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Tools of Change for Publishing/Norwegian Monks!

As part of a brief history of publishing in the opening keynote, I’ve already seen a few friends:

  • The Norwegian Monks video — Technical support for books
  • A reference to Vannevar Bush’s “As We Might Think” article from 1945

According to Tim O’Reilly, Microsoft Encarta “fatally wounded” the Encyclopedia Britannia because of “asymmetric competition.”

A series of short, related keynotes to kick off the conference. I like this approach; in a nontechnical, high-level keynote, it can be difficult to fill a 60- or 90-minute slot.

Brian Murray, HarperCollins, Retooling HarperCollins for the Future
Consumer publishing *was* straightforward. All promotion wasdesigned to drive traffic to a retailer.

In 2005, “the earth moved.” There were search wars, community sites, user-generated content, Web 2.0. Newspapers and magazines responded with premium, branded sites online based on advertising or subscription models.

Book publishers are confused. Search engines treat digitized book content like “free” content. Rights and permissions are unclear. Books are not online — except illegally! Book archives are not digitized.

Before 2004, “book search” took place in a book store.

What is the role of the publisher in a digital world?
What is the right digital strategy?
What are the right capabilities?
“Search” provides new opportunities for publishers.
Publishers must transition from paper to digital.
How can publishers create value and not destroy it?

Some statistics:

  • 65M in the U.S. read more than 6 books a year.
  • 10M read more than 50 books a year. [ed.: waves]
  • Younger consumers read less; they spend more time online

Search is used more often than email.

HarperCollins decided to focus on connecting with customers, rather than e-commerce. Amazon and others already do e-commerce. They focused on the idea of a “digital warehouse” that is analogous to the existing physical warehouse. They want to:

  • promote and market to the digital consumer.
  • use digitized books to create a new publishing/distribution chain
  • protect author’s copyright
  • “replicate in digital world what we do in physical world”
  • got publicity, strong public response
  • no single vendor who could deliver turnkey

Improvements from digital production and workflow could fund some or all of the digital warehouse investment. Projects that were low priority “IT and production” projects become high priority. Savings were realized in typesetting/design costs, digital workflow, and digital asset management.

The digital warehouse now has 12,000 titles. (Looks as though they were scanned, which doesn’t meet *my* definition of “digital content.”)

At this point in the presentation, we began to hear a lot about “control.” Control of content, controlling distribution, and so on.

HarperCollins does not want others to replicate their 9-billion page archive in multiple locations. They want others to link into their digital warehouse. But if storage is cheap and getting cheaper, what’s in it for, say, Google?

Strategic issues for book publishers

  • Should publishers digitize, organize, and own the exclusive digital copy of their book content?
  • Should publisher control the consumer experience on the web?
  • If the cost of 1 and 2 is zero, should every publisher do them both? would they?
  • How to make money

The focus on controlling content was interesting and perhaps not unexpected. The business case based on savings in digital production was also interesting.

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Why XML and structured authoring is a tough transition

Found on technicalwriter’s blog:

There are several applications that incorporate features for DITA use, such as XMetal and Altova Authentic, but how much value do they provide? (Looking over the online documentation for XMetal, you will see some pretty shaky formatting and copyfitting.)

There may well be formatting and copyfitting issues. Wouldn’t surprise me at all. But talk about missing the forest for the trees!

DITA/XML/structured authoring are important because they improve how information is stored. To question their value because somebody produced documentation using them that doesn’t look so great…let’s try an analogy:

Last week, I went to a restaurant and the food was terrible. I looked in the kitchen and saw Calphalon pots and pans. I conclude that you should not buy Calphalon because the food they produce is terrible.

The quality of your food is determined by things such as the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the chef. The pan you choose does contribute — it helps to use the right size and a high-quality pan, but to dismiss DITA because one example doesn’t look quite right is pretty much like dismissing Calphalon because somebody once cooked something that didn’t taste very good in it.

PS I like Calphalon. And I have produced my share of problematic entrees.
PPS DITA is not right for everybody.

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Look in the dictionary, see a reference to MadCap Software. Their latest:

MadCap Blaze is the heir apparent to Adobe FrameMaker.

I haven’t seen Blaze, and as far as I know, it is not yet available in beta. Therefore, this claim seems just a tiny bit premature.

Also, Blaze is going to have tight integration with XML Paper Specification, otherwise known as “PDF-Killer.”

I blogged about XPS early on, when it was code-named “Metro.” I’m very skeptical about XPS; dislodging PDF will take a huge effort. I’m puzzled by MadCap’s focus on XPS.

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The end of the world is approaching

What other explanation is there for Adobe, nicknamed The Cone of Silence, making this announcement:

If you are planning to attend the [STC] Conference [in Minneapolis], you now have added incentive. We will be providing technology sneak peeks of the features of the next versions of FrameMaker, RoboHelp and Captivate.

For details, see Vivek Jain’s blog entry on the Adobe TechComm blog. No mention of a requirement for a non-disclosure agreement, so I assume any information shared at these sessions will be public.

I won’t call Adobe “transparent” just yet, but this reduction in opacity is quite welcome.

Update (May 3, 2007): Over at Core Dump, a post on the same topic entitled Hell is Freezing Over.

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Writing better XSL

Jeni Tennison has a new blog. Her latest post has tips on when to use template matching, named templates, and for-each statements.

In my experience, most people who are new to XSL overuse for-each loops, because they most closely resemble familiar programming constructs.

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It’s not easy being green

Over the years, we’ve been quite smug about Scriptorium’s eco-friendly credentials. We don’t have any nasty, dirty factories, we mostly provide services, and all in all, we’re pretty clean.

On the surface.

It turns out, of course, that there are two major holes in our green company argument:

  • energy
  • air travel

On the energy front, we use power to heat and cool our office and to run our (many) computers. When we travel to visit customers, we usually fly, and airplanes emit huge amounts of pollutants.

In honor of our 10th anniversary, and for Earth Day 2007, we are announcing several new initiates to help reduce our environmental footprint:

  • Recycling: We already recycle most of what we use in the office: paper, computers, aluminum, and plastic. We are also going to make a significant effort to use more recycled paper when we print, both in the office and with our print vendors.
  • Air travel: Through, we are purchasing carbon offsets to “zero out” the carbon emissions from our collective air travel. We are also offering our customers the option of live, instructor-led web-based classes, which eliminates travel requirements for client and customer alike.
  • Energy: We have joined the North Carolina GreenPower program, which allows us to purchase energy from renewable sources.

You can find a list of carbon offsetting programs in several countries here. There’s an excellent overview of the concept at and

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Your beautiful life

I just installed a wireless mouse on my PC here in the office. The instructions that came with the mouse have some interesting turns of phrase, including this gem:

[The mouse] combines with 27MH RF wireless technology, user-defined keys, and outstanding design, so that you can use it freely to improve your efficiency and enjoy your beautiful life from the high technology.

Yes, I often enjoy my beautiful life with high technology. Don’t you?

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Friends in new places

We’re pleased to announce that we have joined XMetaL’s Partner Program as a Certified Service Provider.

We will not be reselling XMetaL software, but we will begin offering XMetaL classes this summer.

This is really a customer-driven decision — we have clients asking us to develop XML and DITA implementations with XMetaL as the core authoring tool.

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WritersUA: My sessions

I delivered a session on Coping with the XML Paradigm Shift, in which I introduced my Taxonomy of Problem Writers for the first time. The slides are available in PDF format, and I welcome any and all comments. You probably won’t be surprised that the presentation is slightly over the top. It has, however, already served as a great conversation starter —
I heard people talking about Technosaurs and One-Trick Ponies.

On Tuesday afternoon, I did a double-length, hands-on Introduction to DITA session. (Many thanks to XMetaL for providing attendees with evaluation copies to use during the session.)

I arrived in the room about half an hour before the session and found a few people already moved in. (Always a good sign.) Trying to install and configure software just minutes before a session like this is a truly terrifying undertaking. And as we got closer to the session time, more
and more (and MORE) people kept coming. By my count, we had at least 35 people with laptops and five more without. (That’s about triple the number I’d normally allow in a hands-on training session.)

There were a few kinks, but we managed to get everyone up and running*, and I think the session was valuable. At the end, I polled the room on whether they were more or less likely to implement DITA and got an even split. Perfect!

We will be extending this three-hour session into a two-day Introduction to DITA class, which we expect to begin offering in mid-summer. Watch this space for more details.

* One person had a Mac, which I hadn’t anticipated. Sorry! The two people running Vista also had some issues. There were a few installation errors, but their software seemed to run OK.

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