Component-Oriented Authoring: The Journey Begins with the First Step

February 20, 2009 at 11:21 am | Posted in Content Management, Information Work, Office, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

I highly recommend an eWeek series by Eric Severson on component-based authoring (see part 1, part 2, part 3).  Eric notes how the content creation tools that came of age in the 1980’s are becoming an anachronism in today’s world of expectations for searchable, fresh information.  New  content creation technologies such as blogs, wikis, and easily updatable website are often a better fit for these new needs.

Eric makes a great case for why component-oriented authoring is needed.  But he explores the more well-trodden path of technical and product documentation.  While this does encompass the current sweet spot for component-oriented content creation (and vendors and service providers that implement XML-based content and DITA), I find it more interesting to explore how the sweet spot is expanding.  Technical writers know they are professional authors.  But when does this start hitting the average information worker who doesn’t think of herself as a professional writer, but in fact writing underpins a large amount of what she does?

That question leads to another: Who addresses the gap between the current XML content creation tools (which require significant setup of schemas by people experienced in XML or training on DITA) and the current productivity tools (like Word, where “anything goes”)?  Within that gap lie “lightly structured” or “occasionally structured” documents that are partially unstructured but contain reusable and tagged components in places.

I recently did some research on component-based authoring for my overview “Content Authoring in the Enterprise 2.0 Age” (non-clients can see a summary of the NextGen Content Creation trends here).  Microsoft folks demonstrated to me how Word can be stretched to cover this space with a bit of programming and some slightly awkward UI.  And JustSystems XMeTaL folks described how their tool could be stretched to cover documents with less structure by creating a custom schema.  But you’d still have a separation of authoring, formatting, and publishing that makes sense in large scale, but is onerous at small scale content production.  It’s not an XMeTaL issue – the same applies to other XML authoring tools generally used in structured content creation environments such as Altova XMLSpy, Arbortext Editor, BroadVision QuickSilver, PTC Arbortext, and Stylus Studio.

Until the bridge in the middle is built, a few content authors will continue to fly from the unstructured to structured worlds, but the mass of authors will struggle to make do with their existing tools while waiting for an easier way to take that first semi-structured step in a longer journey.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.

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