Just came back from hearing Ann Rockley’s keynote presentation of the 2011 conference. This was the first time I have had the opportunity to hear her speak at a conference, and she gave a good presentation that was aimed at firms that are considering the move to DITA or some other type of structured authoring. She gave a good presentation which was informed by a number of interesting examples which she has clearly encountered with her clients, which helped ground her talk in the practical realm. Here are my notes from that presentation (any ramblings, disconnected thoughts or typos are entirely mine and not reflective of her presentation):
Conference Chairperson Noz Urbina introduced Ann Rockley, calling her the “mother of content management”. She has been working on content management issues for over twenty years, and these days she says that she is spending more time on bringing together content management and strategy into what she phrased “intelligent content”.
She defined Intelligent Content as being:
- Structurally rich
- Semantically categorized
- Easily discoverable
- Efficiently reusable
- Dynamically configurable
- Completely adaptable
Structurally rich: adding structure to content makes it possible to manipulate what was previously static content to data which can be now be filtered, published to multiple channels (i.e. web, brochures, online help, etc.), and made available for searching.
Semantically categorized: deliver the information that is appropriate to the specific content for a particular context to an individual’s circumstance. Can now build personalized content based on metadata, which enables the content to be published to wikis, can be mashed-up, and reused in an increasing number of ways
Easily discoverable: structure and semantic tags facilitates content retrieval and discovery. If using XML you can use query languages like XQuery to provide additional means of access making it easier to deliver content on demand.
All of this leads naturally to the content being Efficiently reusable. When content is designed for reuse, there are supporting technologies and online services that increasingly supports how and where and in what context content is reused.
Dynamically configurable: we can’t know all situations in which information may be used ahead of time, and structured content can be reconfigured for novel situations and platforms.
Completely adaptable: supports unplanned usage, enables use for content components to be used in mashups environments.
Understanding Users’ Requirements
Ann also emphasized that you have to get to know what your customers need in order to better determine their requirements. She said that all too often we create content in isolation, and that we rarely get to talk to end-users directly. The traditional tack has been to hold things like focus groups and doing surveys, but social media now allows us other means of interacting with our customers, such as via tweets. This may encourage greater interaction and can result in customers interacting and helping each other as well as opening the lines of communication to you.
Ann noted that DITA provides a good content model, but it does not define how we should put our content together. This is where content modeling comes in, which helps determine how information is currently composed and then determining where you want to take it, improving it and making it better. Too often she finds that people try to fit in their existing content to a DITA framework, stuffing what they have into a structure which may not work with what they have. One of the things her consulting firm does is to examine and audit the existing content a firm produces and then instructs the writing team on how to efficiently remodel how their information in a way to properly take advantage of what structured authoring models such as DITA have to offer.
Don’t Pick the Tool First
In terms of technology strategy, she said one thing I firmly believe in, which is “don’t pick the tool first”. All too often in her experience she finds organizations which chose a solution and only then try to figure out what to do with it. (This has often been my experience as well when I teach my Information Architecture course, as many of the students are using CMSes that they did not have any input on using). Ann emphasized that tech doc groups do the analysis/audit of their content first and then define what technology solution best fits that need, rather than the other way around.
She went on to talk about a couple of interesting case studies that her consulting firm had worked with, and concluded with a brief plug of her DITA 101 book, along with her latest title eBooks 101.