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 (http://www.dita-ot.org/) 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 http://www.redakteuse.de/2015/11/dita-deutschland/


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2 Kommentare »

  • Scott Abel sagt:

    Great topic of discussion. I dislike it when CMS vendors behave in this way. It does nothing to demonstrate superiority — and these types of arguments differentiate the brand (CMS company) in a less-than-flattering way. We know why they do it (as you pointed out in your post), but it shouldn’t be that way. Thanks for pointing it out to your readers.

  • Axel Regnet sagt:

    Thank you for your comment, Scott. I am really not sure that we can globally grow as technical communicators / content strategist / consultants or whatever our function may be if we dig ourselves too deep into content or technology trenches. As if there was „ONE right solution“ for every (technical) content pain a customer or company might have. We all have our preferences (I want my structured Frame 7.1 back – surprisingly nobody cares 😉 ) but it is my responsibility as an expert to recommend the solution which seems to bring 1. the best ROI and 2. seems somehow future-proof (who can really tell). I can make those assessments only for the individual case. I hope this will not grow out to a full-scale philosophical war (think: Windows/MacOS/Linux) ….
    AND – of course – you Americans should finally admit that WE have the superior technology! (we also build the best and environmental-friendly cars, aehm) 😉