Erin Freeburger & Doug Gorman, SimplyXML

What a difference a year makes! Once again, we had a great time at DITA Europe 2011 meeting all the managers, information developers, technology specialists, and tools vendors as we learned how best to implement content management systems and the DITA standard across the organization. European organizations that were in the learning about DITA stage have now completed their evaluations and have begun implementation. And these organizations are rapidly moving DITA beyond Tech Pubs to the enterprise at large. We have also seen the same trend toward enterprise DITA in North America and Asia-Pacific.

The speakers shared their experiences and provided new insights, and we all benefited from learning about both the successes and pitfalls of others. With two tracks, demos, and specific needs discussions with interested parties, we were forced to choose among the many distinguished speakers. We wished we could have seen them all, but we especially liked following:

Marie-Louise Flacke of CI3M: “Iconmania: Don’t ruin the benefits of your DITA implementation!”

Adding icons does not guarantee improved comprehension—and in some cases it hurts. She shared one dramatic study where children interpreted the skull and crossbones symbol for poison as “pirate food” and thought the cleaning solution would be fun to eat.

Constant Gordon & John Walker of NXP Semiconductors: “Topic Based Tech Author Website”

Even if you can’t fully support DITA with all the technology, try it anyway. Topic based writing (even without all the bells and whistles of a full blown DITA implementation) leads to better results for both the user and the author.

Kristina Brinck of ITT Fluid and Motion Control: “The Expert, the Persona and I Create the Perfect Unit”

So many information consumers! So many needs! Kristina and company are simplifying audience analysis by classifying similar needs into “Personas”. This will permit a simplified, focused approach to creating usable and reusable information for SMEs, marketing types, and operations staff. And the main goal is not DITA, but rather better performance, improved information, and lower costs.

Erika Webb & Ultan Ó Broin of Oracle Corporation: “Using Comics to Present DITA Concepts”

We always appreciate a presentation with a sense of humor! The use of Comics can put a smile on the face of the reader, but little did we know that it forces clarity and results in better learning. OK, Erika and Ultan, you have our attention.

Henrik Evanth of Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB: “Implementing Structured Writing: How Hard Can It Be?”

Henrik aptly captured the opportunities and challenges of moving an organization to topic based writing. We totally concur that this is the first challenge that most organizations must meet to move beyond the document paradigm to embrace information reuse and multi-channel publishing.

Mark Poston of Mekon Ltd: “Innovative Ways of Taking DITA to the Next Level”

We loved Mark’s message about hiding the XML from the non-technical authors, with great real-life examples on how to use “the power of a DITA architecture to take our content to the next level”.

Don Day of Learning by Wrote: “Integrating Social Media into New DITA Workflows”

DITA is sneaking outside the Tech Pubs circle and this is good news for the masses. As Don says, “Social media tools are implicitly Content Creation tools, and this content can be captured as DITA for all its standard benefits.” Basic DITA editors can help bridge the gap. As a key player in the creation and proliferation of DITA for technical publishing, Don has turned his energies toward the entire organization.

With a largely technical audience and Simply DITA appealing to non-technical departments we found technical people beginning to acknowledge that using a subset of DITA can be extremely cost effective.

One training organization said that they want to reuse DITA Topics of some type, but they do not need the heavy training, administration, and ongoing labor cost of the full DITA element set. They are considering simplifying the DITA XML to something more basic and using templates to create standardized structures. They feel that they can implement more quickly and get a more certain ROI with this approach.

Keld Jellesen of advice2u & Dorthe Iwan Sonne of Siemens Wind Power A/S: “How to Move into XML/DITA/Topic Based Authoring from a Book Paradigm”

There was a nice dose of simplicity here, as the first step toward DITA is often a shift to Minimalism and Topic based writing. If you can’t take the first step, you’ll never finish the race.

Jang Graat of JANG Communication: “Avoiding DITA Spaghetti: Keep Track of Your Content”

Jang has a great reservoir of insight and creativity. The consummate environmentalist, Jang explains how reuse creates a smaller environmental imprint with a focus on managing rather that rewriting.

And speaking of spaghetti, we both agreed that the food at this conference set a new height for the culinary bar. We really enjoyed the reception and breaks to meet up with new and old friends, especially with the endless supply and great variety of snacks and desserts! A special thanks to Lisa for choosing the tasty treats!

We were able to end our trip with an extra day in Prague exploring the Old Town, Charles Bridge, the Castle and more and were delighted by the stunning architecture of this charming city. What a fantastic city for a fantastic conference!

Doug Gorman and Erin Freeburger were representing Simply XML in Prague and featured Content Mapper™, the easy to use software that allows anyone to generate reusable XML content right from Microsoft® Word. If you didn’t get a chance to meet us, we’d love to talk with you about helping everyone across the organization to simply get the benefits of DITA and XML.