DITA software vendors: stop making it a chore for prospective buyers to find out how your product will help them author DITA content.
You’d think that this would be self-evident, but as I work on compiling a list of DITA-optimized editors and Content Management Systems I am continually amazed at how hard some vendors make it to find what I would consider to be basic information about using DITA with their product.
So the following is a bit of a rant, but a constructive one – for every egg I throw at vendors who makes it hard to find information on using their product with DITA, I’ll point out another one that makes it easy and why it makes such a difference.
Non-specialized Should Not Mean “Vague”
There are a lot of products out there–particularly when it comes to XML editors–that work not only with DITA but with other schemas of XML. Given that situation, you would think that a vendor would provide specific, easy-to-find information on how their product works with each of these schemas in some detail. Take, as an example Altova Authentic, an XML “content authoring tool and document editor” that claims that they also support “industry standard XML templates such as DITA and DocBook”. So far so good. There’s even a link that leads to more information on the “XML templates” they support, which also includes NewsML, RIXML and TEI. Cool!
But then I hit a brick wall, as that’s pretty much it; nothing about which version of DITA they support, or anything about optimizations for DITA that might make their product stand out from the rest of the pack. Doing a search on their website for “DITA” turns up the same information on other pages: a listing of the XML schemas it supports, but no further details.
Contrast this with the website for Syncro Soft’s oXygen XML editor, which provides a wealth of information on its DITA-optimized features. Much like Altova’s product, they not only support DITA, but other schemas as well, including DocBook and TEI. For each of these standards there’s a dedicated page (and white paper, and often a video) that shows how the product works with the particular features of that standard. Does oXygen Author support DITA 1.2? You bet, and here is a list of specific optimizations for it. Are there convenience features for creating and using conref links within it? Sure, and here’s the 10 minute video on how it works. If I do a search on “DITA” on their website I get relevant information of interest to a technical writer, the audience most likely to research and evaluate a tool before recommending it for purchase.
Up-to-Date Information Please?
Few things inspire confidence in a prospective buyer than seeing relevant, up-to-date information about their product. So how would you feel if the most recent information you could find about how a product works with DITA dates back to 2009? That’s the situation I found myself in when researching information about the Author-it Cloud editor. It is clear to me that most of the information about the product is more recent than that—let’s face it, the idea of cloud computing is only a few years old, and “Cloud” is embodied in the name of this product.
By reputation I had heard that it has optimization features for DITA, but that was something I could not confirm from a cursory look through their website. Doing a search for “DITA” on their website gave me a press release dating back to the last decade as its top result. I could find nothing that was definitively more current while browsing through their website–at least nothing relating to DITA. In the end I went to Google where a user’s comment in the Yahoo DITA forum led me to a link to their online help, where I finally found solid information on the product’s support for DITA. Yippee?
Contrast this labyrinthine search for information versus that for Adobe FrameMaker, which not only has plenty of information about their product (which moved to version 12 over the course of this past week—more on that in a future post!), but has plenty of recent information on how it can be used with DITA, like their datasheet (dating to 2012), a video describing how it can work with structured content, or the whole section devoted to writing XML/DITA content. Of course the FrameMaker website has all of the resources a big company like Adobe can throw behind it—care to watch the FrameMaker Adobe TV channel?—but all this does is underscore how a company like Adobe realizes that prospective customers need the reassurance of timely information about their products.
Less is Not More, It’s Less
About a year ago a new XML editor called Rocketsled was pointed out to me along with claims that it could be used with DITA. When it came to updating the DITA-optimized editor list I discovered that the parent company appears to have shifted its focus to S1000D, the big hint being the “S1000D Solutions” splashed on its corporate home page. From there I was led to their product-specific website. This website brings new meaning to the word “minimalism”, and not in a good way. The information on this entire website can be summed up as “Convert Word to XML” and “Request more information”. Absolutely no details whatsoever, and you have to provide your email address for any hope of additional information. And without wanting to give anything away, the whitepaper you end up getting for surrendering your contact info has no mention of “DITA” (or “S1000D” for that matter). If I were a prospective buyer I would give up and move on, as there’s not enough information scent here for me to pursue it further. (After contacting them directly I have since discovered that they no longer focus on DITA, but on S1000D).
A small website does not have to mean “no information”. Take for example Codex whose website consists of about a half-dozen pages. But there’s solid information here. Does Codex support DITA 1.2? Yup, got that covered. Can I see what the product looks like and how it works? Sure, check out this 2-minute video. What audiences are this product aimed at? Not just for technical writers, but engineers and managers as well. There’s not a lot more information there, but there’s enough to reassure a prospective buyer that it is DITA compliant and to judge whether it is likely to fit their needs.
Provide Content for Buyers, Not Roadblocks
In my experience most technical writers and managers investigating DITA-compliant XML editors or other tools to recommend for purchase will be asked to look at and assess two or three products. It’s a competitive market and there are plenty of options available, so prospective buyers need to know basic information about DITA compliancy, optimization features, what it is like to work along with assurances that a vendor is actively interested in their customer base and is providing up-to-date information about their product. Any vendor that does not answer these questions easily and quickly is not likely to make the cut. Cutting down on the market-ese or the hoops one has to jump through to find detailed information will always be a plus from a buyer’s point of view.
To the many vendors of DITA tools, editors and CMSes out there all I want to say is: please provide good, directed, relevant and recent information about your product. Prospective customers will follow, I promise you.