Musings from the Chicago Conference

Doug Gorman, Simply XML

I don’t think it’s any secret that Simply XML is a small virtual company focused on one thing—letting Microsoft Word-based authors easily contribute valid XML to the burgeoning XML architecture of their organizations.


But here’s another secret you might not know about. We don’t shy away from nepotism at Simply XML. My best friend Frank, pictured above, is our Vice President of Security. He works with me pretty much every day and is actually a great sounding board for ideas. He is non-judgmental and always cheerful. But, he doesn’t travel well, except in a car, and I had to fly to the Content Management Strategies Conference and Frank had to stay behind and take care of the rest of the family.

So when Frank and I were discussing my mental block regarding this article he suggested that I should discuss what I learned at that conference where I had to leave him for “three whole days.” He further suggested that I should confine my comments to the sessions I actually attended which were mostly in the Management Track. Good idea Frank, “Here’s a cookie!”

  • Keynote John Hall said there should be a mix of people on your team, not just technologists. You have to make your content consumable and an exclusively technical team will miss some important perspectives.
  • Joe Gelb had a cool way of judging whether content was well-designed and presented. He said it should be judged on utility, agility, productivity, quality, and manageability.
  • Mike Eleder from Alcatel-Lucent is an old guy like me who got this content structure and mark-up disease back in the 80’s from a similar bout with SGML. Working for a big company with an obviously powerful legal force, he had the best disclaimer I’ve ever seen where his presentation didn’t reflect upon his company, bosses, himself, or his family. Let the record show, Frank, that he did not disclaim his dog.
  • The use of XML is clearly moving beyond TechPubs. It’s a miracle because some customers are actually talking with us about information architecture and authoring tools before choosing which CMS to use.
  • Three very, very large companies, are talking about how all (that’s right ALL) of their important content could have an XML architecture underneath. This will require easy to use tools for authors and a change in the business model for software vendors. I love it!
  • At least two presenters discussed enterprise level issues with FrameMaker, struggling with how to move from Tech Pubs to an enterprise content architecture. I can attest from my previous life at Information Mapping that technical writing organizations love FrameMaker, but like Frank, who does not go to dog parks, FrameMaker does not play well with others. Adopting an XML architecture with Content Mapper can allow FrameMaker and other XML editors to achieve choice and even democracy in authoring tools while promoting a common XML-based content architecture. (Flag rising and anthem playing!)
  • Keith Schengili-Roberts apparently has more statistics than SAS Institute. He said that DITA is used by 5 percent of technical writing groups. FrameMaker has 16 percent of market share in author tools. Please don’t shoot the messenger here, but MS Word is the leading tech writing editor, by far. I know there are more than a billion people worldwide who already know that. Thanks Keith.
  • Speaking of SAS Institute………I’m a modest non-judgmental guy, but I’d like to say that the joint presentation given by Nick Green from SAS and the CEO of Simply XML was simply “the best.” It was very well-attended and, IMHO, the best part was when Nick said that he gives new authors Content Mapper with DITA, a Quick Reference Card, and one hour of training and they are off and running, creating DITA Topics for SAS Books. (Audible gasp from the audience!) Have I mentioned lately that it doesn’t have to be complicated, it is Simply XML.
  • IBM’s presentation offered technology in the context of an enterprise initiative and simplicity, but no surprises here……. IBM’s lightweight DITA and Simply XML’s Simply DITA are virtually the same. A Markdown interface and Content Mapper’s UI are both “tag-less” to the author. And now for the title of IBM’s presentation, “Does DITA Need Tags?” We don’t think so!
  • Finally, the food was great, location convenient, facilities perfect, speakers—the best yet, and the CIDM staff were competent and helpful, as usual, and deserving of a vacation and probably a bonus.