I had flashbacks as I sat in the DITA session at the Boston Gilbane Conference. True flashbacks. Back to the days of creating a complex automated compilation “system” to create context-sensitive help for a Windows-based manufacturing control application. Partnered with an object-oriented developer who had better things to do than “play nice” with a technical writer, we managed to build a routine based on Word macros, RTF, Excel, and DLLs to output coded Microsoft help files linked directly to RC files. Convoluted, but it made us proud.
The flashback was not about the coding, although I felt compelled to document the story. It was more about the writing methdology developed with my fellow technical writers. All about standard topics, we developed a core set of help panels based on chunking information into concepts, procedures, reference info (UI and dialog box help) and glossary items. We developed a simple hypertext strategy with non-negotiable rules for what should link to what — and when. (Ended up with a nice triangle graphic for a cheatsheet.) It worked so well that I wrote and delivered a help standards paper for ACM in…. 1993. Still lives!

So, back to the DITA session, which was excellent — CM4 featuring IBM and Autodesk — two real-life and useful stories of implementers from the documentation trenches. Bill wrote about DITA in practice back in October, noting that Adobe techdoc”ers” are also DITA users.

And finally, back to the point of writing methdologies (aka content strategy component,) which I believe is one of the key drivers of the rapid adoption of DITA. DITA = topics = chunking. It is as much a methodology as it is a technology. Information Mapping, Inc., well-known to techdoc folks as a longtime proponent of information organization = usability, clearly agrees. They have rolled their methodology quite nicely into Content Mapper, blending DITA in as well. Their entry into the authoring software market, full of vendors with equally strong heritage, is a good sign for those following the pulse of ECM as strategy (more on that later.)

Takeaways? Information architecture is hot. Technical writer with online help expertise = DITA fan. Getting information from those in the trenches is key — check out What’s New at Gilbane.com and register for a discussion on real-world DITA adoption on January 11th.