priorities but at least it is a well known and transparent standard.

Or, as one wise man said:

Thanks to Marijana for her Blog article


Farts and fairy dust – tekom/tcworld 12 – Day 2

As promised, I follow up with the second part of my wrap up of the tekom-Jahrestagung 2012 in Wiesbaden. (You missed Day 1?) Day 2 was again filled with lectures, workshops and interesting talk with some techcom friends old and new.

More fun with spreadsheets

Sarah O´Keefe workshop "Building a Business Case for Content Strategy"

Sarah O´Keefe workshop "Building a Business Case for Content Strategy"

The morning (the spell checker voted for „mourning“ here…) started with Sarah O´Keefe (after a much too short night) – did I mention that I am really a fan? The 100 minute workshop was called Building a Business Case for Content Strategy – and that´s what we did. Only thing I have to complain is that it was from time to time a little bit hard to follow due to the bad acoustics in the room – sometimes I could better understand the workshop in the next room – but there will not be so many Workshops in the Rhein-Main-Hallen in the future, so that should be ok. (The other thing to complain about is of course Marijana being late for the workshop… 😉 )

In this workshop Sarah showed us how to make the transition from theory to creating an actual case which could be used to convince the people with the money… These people can usually be best convinced with numbers and thus, to my great delight, we made an example using a spreadsheet which can be found at the Scriptorium website – I am not sure if Sarah wants me to share the Deeplink? It was definitely very informative to play in the spreadsheet with some variables. Those, who have yet to provide some persuasion in their organization could use a similar approach and calculation as basis for an individual case. The potential for savings was impressive even if using conservative estimates.
I think it is especially frightening to start such a calculation from scratch and thus this workshop proved to be a huge help. Of course a lot more valuable information was provided – to get more insight, I would recommend to have a good read with the new book by Sarah O´Keefe and Alan Pringle: „Content Strategy 101“  (where „101“ stands for the beginners course, for my fellow Germans). You can read the book online(!), get it as an eBook or buy it in print from the usual sources (I got mine from amazon).

No responsive Webdesign for me

Sadly the lecture „Responsive Webdesign“ has been cancelled. The speaker did not show up – nobody knew anything about her whereabouts. Hopefully she is fine, as no further information was provided. So I had the time to prepare for the next session:

The Strategic Technical Communicator

Panel on Strategical Technical Communicator at tekom 2012

From left to right: Marijana Prusina, Nicky Bleiel, Dr. Tony Self, Sarah O'Keefe

Dr. Tony Self had the courage to act as a decorative accessory for the three leading ladies of techcom Sarah O’Keefe, Nicky Bleiel and Marijana Prusina on the panel „The Strategic Technical Communicator„. As correctly announced, the panel was aimed more at the beginners in Techcom – what left space for the unexpected entertainment qualities of the discussion participants. All in all a very witty event, where I learned a lot about the good, the bad and the ugly of being employed or working as a freelancer. Especially Mr Self had some interesting insights to share – some of them revolving around bad smells in the office – a good argument for a more solitary activity. Now I am sure that I have to find a way to get away from that kind of olfactory nuisances…

But besides the funny parts it was very interesting to hear about the Pros and Cons of freelancing and also some thoughts on the differences in Tech Com in Europe and the US or about how to build a profile as a professional in the field of Technical Communication / Content Industry / Information Architecture. Sarah – who is obviously the Joanne K. Rowling of Content Strategy – told a bit about the nerve wracking possibility of writing books but also the participation in committees or Professional Associations (tekom, STC etc) were mentioned.

Drum up business

All in all a very interesting and entertaining panel where you could learn how to drum up your business – something every technical communicator should learn in order to survive in possible future corporate infights or workplace politics. This also concludes my unintentional „stalking“ of Sarah O’Keefe 😉

Reverent listening to the Content Philosopher

…. or: how to make women jump on the hood of your car

XML license plate

What women REALLY drives crazy...

Next was the workshop „Planning An Intelligent Content Project“ by Joe Gollner. He granted deep insights into really big projects and also had one or the other anecdote to tell from the glamorous life of a successful Content Strategist. Before that day, I would not have imagined that having a license plate with „XML“ would make women jump on the hood of your car because they have some very pressing questions on XML… fascinating 🙂 But besides the funny parts, the workshop was very exciting and informative. Especially to get a feel for the challenges you face when working on really huge projects. Mr Gollner lived up to his title as a philosopher by providing enlightening theoretical and background thoughts – very inspiring. The „Intelligent Content Lifecycle Model“ and the actual „Intelligent Content Project Planning Worksheet“ will also help all participants in the future to better plan for their upcoming projects. I am looking forward to learn more about the underlying theories in the future.

Fairy dust for my soul

A photograph of my soul, before and after listening to Sarah Maddox

A photograph of my soul; before and after listening to Sarah Maddox

The conclusion of Day 2: Engaging Readers in your Documentation – How and Why with Social Media by Sarah Maddox. It is really hard to describe for me what exactly made the magic of this lecture. Sarah managed to remind me (and I think a lot of the audience) why we ended up in this profession in the first place: we are happy to help people! The right information at the right time can make all the difference. And thus there should be place for emotion – even humor! – in technical communication. Of course there is always cost and time pressure but we are able to help other human beings and of that we should be proud and maybe we can even do that with a smile. Sounds kitschy? Maybe.

But sometimes it is so exhausting always only thinking about the ROI, making SWOT analyses and all that business stuff. Of course Sarah Maddox also had a lot to tell about the appropriate use of Social Media and how to perform doc sprints – something which sounds very interesting and I surly have to try in the future. Also good practical tips were provided – example? Scatter links on your page like fairy dust – a good (SEO-) recommendation and a good example how to transport a concept with metaphors.

Sarah Maddox, distributing Fairy Dust among the attendees

Sarah Maddox, distributing Fairy Dust among the attendees

But what really stuck with my was the positive feeling she managed to transport. That was not only due to the very good presentation but also because of Sarah´s  incredibly charming personality – not too often you meet someone at a conference who simply makes you happy just by having a little chitchat between two lectures. Thank you for being such a kind and friendly person 🙂

Nearly finished!

All in all it was an entertaining, inspiring, surprising day 2 at tekom 12. Now you worked through this lenghty article, only one more day is left – coming soon.

For further information on the lectures and workshops you can download most of the presentations from the tekom Website

I would suggest that you follow these great people on Twitter! Marijana PrusinaNicky BleielSarah O’Keefe, Dr. Tony Self, Joe Gollner and Sarah Maddox

Also recommended:

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tekom / tcworld 12 roundup – Day 1

As opposed to my usual practice, I will (try to) write my posts in English as I hope it will at least be a little bit better to understand for the English speaking audience than using google translator. Any abuse of the English language is purely unintentional and coincidental – I am sorry!

To make my thoughts about the tekom Jahrestagung 2012 at least a little bit readable, I decided to break it down into three pieces – one for every day of the show (to make it less monolithic and „war-and-peace-ish“ ,-) )

Setting tone and expectations

For those not knowing: „The tekom annual conference together with the tcworld and tekom fair is the largest global event and market place  for technical communication“ (from the tekom Website). It takes place in the beautiful city of Wiesbaden every autumn. For me it has been the third time in a row I had the chance to participate. Usually, there are a few „buzzword“ themes every year – for me it was „Content Strategy“ this year and I did hope to fill the expression with some meaning. Let´s see how this worked out. I will roughly keep to the order of speeches and workshops I visited.

Scott Abel starts the show

Elegance! We want more elegance!

It is not a bad idea to start a day listening to Scott Abel, aka the Content Wrangler. The Wizard of Content, the Fred Astaire (or Gene Kelly 😉 ) of Technical Communication gave a introduction to the CS (Content Strategy) track in his usual witty and brilliant way. En passant, he also provided nine reasons for  structured content and encouraged the audience to compete with engaging content. All in all a perfect start into a long conference day.

Following up was Rahel Ann Bailie with her musings on „How Content Strategy Connects the Dots between Business, Brand, and Benefits„. Here you could learn a lot about the role of content in the Customer lifecycle or how to distinguish the icing and the cake  in terms of content (where the icing is obviously the Marketing Content 🙂 ). Also interesting: the definition of CS: „Content Strategy is the repeatable system that governs the management of content throughout the entire lifecycle“.

Adaptive content for mobile (and more)

Ann Rockley at tekom 2012

Ann Rockley at tekom 2012

To not get out of practice I visited Ann Rockley´s lecture „Supporting Multiple Mobile Devices with a Unified Content Strategy„. As we all know, there are many companies still producing two versions of content for Web and mobile (and Print perhaps).  But she rightfully pointed out that in the end it is not about mobile or Web, but CONTENT first! Well, now I only need someone to explain to my boss… What I also liked were her findings on the use of adaptive content which automatically adjusts to different environments.

Lunchbreak and the usual suspects

Lunch at tekom 2012

Very unstructured food tekom 2012

Even though the tekom/tcworld conference is massive, I usually end up meeting the same people every year – which is quite pleasing to be honest. Some things, however, are a little bit spooky: how can it possibly be that Kai seems to be in all lectures AND exhibition halls at the same time? Maybe, he has got one or more evil twins? I have to investigate further…

What is a real treat, at least for me, at the Jahrestagung is that it is so easy to get in touch with colleagues. The lunch time too had been a good time to exchange some information with peers from near or far. Though it has to be admitted that the hall is really a bit too packed.

Being well fed, I decided to make it a little bit easier for me to follow the speakers and thus attended:
Finally – a lecture in German!

Make some money with quality content

Obviously drawn to the guys from SAP by the alliteration in their title (DITA für die multilinguale, modulare, multi-modale Produktion von SAP-Lerninhalten) I found it quite reassuring to hear that even such billion dollar companies have their little content ghettos and made their share of mistakes in the past. It was quite impressive to hear that SAP is making nearly 400 million Euros (if I remember it correct) a year with their Knowledge Productization Services (SAP lingo for e-learnig, training, certification etc) thus making content a business asset also interesting for the C-level boys and girls.

After having been impressed by numbers and scale of SAP I went to see another german lecture; this time about Terminology. Frau Krüger from Transline shared her knowledge on finding and  managing terminology in „Vom Finden und unternehmensweiten Managen von Terminologie“. A very vivid and useful lecture on an interesting topic. Also noteworthy: This was the only lecture or workshop I attended where Prezi has been used for presentation and not the usual Keynote or Powerpoint (Impress?). Of course, it is not the tool but the content which is important – but a little eye candy can help to spice up a presentation. I really liked it!

Can you afford cheap documentation?

Sarah O´Keefe at tekom 2012

Sarah O´Keefe on Content as a Business Asset

Why am I attending the tekom-Jahrestagung? Of course the only reason is to see and hear Sarah O´Keefe! 🙂 You think „Transforming Technical Content into a Business Asset“ sounds boring? Think twice! Using actual business cases, clear examples and a duckling she made it quite clear why any organization has to check for the REAL cost of their content. Be it for call deflection in tech support or how efficient content development can save money for you it was an inspiring and clear lecture. We also went into more depth (and used a spreadsheet, ugh) in the workshop the following day, so suffice to say that I took away a lot of valuable information – thank you! If I had not already, I would have ordered her new book „Content Strategy 101“ at once! By the way, you can read it online at – and buy it afterwards!

Around the world with DITA - and Marijana

Last but not least, my poor colleague and fellow citizen of Karlsruhe, Marijana Prusina of mp-dokumentation, had the unenviable task of holding the concluding tutorial at 5.15 p.m. – which she has met with style! The slides of the tutorial „Around the world with DITA“ can be found at her homepage – check them out! It was a very practical and hands on approach on common challenges when using DITA in an multilingual environment.

After that, we had a well-deserved beer and some Brezeln sponsored by the kind people of Atlassian and K15T. Thanks again for that (and the shirt, of course!). Sadly, I also missed some interesting lectures: I really would have liked to have seen Kai Weber´s „Addicted to meaning“ or Val Swisher´s „CS goes global“ but sadly I am not yet able to send my multiple personalities to different lectures (a trick, Kai seems to be able to perform  😉 ). Also Thomas Meinike with his take on XSLT and XPath would have been very interesting – now I am looking forward for the download of the slides on the tekom website.

Stay tuned for the next part of my review: „Farts and fairy dust – tekom/tcworld 12 – Day 2“ (Now I got you interested 😉 )

More posts on tekom12 :

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Content Strategy, Mobile und Tweetups – Erwartungen an die tekom-Jahrestagung 2012

tekom Jahrestagung 2011

Impressionen von der tekom-Jahrestagung 2011

Schon wieder ein Jahr rum? Noch unangenehmer als zur alljährlich völlig überraschend einsetzenden Weihnachtszeit merke ich das daran, dass schon wieder Zeit für die tekom-Jahrestagung und die parallel stattfindende tcworld conference ist. Ich habe es tatsächlich geschafft, in dieser Zeit nur fünf Artikel für diesen Blog anzufangen und dann als Draft vor sich hin gammeln zu lassen – beschämend. (Aber dafür im gleichen Zeitraum gefühlte 5 Millionen Kommentar-Spamnachrichten entfernt). In der nächsten Post-Tagungsphase wird das bestimmt besser, ich verspreche es…

Was ich erwarte

  • Viele interessante Vorträge
  • Geistreiche Gespräche
  • Wenig Schlaf
  • Fordernde Workshops
  • Neue Erkenntnisse
  • Eine Ahnung davon, was denn jetzt genau diese „Content Strategy“ wirklich ist und wo ich das bestellen kann 🙂

Kurz: ich freue mich auf viele Kolleginnen und Kollegen, mit denen ich mich viel zu selten austausche und die ich nicht mal treffe, wenn sie in der selben Stadt wohnen… Außerdem fühle ich schon jetzt, um wie viel entspannter man so eine Veranstaltung besuchen kann, wenn man nicht zu den Vortragenden gehört!

Was ich fürchte

  • Falsch gekennzeichnete Vorträge (Für Experten, rly?). Bin mal gespannt, ob die tekom das diese Jahr besser qualitätsgesichert hat. Ich weiß, das ist sehr schwierig einzuschätzen, auch für die Referenten
  • Auf der Messe einem redegewandten Vertriebler in die Hände zu fallen, dem ich versehentlich meine richtige Telefonnummer gebe und der dann monatelang ein total tolles Produkt verkaufen möchte
  • Mein schwindendes Englisch (Hello, I am sorry that i have unfortunately lost most of my vocabulary but I can make funny dances instead). Ehrlich, dass man so viel verlernen kann….
  • Das Wetter – muss ich jetzt den dicken Pulli mitnehmen oder kurze Hosen???

Und thematisch?

Ich bin wirklich sehr gespannt auf die Vielzahl der (überwiegend englischsprachigen) Vorträge, Panels etc. zum Thema Content Strategy. Die Positionierung der Technischen Kommunikation im Unternehmen ist ja seit jeher eine große Herausforderung. Welche Strategien werden wir entwickeln (müssen?), um die techcom als Business Asset (welch Ausdruck) mit entsprechender Erfolgsmessung und Attribution im Unternehmen zu verankern.

Ebenfalls immer interessant: der ganze „mobile“ Hype. Ich sehe ja nach wie vor noch nicht die Sinnhaltigkeit für jeden Bereich der technischen  Kommunikation – aber manchmal wollen ja auch Technische Redakteure nur ein bisschen spielen…

Und vielleicht nicht ganz so „sexy“ aber dennoch sehr wichtig: die ISO/IEC 82079-1 und ihre Implikationen

Und selbstverständlich und nicht zuletzt: der große Tweetup am Dienstag abend, unter anderem mit @techwriterkai @sarahokeefe @scottabel@redakteuse @umpff @JoEgenolf @rahelab @kwiens @arockley @joegollner @sarahmaddox … Da freu´ ich mich doch schon mal wie Bolle! Ein großes Hurra! an Atlassian und K15t Software – man munkelt von Bier und Brezeln.

Wann: Dienstag, 23. Oktober ab 18:00 Uhr
Wo: Associations World, Foyer 1. Stock

Also dann bis nächste Woche in Wiesbaden!

Kurzentschlossene können sich immer noch anmelden! Das Programm ist online einsehbar

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Jahrestagung der tekom in Wiesbaden 2011 / tcworld

Nun ist sie also schon wieder vorbei, die diesjährige Jahrestagung. Durch den Termin im Oktober in diesem Jahr nicht ganz so kalt, waren die drei Tage vom 17. bis zum 20. Oktober voll gepackt mit Workshops, Vorträgen und interessanten Gesprächen. (Fast) alles, was Rang und Namen hat im Feld der Technischen Kommunikation war vor Ort – nicht zuletzt auch die Top-Leute aus Übersee (z. B. die bezaubernde Sarah O’Keefe, Ann Rockley oder der unverwüstliche Scott Abel) haben sich auf den teilweise beschwerlichen Weg nach Wiesbaden gemacht.

Mobile Social iHelp

So hätte ich meinen Vortrag nennen sollen – da hätten die noch anbauen müssen… Ganz klarer Trend in diesem Jahr: „mobile“ und mit Abstrichen „social“. Aufgrund der Überfüllung hatte ich leider nicht die Möglichkeit, viel davon zu sehen, aber nach allem was ich gehört habe, waren die Vorträge durchaus gehaltvoll.

Nicht nur die Vorträge waren gut besucht – auch in den Hallen war es gut zu erkennen: mobile devices, wie Smartphones oder Tablets sind inzwischen auch bei den chronisch Zukunftstechnologien bejahenden Technischen Redakteuren in der Breite angekommen. Sogar eine Twitter-Wall gab es – wobei der Kanal wenig überraschend erheblich souveräner von den Kollegen aus Nordamerika bespielt wurde – liegt bestimmt an den Umlauten.. 😉 Das bringt mich zu der nächsten Sache, die mir aufgefallen ist…

Content Strategy Panel

Panel zur Content Strategy am Mittwoch abend

Think Big – And dare to entertain!

Ein großer Unterschied zu den deutschen Rednern (mich eingeschlossen): die englisch-sprechenden Kollegen hatten erheblich weniger Angst, dass ein Vortrag womöglich – neben der Vermittlung von Wissen – auch geistreich und unterhaltsam sein könnte. Vielleicht die teutonische Neigung, zwischen „E“- und „U“-Musik zu unterscheiden? Wenn es Spaß macht, dann ist es womöglich nicht so professionell? Mit erheblicher Souveränität gepaart mit positivem Humor wurden da teilweise komplexe Themen fluffig-flauschig unters Volk gebracht – neidisch? Aber hallo! Nach meiner eigenen Nahtod-erfahrung (vulgo: Vortrag) umso beeindruckender für mich.

Irgendwie haben es die Amis einfach drauf! Die Kanadier aber auch! (Und die Briten, ok) Daneben fiel mir auf, dass in vielen dieser Vorträge zum einen

  • eine erheblich holistischere und damit strategischere Perspektive zum Einsatz kam
  • konkrete Business-Nutzen klarer kommuniziert wurden
  • teilweise mutige und großangelegte Visionen entwickelt wurden

Nun muss man speziell mit den Visionen nicht übereinstimmen und nicht alles scheint mir bis zum Letzten zu Ende gedacht – aber nur auf diese Weise können überhaupt kontroverse Diskussionen entbrennen, die die Branche weiterbringen können.

Positives Fazit – und wer Visionen hat, soll zum Arzt gehen

Insgesamt haben für mich die positiven Eindrücke klar überwogen – Totalausfälle waren bei den Vorträgen, die ich besucht habe, nicht dabei. Persönlich beleidigt bin ich, weil ich am 2. Tag im Stehen essen musste – wenigstens ein paar Stehtische wären nett gewesen, außerdem fand´ ich es auch nicht soooo lecker. Aber letztlich bin ich ja nicht wegen des Essens da und die geistige Nahrung war über jeden Zweifel erhaben…

Ich habe eine ganze Reihe interessanter Menschen kennengelernt, die mir neue Denkanstöße gegeben haben und darum geht es mir ja letztlich, wenn ich zu der Veranstaltung gehe – speziell, wenn man sich im Unternehmen mit keinen anderen Technischen Kommunikatoren austauschen kann.

Für nächstes Jahr wünsche ich mir von uns ein wenig mehr Mut, auch mal in größeren Zusammenhängen zu denken, um die Technische Kommunikation auch in DACH endlich etwas strategischer angehen zu können.

Ach so und übrigens: PDF sind keine eBooks 🙂

Weiter interessante Artikel zur tekom und tcworld auf Englisch:

Und wenn ich den finde, der mir am Mittwoch Abend Alkohol in mein Bier geschmuggelt hat…

(Zitat mit den Visionen natürlich von Helmut Schmidt)
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