Darwin Information Typing Architecture, meet Wiki
Time for me to geek out a bit on the convergence of a couple of tech pubs technologies that just might find a way to work together.
I just found this tidbit on the dita-users Yahoo Group. Crystal ball: A DITA wiki. Scott Abel, the self-named Content Wrangler, says that Paul Prescod first introduced the idea of a DITA-based Wiki at XTech2005. Paul's the Group Program Manager at Blast Radius XMetaL. Right on, Paul. Tell us more when you've got the Sharepoint killer that can help with cross-departmental communication and aid in collaboration.
So, which do I describe first, DITA or wiki? How about alphabetical order. Darwin Information Typing Architecture, DITA (pronounced dih-tuh) is an XML architecture I've been working with over the last year or so. It originated at IBM and is now part of OASIS. Were investigating DITA at BMC as part of a unified content strategy project, to look at structured authoring using XML. Wiki stands for "quick" in Hawaiian, and it's a web-based collaborative authoring tool.
So far, to me, wikis I've read are more for quick note taking, unless you're talking about wikipedia, which is the best organized example of a wiki that I've seen so far. I've been skeptical so far about its applications for end-user technical documentation, but DITA architecture applied in a wiki environment just might be an interesting mash up. While wikipedia and some other info-distributing technologies fill neat niches when there's a large, willing-to-write-and-rewrite community, I'm not sure anyone in the tech pubs world is using it for end-user doc. Yet. I just Googled and found this blog post about wikis for documentation (he's against it). Also, here's an example of end-user technical topic in a wiki. I just think wikis are not as easy to navigate as other HTML-based sites, and search in a classic wiki is not yet as robust as in most HTML-based help systems. I'd love to spend time with the wiki templates and experiment with wikis to the point where you could update it, navigate it, and so on, but it's just not my favorite technology right now. Topic-oriented authoring is more what I'm pondering about lately, so the concept of authoring DITA topics in a Wiki environment intrigues me. A workflow I would envision would be a web form for entering wiki content that would match a specialization of a DITA topic so that contributors to the wiki would automatically know what to fill in and how to organize their content. I would imagine that publishing on a DITA-based wiki should be as easy as it is on a regular wiki (just a Save button of some sort) and if it could somehow create a wiki-based index based on keywords in the DITA-specialised content that would be awesome too.
Now, to turn the idea on its side a little, what are your thoughts on whether wikis could be used for end-user technical documentation? I'd imagine that a more structured wiki based on DITA content (which may have already been created for end-users) might work well for technical documentation. Have you seen any good examples? I'd love to see a well-done example. I recently found an article by Stephen Brooks, a technical communicator who works at DreamWorks. You need a membership in the Society for Technical Communication to download the article, but here's the direct link to the PDF for STC members with their login info. In the September-October 2005 article he says:
"As the studio transitioned to CGI, I transitioned to the studio ways. Unlike a typical software company, DreamWorks has no set rules for software and documentation development, except to please the production staff as they race to complete their film (a “race” that lasts two or three years). The lack of rules has meant endless experimentation in our documentation. We’ve tried Flash demonstration movies, wikis, humorous quotes, and iconic heading styles to classify information."
To me, including wikis in a description of experimental deliverables might mean that some structure surrounding wiki deliverables might be just what we need to put some ease-of-use in the wiki format. Perhaps DITA (itself a cutting edge technology to some) will be the architecture to build a structured collaborative environment that we all can easily build on.