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March 20, 2019

Full transcript of LearningDITA Live 2019 highlights part 2 (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.

E. Patterson:            In Episode 47, we take a look at some of the highlights from LearningDITA Live 2019. This is the second of two podcasts featuring these highlights.

E. Patterson:            Hello, I’m Elizabeth Patterson, and this is part two of the highlights from LearningDITA Live 2019.

E. Patterson:            We are going to go ahead and start the second part of this podcast series off with a highlight from Barbara Green of ACS Technologies and Gretyl Kinsey of Scriptorium. So, the two of them presented “Getting started with DITA: A case study with ACS Technologies.” And, in this highlight that we’re about to hear, we’re going to learn about some of the lessons learned from the project.

Gretyl Kinsey:         So, now we would also like to share some of the lessons that both ACS Technologies and Scriptorium learned along the way throughout this content strategy rollout. So, we’re going to start with ACS Technologies.

Barbara Green:       So, to meet the timelines set by stakeholders, and this was the very initial phase, we converted content and worked on cleanup post-conversion. Ideally, we wish that we had pushed back the timeline, educated our stakeholders and ourselves more, and gained opportunity to agree on the desired content model prior to conversion. If we had done this, we would have modified our content ahead of this conversion, or just started fresh in DITA.

B. Green:                 We also didn’t investigate how we were going to get content out of the current tool and into the new tool.

E. Patterson:            So, I really enjoyed this session, because of the real scenario that the presentation was built around. It made it really relatable. So, it’s a great presentation, and you can go back and watch the full recording. Just check the show notes for a link to the playlist.

E. Patterson:            Our next excerpt is from Larry Kunz of Extreme Networks. Larry presented “Making your DITA content play nicely with your CMS”. This is a very relevant topic, and this particular clip focuses on DITA’s value proposition.

L. Kunz:                   I mentioned value a moment ago. And to me, technical writing is all about creating value, both for our customers and for the companies that employ us. And DITA also has a value proposition, and DITA needs to bring value to the technical writing community. I see DITA’s value proposition as being three-fold.

L. Kunz:                   First, collaborative writing: DITA supports the creation of content by different people, often from different teams, coming from different viewpoints and backgrounds.

L. Kunz:                   Second part of DITA’s value proposition is re-use: and of course, that’s entwined quite closely with the first one, collaborative writing. In re-use, content can be created once, and then used again in a variety of contexts without having to be recreated.

L. Kunz:                   And finally, DITA supports multiple output formats. The same content can be rendered in whatever formats the readers need, be they PDF, HTML, online help, you name it.

L. Kunz:                   When I teach DITA, I teach best practices. These are the ways that work the best. And I’ve found, since my company moved to a large CMS a little over a year ago, that sometimes, the best practices are different when you go from using vanilla DITA, or the DITA with a small CMS, to using DITA with a large CMS.

E. Patterson:            Alright, so next, we have Dr. Carlos Evia of Virginia Tech, Alan Houser of Group Wellesley, and Mark Giffin of Mark Giffin Consulting, and they presented “Learning Lightweight DITA Live”. In this clip that you’re about to hear, Dr. Carlos Evia explains what exactly Lightweight DITA is, and how it compares to DITA.

Carlos Evia:             So, now let’s dive into what is Lightweight DITA? So, Lightweight DITA and the … It’s not really an acronym, but we invented LwDITA, which should be pronounced Lightweight DITA. It’s a simplified version of DITA. So, I assume that people who are at this session understand a little bit about DITA; at least they have heard about the Darwin information typing architecture.

C. Evia:                    So, Lightweight DITA has some of the similar purposes for structuring, publishing information that DITA XML does. But the origins of Lightweight DITA started back in 2011-2012 when some of the members of the DITA technical committee said, “We need to have something that, out of the box, without the need for specializing has some elements that DITA has that could be used to structure any type of information.”

C. Evia:                    Because as you might have seen, in some of the sessions presented earlier today or yesterday … some people use DITA. Lots of people use DITA for technical content, and they rely on the structure types of concept past reference and others. But Lightweight DITA, from its very beginnings, had the purpose of allowing people to structure whatever they wanted with very few elements, with very few tags. And Lightweight DITA was born as a subset of DITA XML, and it was using XML tags.

C. Evia:                    Around 2013, Michael Priestley, who is one of the fathers of DITA at IBM, had the idea of saying, “Wait a minute! Lightweight DITA in XML is using a lot of elements that already exist in HTML. So, why don’t we make a version of Lightweight DITA in HTML, and now we have two versions of Lightweight DITA?” If you want to use XML, if you’re used to working with XML, maybe you have used full DITA before, or you came from another XML grammar, you can use XML-based Lightweight DITA. And if you prefer to use HTML, or if you worked in a community that uses HTML, you can use the HTML based version of Lightweight DITA.

E. Patterson:            Our next clip features Radu Coravu of Syncro Soft, and Radu presented “DITA Project Best Practices.” In this clip, Radu answers, “Do you have a healthy DITA project?”

Radu Coravu:          Sometimes, I get to wonder what a healthy DITA project means. For me, it means that technical writers can still focus on writing and not on the work flow. It means that you can successfully involve peer reviews from other writers, maybe from engineers outside of your technical writing group, also from end users.

R. Coravu:                In a healthy DITA project, you can hire new people under … they have an easy start. They don’t have to train a massive amount of time for their job. It’s easy to produce deliverables, and maybe even correct errors in all the deliverables by re-publishing them.

R. Coravu:                And a healthy DITA project should allow future evolution, bring in more writers, obtain more outputs for more products, and so on.

E. Patterson:            So, this clip was just a small example of the valuable and relevant information that Radu provided in his presentation. I highly encourage you to go back and watch this recording. It’s packed full of great information, especially if you’re getting ready to start with DITA implementation.

E. Patterson:            The next selection comes from Amber Swope of DITA Strategies, and in Amber’s presentation, “Let’s make new mistakes,” she talks about the common mistakes that people tend to make during DITA implementation in the hopes that you can avoid them. So, in the selection that we’re about to hear, she’s going to talk about the first mistake, which is not defining project success.

Amber Swope:        So, I want to jump right in with the first common mistake that I see folks make, and this happens at the beginning of an implementation, but also when you’re going to expand it. You don’t take the time to go through and define, “What does success look like? How will we spot it in the wild?”

A. Swope:                So the symptoms of this, so you can figure out if you are falling down this path, is that you don’t know what your requirements are, that you have no measurement, no action that you can measure upon the completion of your project, or its specific milestones, even, and that you end up with change with no improvement.

A. Swope:                And this is really easy to do, because what we get is, we get told these goals, and these goals are very grandiose and vague. “We want to be more efficient,” is my favorite culprit. And what does that mean? What does efficiency mean? Well, to any given organization, it could mean very different things.

A. Swope:                And the first thing, for instance: if you’re saying you’re doing an efficiency measurement, well, what are you measuring? Well, you can’t very clearly make the business case for “improve efficiency” if you don’t have metrics about what you do now.

A. Swope:                So, I’m going to tell you right now, do not say you’re going to do an implementation, and the business benefit is going to be efficiency if you have no data on how long it takes you to do things right now.

A. Swope:                I had a client that said, “We’re going to this business case on efficiency,” and they just knew that things were painful. They had no way of saying exactly how long the content creation portion took, how long the content review took. They had no idea how long it took to publish and deliver or translate. And then, they implemented their system, and they had metrics on how long it took to do those things now.

A. Swope:                But management was like, “Well, how much have you improved?” And they couldn’t tell them, because there was no previous data to say, these activities took X-amount of time, or X-number of resources before they went and did their implementation.

A. Swope:                So, this is where we want to know: What are the business requirements, and how do we measure them?

E. Patterson:            Okay, so Vishal Palliyathu from Cisco joined us to present “Training your AI using DITA files,” and in this highlight, Vishal talks about leveraging DITA.

Vishal Palliyathu:     So, why have we used DITA? Because, again, based on XML it’s easier for developers to play around with or to get a hang of it. It’s easier for technical communicators, also, because we already have a cleaned-up, well-crafted source out there. We just have to leverage it.

V. Palliyathu:           It has a lot of inherent semantics. It’s pretty rich in syntax. It has a lot of conditions and filters, and this is important, conditions and filters. We are able to use that to switch on, or turn on, a lot of these particular factors. So, it’s a very developer-friendly source. We can actually use clip to migrate and generate dot-JSON files from your data source. Cool, and again, it’s interesting.

E. Patterson:            So, overall, this was a very innovative session if that’s something you’re interested in going back and listening to.

E. Patterson:            Our next snippet comes from Stanley Doherty of Oracle, and he presented “Branding 101: Developing branding identity in DITA”. In this clip, Stanley’s going to talk about buffering your production content.

Stanley Doherty:     So, major theme is buffer your production content. Every organization has different departments … stakeholders, I call them: marketing, user experience, legal. They all have some skin in the game. They design things, they want to push out programs, they want to re-define the identity of a product; and this is all goodness, you know? It’s all, I think, part of being a company that is focused on its customers and providing value.

S. Doherty:              That said, it can be a little fuzzy, though. Where does corporate branding begin and end? Where does personalization, especially around programs, begin and end? What is the user experience design as it impacts the documentation design? How about customer journeys? Big deal, there. I work for a company that is trying to figure out how … it does figure out … how do we make customer journeys move from on-premise up to the Cloud? Alright, so how the documentation play into that, and how do the different brands or different roles, or different paths through that journey … how do they manifest in the documentation?

S. Doherty:              And, if you’ve been involved with an acquisition one way or another, you’re very much into the re-branding side of it. So, it’s a little fuzzy, and everybody has, to some degree, a different goal.

E. Patterson:            Our last highlight from LearningDITA Live comes from Ulrike Parson of Parson AG, and Ulrike presented “DITA versus CMS”. In this highlight, she talks about DITA versus CMS, and offers a brief explanation of it, and she relates them to apples versus oranges. So, it’s a great intro to her entire presentation.

Ulrike Parson:         Okay, the question today is, whether there is a question like, “Do you choose DITA or a CCMS,” whether that really is a decision that you need to make. I put that question because in Europe, and especially in Germany, you have a strong position of all the component content management systems that are not based on DITA, but use their own structure, and document definition.

U. Parson:                So, mostly, a decision for a CCMS is also a decision against DITA in Germany. But, I think that the question whether you work with DITA or CCMS is actually like comparing apples and oranges; or as we Germans would put it, comparing apples and pears.

U. Parson:                Because, if you think of DITA as the apple, that’s a nice fruit that you can chew. It’s a format, a sematic information architecture that you can use to write your content in.

U. Parson:                And the orange is a complete system where you have additional functions, like workflow, translation management, terminology checking, authoring memory, you name it; everything you need in addition to your document-type definition. So, there is no decision for or against the CCMS or DITA. It’s just different things that you need to decide along your way.

E. Patterson:            With that, we are going to go ahead and wrap up. Again, all of the sessions were recorded and uploaded to our YouTube playlist. To listen to the 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.