DITA Europe 2010 Conference Closing Talk

JoAnn Hackos gave the closing talk at the conference, and made the observation that DITA has not taken off in Europe as it has in North America. That was pretty much my impression as well, after talking to a number of people here. One tech writing manager I met had her ROI argument for getting a DITA-based CMS set and in place for some time, but it still took her almost three years to get funding approval from her European firm to go ahead with it. I heard much the same from a vendor I had breakfast with this morning, whose general impression was that European firms were more cautious than those in North America in making the big leap from their previous documentation toolchain to one based in DITA.

There are a lot of compelling reasons to want to move toward using DITA XML in Europe. One of the most obvious from a cost standpoint would be lower overall localization costs, important in a place where localizing to many languages is  the norm. Prevailing economic conditions may also be reigning in firms’ spending habits. It is also telling that DITA Europe is a two-day conference, whereas the typical East coast and West coast conferences back home run for three days. For whatever reason, there certainly was a general perception that DITA adoption in Europe was growing at a slower rate than in North America.

A concern that was raised by a member of the audience was that DITA was getting too complicated, pointing a finger at the upcoming 1.2 specification. In response, JoAnn (who is a sitting member on the OASIS DITA committee) mentioned that in the DITA 1.2 spec sections are more discrete, and people can choose the components that they want to use — there is no obligation to use the whole thing. The best point made on this issue was that DITA is trying to meet a wide range of needs, and that sections that are not needed do not have to be used. But this does not alleviate the perception — particularly for newcomers — that DITA is complicated.

JoAnne then asked for fellow DITA committee member Kristen Eberlein to talk a bit about the follow-on DITA 1.3 spec. Apparently for DITA 1.3 the processes will be changed in an attempt to streamline things. To ensure that ther is no further “code bloat” there will be increasing emphasis on use cases to ensure that the proposals made are generalized  and are not specific to just the needs of the proposers. They also plan on introducing a more formal voting process to ratify changes/additions. Kristen also expressed the hope that the process of proposing and ratifying the 1.3 spec will not take another three years to complete, though she admitted that this may be wishful thinking. She also put out a call for more people to join the general user committee, and especially that more writers and information architects join in and voice their opinions on the evolution of DITA. For a conference that was relatively sparse on DITA spec-related info, these comments and opinions at the end were welcome to hear.

Other general comments from the floor was a call for more introductory presentations, mainly because there are always some people for whom DITA is new (and perhaps more so for those in Europe). There was also a request from the audience for free WiFi/Internet access next time, though I would have settled for better WiFi coverage, which was spotty in the conference hotel. (Though better WiFi in the bar area gave me the perfect excuse to try some local lager).

I also put in the request that it would be good to have some of these presentations recorded on video so that they could be played back later. Part of the reason why I take such extensive notes at these conferences is because it is always hard to remember the fine details later. It would be even better if I could call up an actual video of a presentation later to ensure that I had got a particular implementation detail right.

JoAnn then concluded conference, and announced where the next two conferences were to take place: CMS/DITA North America 2011 will be held in Baltimore, Maryland on April 4-6, 2011, and Best Practices 2011 will take place on September 12-14, 2011 and will be held at San Antonio, Texas.

All in all, this was a solid conference with good presentations where I came away with some useful information I can put into practice. The fact that it happened to be in Europe’s most beautiful cities was an added bonus.

About

"DITAWriter" is Keith Schengili-Roberts. I work for IXIASOFT as a DITA Specialist/Information Architect. And I like to write about DITA and the technical writing community. To get ahold of me you can email me at: keith@ditawriter.com.

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