Sunday, April 12, 2009

model a DITA compliant model

DITA today is more and more adopted at least in the techdoc domain. the success and adoption rate is based on two major advantages over other existing standards:
  • adaptability
    the DITA data model can be adapted based on defined rules to specific needs and domains. this concept is called specialization
  • modularization
    content creation is not based on document paradigm but on module paradigm. authors no more create documents they create topics which represent some artifact of the system they describe.
problem for an information architect

since i started working with DITA i reviewed several data models from coworkers, from customers and last but not least created by myself. All of them claimed to be DITA compliant.
Using them with also DITA complaint tools often fails for certain features or in some cases completely.

  1. the created models wasn't valid according to the released specification
    creating a complaint DITA model (DTD or W3C Schema) requires to know all rules and requirements the DITA specification provides without having any tool support goes beyond the support of creating regular DTD's and W3C Schema's. this means the information architect is leaving alone with the underlying complexity.

    i do not know exactly but based on data models i'm faced with i expect that at least 50% of customized DITA models out there are not complaint to the DITA spec.

    few years ago i already posted this here:
  2. the used tools requires additional, tools specific configuration or semantic or simple doesn't implement a feature according to the specification
the second reason is getting better over time and today you find a bunch of tools which are production ready even for enterprise usage.

the first reason still not resolved.

you might argue, why not use the DITA model out of the box?
  • if you have specific requirements in your business process and you require additional semantic to support those
  • if you have to simplify the usage of content creation for the authors and users to get better and more consistent content outcome.
    note: i consider DITA subsetting / configuration as just another way for the generic concept specialization
  • if you introduce new business domain / taxonomy into your content maintenance strategy.
issues if your model doesn't really confirms to the specification?
  • interoperability is no more guaranteed
    this is mainly a problem for the enterprise and in most cases not at the beginning of the usage of DITA
    but if you once look into this problem you forced to fix all content created against your model or adopt the processing chain your content is delivered to
  • process chain does not work
    you add new tools to your environment and certain features doesn't work. you again can fix all your existing content and the data model and tools or adopt the tool with certain workarounds
this week i stumbled over DITAworks modeling module which is the first tool I'm aware of addresses the modeling use-case in the DITA domain.

I'm not yet verified it to see to until which extend this tool supports the modeling / validation process and how much manual work is still involved and how complete the implementation currently is. because this tool is still beta and is brand new i expect much outstanding work but i hope this tool opens the door for speed up DITA related development work and the more important part of the story improve quality for DITA related information models.

i know that the amount of money / amount of customer can be found in this domain is pretty small and the complexity of the problem isn't small enough therefore i do not expect too much competitors in near future, but i might be wrong.

time will show....

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