I’ve looked at several articles about the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) to try and figure out why any business or writer would want to use it. I’m very familiar with the concepts.
In my opinion, DITA is difficult to configure and difficult to implement and you had better pick the right experts to set it up or it could have disastrous consequences for your business, internal customers, partners, and your writers.
What is DITA anyway? DITA is an “XML data model for authoring and, with the DITA Open Toolkit, publishing. It is a standard that is defined and maintained by the OASIS DITA Technical Committee. “* OASIS is a standards organization and the board guards the standards. Their charter is to “promote the use of the DITA architecture for creating standard information types and domain-specific mark-up vocabularies.” DITA was developed by IBM and donated to OASIS in 2004.
DITA has been around long enough to have writers offer their insights and opinions about the use of it. Remember, technology has changed tremendously in the last 16 years!
In my opinion, considering all of the technological advances in the last few years, like the mobile devices that we use, DITA really isn’t a good writing or formatting tool. I think technical writing groups want it because using DITA means that you are more impressed by structure rather than time constraints and writing good content. You can’t write really good content and be preoccupied with DITA/XML structure.
Benefits and Rebuttal
On the other hand, some benefits espoused by DITA users** are: It enables single-sourcing and easy reuse of content. But so does FrameMaker! Insets were designed to do single-sourcing. You have one stand-alone file that you update and finalize with your Subject Matter Experts (SME); open the source file, select the inset, and update. You’re done with reuse without worrying about accidentally deleting existing content or the structure.
It enables better collaboration. How? Collaboration is still done the same old way either by meeting face-to-face, or on the phone, or by using email! “Collaboration depends a lot on the environment, but it also depends on how you promote that environment,” Pantano says. “For example, that’s why you’ll see students sitting with other students here.”***
It distributes work so writers can work in parallel, thanks to topic-driven architecture. I just don’t see how writers can work in parallel. The file is locked when you’re working in it on purpose. Another writer cannot open the file.
What are some of the disadvantages of DITA. Well, first of all, someone will have to stay current on DITA changes which could mean many hours of extra research. If this is a first for your organization, you’ll have the management of changing to DITA from whatever tool and process you’re using now.
After you’ve made the decision to enable DITA, you may have to hire experts to put your solution together which could mean a bigger budget item, maybe too big for your organization. The experts you hire may not know what your writers are organizing and will force your writers to use their structure. Most experienced writers know how to structure their content.
DITA is counter-productive because topics are broken down into smaller sub-topics. This slows down the process because one topic or sub-topic could be one sentence! Imagine building a paragraph when you have to bring in the content one sentence at a time!
Depending on the size of your organization, you may need a DITA Content Management System (CMS). The average cost of a really good online DITA for a minimum amount of content costs $30k or more a year. This can be a BIG budget item considering all of the free applications that are available and don’t need a CMS.
Lastly, if you work with other groups, they may not want to integrate your DITA content. It’s practically impossible to win other groups over to DITA. You could try to show them how easy your vendor’s proprietary Word-like template is to use but chances are they will stick to what they know. Another big budget item could be training for your writing team to use DITA.
Check out these articles:
“10 reasons for moving away from DITA”, http://idratherbewriting.com/2015/01/28/10-reasons-for-moving-away-from-dita/
“Benefits of using DITA”, http://dita.xml.org/benefits-using-dita
“An Introduction to DITA”, http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=663081&seqNum=4
“Tech Writer Tips & Tricks—DITA”. Jacquie Samuels on October 19, 2011. http://techwhirl.com/tech-writer-tips-tricks-dita/
*Description of DITA. http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin_Information_Typing_Architecture
**”Benefits of DITA”, http://www.ixiasoft.com/
***“Engineering research: Collaboration and creativity unleash tomorrow’s discovery,” Matthew Swayne, Penn State News, June 5, 2013.