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March 13, 2019

Full transcript of LearningDITA Live 2019 highlights part 1 (podcast)

Elizabeth Patterson:       Welcome to The Content Strategy Experts podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize and distribute content in an efficient way. In episode 46, we take a look a some of the highlights from LearningDITA Live 2019. This is the first of two podcasts featuring these highlights.

E. Patterson:       Hello, I’m Elizabeth Patterson, and today I’m going to share with you some bits and pieces of the sessions from LearningDITA Live 2019.

E. Patterson:       We’re going to go ahead and kick things off with a highlight from Gretyl Kinsey of Scriptorium. Gretyl’s session was “Introduction to DITA.” In this clip, she’s going to define what DITA is.

Gretyl Kinsey:       Let’s just start our introduction to DITA with the basic question, what is DITA? DITA stands for Darwin Information Typing Architecture, and it’s an open standard of XML that was originally created by IBM and donated to Oasis, which is the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards in 2005. It is an XML based tool independent way to create, organize and manage content, and it’s a way of creating structured topic based content that exists separately from its formatting.

G. Kinsey:       So, let’s break down what all of that means. Starting with the concept of structured authoring. Structured authoring is a workflow that lets you define and enforce consistent organization of information in documents. In an unstructured authoring environment the hierarchy and organization of your content may be defined in something like a style guide, but there’s no way to ensure that authors always follow it. Whereas in a structured authoring environment such as DITA, the hierarchy and organization of your content is strictly defined and enforced by tags.

G. Kinsey:       Now let’s talk a little bit about topic based authoring. Topic based authoring means creating content where one file, or one unit, contains information on a single topic, so that these topics can be assembled into documents for publication. This is different from something like chapter based, or book based authoring where a single file may contain information covering multiple different topics. Topic based authoring is inherent in the structure of DITA.

G. Kinsey:       Finally, let’s just talk a little bit about what it means to separate content from it’s formatting. In something like a desktop publishing based authoring environment, or authoring tool, the formatting or the appearance of your content is tied to the content itself. Content is created so that what you see is what you get in the final output, but in DITA, you create the content and then the formatting is applied separately and automatically, when the output is generated. When you’re writing that content in DITA, instead of what you see is what you get, what you see is only one option for how the final deliverable might look.

E. Patterson:       I really enjoyed this session, and I think it was particularly beneficial for those that were relatively new to DITA. If it’s something that you think would benefit you, I encourage you to listen to the full recording, and you can find a link to complete recordings in the show notes.

E. Patterson:       Next we have John Baker from easyDITA, and he presented, “Is DITA Right for Me?” In the next clip, John’s going to talk a little bit about his experience with building a bookshelf and how it relates to DITA.

John Baker:           I’m going to tell a quick story about when I recently decided to build a bookshelf. I ordered it online through an online retailer who will go unmentioned. It arrived two days later in this small, yet incredibly heavy box. I dumped out all the parts, all the materials, onto the floor. Found lots of boards, screws, 17 different allen wrenches for some reason, and being a man, I was like, “Okay, I got this. I’m just going to throw it together. See what happens.” I glanced at it. I arranged everything in an organized manner. I even looked at the instruction manual. Maybe not as much as I should have, but I looked at it. I got a general idea for how this should look, and I started putting it together.

J. Baker:       There’s a problem I ran into, and I realized that some of these boards were very similar, but I couldn’t distinguish exactly which one should be used where. So the ones at the top and the bottom differed slightly. Just the direction of the pilot holes. Rather than taking some time to make sure I was using the right ones, I just threw it all together. As you could guess, it didn’t work. I had to take everything apart, and start from the beginning.

J. Baker:       What I missed was the fact that there were these little stickers in the instructions that told me how to cross reference which pieces of the boards should be used in which situations. When I went back, took it apart, paid attention to these stickers, I was able to build this relatively sturdy bookshelf.

J. Baker:       How does this relate to DITA? Well let’s say in the same way we want to publish a PDF, in the same way that I had this pile of materials, your computer has this pile of content. Now your computer can in some ways kind of parse out a general idea for how this should look. But when it comes down to it, when people author in different ways, there are slight variations. Maybe it’s about the way it indicates the title text, or ordered lists versus tasks. Things of that nature. There are difference in the way people would naturally write these things. So, a computer, in the same way that I need instructions, the computer needs an XML standard. That XML standard tells the computer how to use each piece of content when creating this output. But the computer has the same issue that I had. In the same way that I needed that sticker to be able to cross reference which piece should be used how, your computer needs these semantic tags in order to understand what to do with these different pieces of content.

E. Patterson:       I particularly enjoyed this comparison that John made when he talked about the bookshelf, and how that relates to DITA. I think that it illustrated DITA very well.

E. Patterson:       In this next highlight, Sabine Ocker, from Comtech Services, presented “DITA Metadata Best Practices.” In the following clip she talks to us a little bit about what a metadata strategy is.

Sabine Ocker:       What is in a metadata strategy? Ideally a strong metadata strategy contains these components. Translating the business drivers into concrete requirements is very important. That’s what builds the bridge between the tools, the solution, and management, and that ROI. Your information model should also include what metadata will be utilized in the content development environment, whether that metadata lives in the source XML, or if it is applied via the CMS, or even applied during the publishing to the delivery platform. Tagging guidelines for writers in a process for auditing and amending metadata over time to accommodate changes is also mission critical for a successful execution of the metadata strategy.

E. Patterson:       Alright. Next we are going to hear an excerpt from Sarah O’Keefe, and Bill Swallow, both from Scriptorium. They presented “Seven DITA Words You Can’t Say to Executives.” In the clip that I have here, they answer the question, what do executives like when you’re pitching DITA?

Bill Swallow:       So, well, I guess I’ll cut to the chase and ask Sarah what do executives like?

Sarah O’Keefe:       Well, I have bad news, because what executives like turns out to be not technology. This is hard because I love the technology. I love all those inner-workings of DITA and all the other weird stuff, but it turns out this doesn’t actually appeal to executives. What does work for executives is something completely different.

B. Swallow:       Yeah. They like the money. Show them the money. That means that your focus really needs to be on the more financial aspect of why you’re implementing DITA. You have to focus on cost savings in content production. You need to focus on expediting content development efficiency and translation, and localization, and that whole ROI model, and showing the value for what it is that you’re proposing that the company invest in. You need to show that value, and focus on the cost avoidance increased revenue through, I don’t know … expedited content, more languages, what have you, and better quality content.

S. O’Keefe:       Right, and there are some other aspects to this. We do have clients who care about things like compliance. Of course, compliance basically means following the rules that the government or other regulatory body has set down for you, because if you do not follow those rules you don’t get to sell your product or your service, which means you get no money. So compliance in the end comes to, I want to be present in the market with my product, which means money. Market share? Well increased market share means increased revenue, which means more money. User experience is the same way. You can draw a line from user experience to happier customers, to more money.

S. O’Keefe:       Now you’ll notice that one item that’s missing here is quality. I think it’s fair to say that there are a few organizations that see quality as a competitive advantage, which in turn leads to market share and more money. But in general, quality is one of those, it needs to be good enough. We need to produce something that is good enough to compete in the market place, but anything above and beyond good enough for the most part is considered wasted effort. I’m afraid I have a fairly sad and cynical view of the quality argument.

E. Patterson:       Our next clip comes from Charlie Andrews, of Ovitas. He presented “DITA: Smart Content for Guided Troubleshooting.” In this snippet, he’s going to talk to us a little bit about decision trees, what are decision trees, and how you use them.

Charlie Andrews:       Let’s talk about what decision trees are. Most of us have worked in some manner with a decision tree, sometimes whether we know it or not. Sometimes it’s just a logical way of thinking of things. If your lamp isn’t plugged in, is it because the cord is out, or is it because the light bulb is burnt, etc. Very basic. Decision trees are in broad use. Everywhere from committees in town governments and governments all the way to organizations, certainly throughout industry. Our focus again today is more on the diagnostics and repair, the decision trees that are involved with that.

C. Andrews:       Essentially it is very equivalent to a DITA map, and the diagnostics where being able to create a map, and ultimately take information that might be in DITA and apply that to the same diagnostic map and be able to publish those maps out for people to use. It’s all relating to the knowledge models that you’re creating. Interestingly, they have all sorts of different requirements, and today what we’re talking about is primarily manual entries. I have a product and it’s got an error code that I can see. Now I’m going to use that. I’m going to enter it into some smart system, and it’s going to tell me some steps to go through and give me other information. That’s opposed to a more advanced solution where you might have hardware and software wiring harnesses that plug into a machine. Or in some cases, those machines are actually broadcasting information, the IOT type of model where you’re taking that and interpreting it. For today’s example, we’re keeping it kind of basic.

E. Patterson:       So, the visual aid that Charlie used for decision trees was really beneficial. If you go and watch the complete recording, you can see that visual along with the audio itself. I encourage you to do that.

E. Patterson:       This next selection comes from Jake Campbell of Scriptorium. He presented “Burning It All Down with QA.” He talks about positive and negative testing in this next clip.

Jake Campbell:       So, now we’re going to talk about the different types of actual testing work because you can’t just check a box off and say something is ready to ship. We’re going to start with positive testing. This is the kind of thing that most people think of when it comes to testing. It’s a binary, does this work, or doesn’t this work question. It’s generally the first kind of testing that gets done before it moves on for further testing. It’s important to note that this doesn’t actually try to break anything. Also, do not let this be the only kind of testing that you do.

J. Campbell:       On the flip side of positive testing, is negative testing. It asks whether something breaks, as opposed to whether something works. It does this by actively attempting to find failure points in whatever feature you’re checking. It’s important because this is the most likely way to root out weird issues that won’t arise in standard use. While your authors or your users probably aren’t going to actively try and break things, you can’t account for all human behavior and all different configurations of software, whatever situations external to the code that you’re going to be finding.

E. Patterson:       Jake did a really good job of explaining both types of testing and their importance. Again, you can follow the link in the show notes to listen to the rest of the recording and hear a more thorough explanation.

E. Patterson:       Our final highlight for this podcast comes from Chad Dybdahl of Adobe. His session was “Empowering Business Users with Online Collaboration for DITA.” In this highlight, he’s going to talk to us a little bit about the importance of collaboration, and he actually refers to it as, collaboration is king.

Chad Dybdahl:       Context is important, but I believe that collaboration is king here, and that’s what we really should be thinking about as we look at our review processes, and how our reviewers can actually interact with one another during that process, and then be able to take the feedback that they’ve provided, act on it in a meaningful way that allows me to avoid those kind of copy paste errors, losing comments because I didn’t catch an email or something like that. Really what we need to do is facilitate this idea of collaboration, then you enable our business users, who don’t know anything about DITA, and frankly don’t care to, to really work together with the end goal of improving the quality of the documentation we’re producing. That’s what everybody wants, but it’s really hard to achieve when everyone is working in isolation, maybe making conflicting comments, not able to really see what each other’s thoughts are on any given topic, or subject. So, really this idea of empowering business users through collaboration I think is going to become increasingly important as we think about how we manage our content going forward.

E. Patterson:       With that, we are going to go ahead and wrap up. We will be back next time with more highlights from LearningDITA Live 2019. Again, all sessions were recorded and uploaded to a YouTube play list. To listen to those recordings, refer to the link in the show notes.

E. Patterson:       Thank you for listening to The Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit, or check the show notes for relevant links.