Mirjana Sicevic, MYOB Australia

Introduction

In the last four or so years numerous whitepapers and articles have been written about DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) praising its advantages over other information-management methods and advising technical communicators keen to adopt it, on how to win the hearts of their managers. DITA’s features and unique design have been discussed at many technical conferences where the advanced-thinking technical communicators gathered to hear directly from the leading experts of the benefits, best practices, tips, and tricks. A very active mailing list on Yahoo has been created to help the newcomers to the DITA world get needed advice from their peers who have already spent some time dealing with known and unknown issues surrounding DITA and DITA-OT (DITA Open Toolkit). The Swinburne University in Melbourne (Australia) even pioneered a uni course on structured authoring with the main focus on DITA.

All these activities have, undoubtedly, provided remarkable results. Technical communicators around the world started to be aware that there are better ways to tackle the issues like single-sourcing, localisation, modular writing, or document-production efficiencies. And because the adoption of DITA has now gained significant momentum, I think that we should try to find adequate ways to maintain it and even speed up the process.

This article provides some ideas on how this could be done.

How to speed up the promotion of DITA

The history of DITA is generally well-known. It was conceived and developed by IBM and then donated to OASIS (Organization for Advancement of Structured Information Systems) for further fostering and world-wide dissemination.

In the Statement of Purpose of the OASIS DITA Adoption Subcommittee, it is envisaged, among other things, to establish liaisons with other organisations to build awareness and promote DITA. Actually, having OASIS, an international organisation, as the home of DITA, lends itself well to the involvement of other international agencies in DITA’s global promotion.

Let’s take UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation) as an example. In 2008, its Intergovernmental Council for the Information for All Programme (IFAP) adopted a position statement on free and open-source software (FOSS). In this statement, a particular focus is on the following:

  • emergence of new software applications that have considerable impact on UNESCO’s areas of competence, which are education, science, culture, communication, and information
  • learning management systems and authoring tools, that are essential for Open Distance Learning
  • enablement of people to be efficient producers of information, and enhancement of their capabilities to manage, reuse, and efficiently disseminate information in variety of forms and channels
  • open-source software, which permits users to use, change and improve software and redistribute it in modified or unmodified form

Also, the UNESCO Tunis Commitment (adopted in 2005) recommends the development of applications that are based on open and interoperable standards and the use of technologies that enable the development of such applications. Further, the commitment encourages and fosters collaborative development, interoperative platforms, and free and open-source software. It also recommends development of software that renders itself well to localisation.

It seems as if all the above points had DITA and DITA-OT in mind.

UNESCO has also created a powerful element of information infrastructure, a portal called Free and Open Software Portal, which is used to make the software with the above described characteristics easily accessible to the global community.

This is why it seems an opportune time for the OASIS DITA Adoption Committee to approach UNESCO, as well as other international organisations and agencies with similar goals and principles, to join forces with them for even better promotion of DITA.

Enhancing the DITA dissemination channels

In addition to numerous workshops, seminars, webinars, conferences, and user groups meetings that have been held so far and will continue to be held in the future, the OASIS Adoption Committee could also use some of the existing global institutional infrastructure for making DITA more visible to the global information-management community. Again, let’s take the example of UNESCO.

UNESCO has developed the Open Training Platform (OTP) to facilitate access to training materials and resources developed by development stakeholders at a global level. The OTP objective is to have training and capacity-building resources openly available to a wide range of communities worldwide, including the information-management community as well.

Actual training is provided online by logging ontohttp://www.opentrainingplatform.com.

Another potential DITA dissemination channel could be a network of DITA centres of excellence. These centres should be created at local and regional levels. They would be expected to serve as catalysts for the advancements of DITA usage and, therefore, should be created within the existing institutions that have already proved to be instrumental in the knowledge transfer in relation to DITA or other relevant standards and technologies (for example, CIDM and Swinbourne University in Melbourne). This is in line with how Bill Hackos, in a recent CIDM blog post, explained the importance of direct communication between humans:

‘As humans we are much better communicators face to face than any of our communication tools. We can make use of speech and sight, but also body language, nuances of tone, and even touch and smell. Being together for extended time for meals and entertainment, we get to know each other in a way we could not remotely. We talk about our homes, our families, our countries, our languages, our accents, and on and on. This communication is so powerful we are willing to pay the immense costs to get together each year to communicate as humans and transfer ideas about our common communication problems.’

Conclusion

As an innovative solution based on XML technology, DITA and DITA-OT meet important user and market needs for dynamic and single-sourced authoring and publishing solutions. This is why it becomes a priority to further promote the benefits and cost savings that their adoption can bring to the global community of users. Hopefully, this article sheds some light on how DITA adoption and usage could become even more widespread.