What I Learned from the DITA Listening Sessions (Part 2)

Group at Another DITA Listening Session
Group at Another DITA Listening Session
This is part two of a series of articles examining the issues DITA users are talking about at the DITA Listening Sessions being held by the OASIS DITA Adoption Committee.

Just few weeks ago I attended (virtually) two additional DITA Listening Sessions that occurred in the Seattle area. Each session is unique, in that it reflects the perspectives of how people are working with DITA at different firms, but I find many of the same concerns and frustrations come up time after time at these sessions. Here are some additional observations I’ve made after attending the more recent DITA Listening Sessions:

There is a Strong Desire to Share Information and to Build Community
At each of the DITA Listening Sessions that I have attended there was a strong desire by the attendees to keep in touch with each other and to have more get-togethers like this. When people attend sessions in-person they often exchange business cards with each other in order to keep the conversation about DITA going. Everyone who attended the listening sessions came away with new information on how others are implementing DITA, along with a few ideas on how they might be able to do things differently or better. From the three sessions in the Boston region it became clear that there were enough DITA practitioners in the area to set up a local interest group who could meet and continue to share ideas. While this was not clear from the Seattle sessions, there was still a strong desire to find other DITA practitioners—especially if they were available to hire!

While I think that the organizing effort for establishing local DITA interest groups needs to be done at the grass roots level, and I recommend that people reach out to online forums such as the DITA Awareness forum on LinkedIn and the Yahoo! DITA users group to find out who else is working with DITA in your area. If you are interested in creating a local DITA user group, these websites can help spread the word.

I realized during a recent Listening Session that I was aware of some DITA best practices information from a conference presentation that I have seen, but apparently has not been posted online for others to find. As a result I have contacted some people I know who have done some excellent presentations on aspects of DITA and asked if I could post their information to SlideShare; you can see the results at: http://www.slideshare.net/DITA_Adoption/presentations. Bookmark this and check back for what I hope will become a valuable resource for people who are looking for solid information on DITA best practices.

Another possibility we are exploring within the DITA Adoption group is to organize online get-togethers for members of the DITA community. We’re still trying to work out the details and logistics for this, but the idea would likely be similar to the existing Listening Sessions but writ large. Stay tuned for more on this!

DITA Users Want More Information on How and Why They Should Use DITA 1.3
One of the questions we asked at the DITA Listening Sessions was what version of DITA people were using. The majority said that they were using DITA 1.2, with a significant fraction still using DITA 1.1. When pressed further as to whether they were considering a move to DITA. 1.3, the common answer was that people would like to move to the latest standard, but they did not have a detailed idea as to what its new features brings to the party and how to justify migrating to it if there was an associated cost.

In general, people understood the more straightforward aspects of DITA 1.3, such as the new troubleshooting topic type, the ability to directly incorporate SVG/MathML content directly, or the new markup elements for creating things like strikethroughs and overlines. That’s the easy stuff. But many people at the listening sessions expressed interest in the more complex DITA 1.3 features, such as release management, keyscopes and branch filtering. But there were several reasons why people had not as yet made the move, including:

  • The CCMS they are using does not yet support DITA 1.3
  • There is not enough practical information available publicly on how to best use the more complex features of DITA 1.3
  • A lack of understanding as to any costs and benefits associated with moving from a previous version of DITA to DITA 1.3.

Hopefully the various CCMS vendors that do not as yet support DITA 1.3 will do so soon (the IXIASOFT DITA CMS does). In the meantime this is a hard stop for many DITA users who would otherwise like to work with DITA 1.3.

Most of those attending the listening sessions were aware of the DITA 1.3 specification, but were hoping for more in-depth explanations as to the intent of the features, more real-world examples or how exactly a new feature was an improvement over what came before. Here are some examples of presentations focusing on aspects of DITA 1.3 that I have found on SlideShare:

Another good source info on DITA usage and best practices are the BrightTalks, as well as a few webinar recordings that are available on YouTube. The makers of the oXygen also have a couple of good videos on aspects of DITA 1.3, including “Ready for DITA 1.3“, and “DITA 1.3 (Key Scopes, Branch Filtering)” which are worth taking a look at even if oXygen is not your XML editor of choice.

While there are some resources out there on using aspects of DITA 1.3, there are far fewer available on the process efficiencies that can be add by moving from one version of DITA to another. For example, several people at the listening sessions had heard that there are advantages for using keys and keyrefs instead of conrefs, but they couldn’t find information on how to migrate from conrefs to keys or discover exactly why keys are considered to be better (again, Leigh’s recent presentation on keyscopes answers this question nicely).

I have been to more conferences and webinars than most and am aware of a number of presentations that have been made on various aspects of DITA 1.3. Sadly, many of these have not been made publicly available, though often they are available to conference attendees. It is increasingly clear to me that while the information on DITA 1.3 best practices is out there in the heads of practitioners, it does not always make it out there in the public space where it can be seen and reviewed by others. I don’t have an easy answer for this, though I can say that these are subjects the OASIS DITA Adoption group are interested in pursuing.

Next time: growing interest in Lightweight DITA and the concern that DITA may be falling behind the times.

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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