Should You Specialize When Adopting DITA? Or, DITA Through the Green Glass Doors.

If you’ve heard about DITA, then you’ve probably heard about specialization – creating new information types based on ones that already exist in DITA. Specialization is something that you’ll probably end up doing at some point, but should you specialize during the DITA adoption phase?

The answer depends on whether you’re adopting DITA on your own, or you’re adopting it under the guidance of an experienced consultant. Eventually, you’ll understand on your own what should be specialized and what should not. But coming to that understanding is a process. Specialization has benefits, and how much benefit depends in part on your culture, your goals, and your processes. Specialization itself is not without cost though. How high or low the cost is depends to a great extent on the tools available to you. Finding that balance, and knowing how to design a beneficial specialized information type, reminds me of the game ‘Through the Green Glass Doors’.

It’s a group game that starts by explaining that not everything can be brought through the green glass doors. But, the group won’t be told directly what the rules are for what can come through. The game leader then gives some examples:

“You can bring a moose, but not a mouse.
You can bring cheese, but not ham.
A speaker can’t come through, but his speech can.”

The group then tries to figure out what can and cannot come through the green glass doors by asking whether specific things can come through. The game leader might even helpfully give a counter-example. “You can bring these, but not those.” As the group starts to catch on to the patterns in the answers, they start asking better questions until they know exactly what can come through the green glass doors.

Knowing what to specialize in DITA is a lot like that, except there are no rules preventing consultants from sharing what the rules are. It’s just that the explanations might not make sense to you until you start to understand the rules on your own and start to be able to ask better questions.

There are tremendous benefits to specializing right away when adopting DITA. It avoids later rework, and lets you get the most leverage possible from the semantic markup of your content. But unless you understand what goes through the “green glass doors”, you’re not ready to specialize DITA on your own yet.

Imagine. Craft. Achieve. Cooperate.

What Is Creativity?

When we think of defining creativity we naturally think of having novel ideas. Some creativity gurus would add that the ideas should be actually useful. I think that that addition points toward something vital to creativity: creating. No doubt a great many novel and useful ideas eventually die of neglect, and the world is the poorer for it. Without the ability to bring an idea to life by crafting its form and following it through to completion, ideas that might otherwise be recognized as creative instead come to be seen as mere daydreams, or, if there are abortive efforts toward achievement, failures.

Imagination is only the beginning.

Some sort of craft must always be applied to the idea to bring it to life, whether it be hewn from marble, composed in verse, rendered in computer code, or told to a receptive hearer. But craft alone is not proof of creativity. A factory robot can precisely craft a screw, a chair leg, or a particular shade of purple paint. But nobody would argue that the robot is being creative. Neither is the skilled craftsman who is executing someone else’s design necessarily being creative himself. Yet without craft, the idea never takes shape.

Imagine. Craft.

It is still possible, even with adequate skill being applied to the idea, that it never comes to fruition due to lack of follow-through. Even with a brilliant idea and exquisite craftsmanship, sometimes life gets in the way. Things happen. Unforeseen changes are needed. Without the ability to change course, a ship will almost certainly strike a hazard and founder. The same happens to creative endeavors without proper execution. The ability to achieve the goal often requires careful management of the boring details.

Imagine. Craft. Achieve.

Sounds simple. Unfortunately, the ability to do all three well is rarely found within one individual. Many try to go it alone, and end up with only daydreams or failures. We need the humility to recognize our limitations, to set aside our egos, and to work collaboratively with others who are in some respect superior to ourselves. We need to cooperate.

Imagine. Craft. Achieve. Cooperate.

Sooner or Later, You’ll Audit Your Content

Audit? Um, no thanks. Not on my bucket list. But at some point, you will see something that needs to change about your content, the way you develop it, the way you publish it, or the way you translate it. Any process of change involves knowing three things:

  1. What to change.
  2. What to change to.
  3. How to bring about the change.
A content audit answers the first, vital, question. One way or another, you’re going to end up doing a content audit, whether you planned to or not. The question is: how much value will you get from it?

The answer depends on how early it happens, and what you do with the information you gather. A lot of the benefit could be lost if you put it off. Continue reading

Is Swearing Part of Your Content Strategy?

I attended my first IA Summit in large part because of 5-Minute Madness. After discovering that the IA Summit exists, I listened to all of the recordings of the Summit I could find. One of them was of 5-Minute Madness. Hearing the emotion in the participants’ voices as each, in turn, took the microphone, some moved to tears by their experience, made me realize that this was like no conference I had ever attended – I had to get there. And I am grateful to all of you who have been so generous in sharing your wisdom, experience, and advice, and your conviction that what we do makes a difference.

But this isn’t one of those gushing posts. This is one of those difficult posts, because there is something I’ve been meaning to write to you about. Continue reading