We need to start at digital

I came across Tom Johnson’s posts Structured Authoring By For And Or Nor With In the Web and Structured Authoring (like DITA) a Good Fit for Publishing on a Website? this weekend. It came at a good time for me seeing as I’m thinking about publishing, authoring and content. I missed the publication of the original post – and I only came across it because of the great work from the Zite recommendations engine – but I’m quite taken aback at the response to the post, and intrigued by many of the amendments since made to the original. It seems Tom is quite embedded in the documentation area and they have some pretty strong views on publishing.

This also coincides with a referral to a post via @CathStyles by Paul Rowe on the Create Once Publish Everywhere (COPE) concept. Paul gives a really great overview of COPE in a really fair and balanced view. He also offered me a different perspective with his work with museums and a better understanding of yet another specific context with specific needs.

Given my own work in education I feel I am getting a better picture of the state of play.

What I’ve picked up is that what we are all attempting to deal with analogue systems and processes shoehorned into digital spaces. The current state of our systems, processes and software are tied to an analogue way of thinking, of developing and of working. There is nothing inherently wrong with those systems – the structure of DITA, the individual museum catalogues or the tome of the study guide – they all work in their own contexts, but they have reached their limits because they are no longer existing in a single context. The culture, society and technology around them has changed substantially but these systems hold onto legacy vestiges.

I agree we need something new, and Tom’s discussions around what the Web offers are really interesting. Why? Because the web is digital and always has been. It has evolved much faster than our other publishing systems and it has embraced its digital nature. The line from Tom’s article that resonated the most with me was this, “web platforms are built on a database model of dynamically pulling out the content you want and rendering it in a view“. This to me highlights the contrast with the analogue model where content was just stored in the database – content was never developed with the database in mind, it’s just where the finished product ended up. It gives the illusion of being digital – but without any of the inherent benefits of being native.

While I didn’t come to my conclusion the same way, the Adaptive Media Element concept is about applying the content to the database. Using it’s richness and ability to apply logic, to call dynamically and to change as required makes the AME adaptable. It provides the strength of the digital object while retaining the detail and richness of the content itself.

I agree with Paul, and I’ve quoted Bill Hick’s before, but the line about the need to evolve ideas rings true to me. Evolution doesn’t mean starting from scratch, in fact in most cases it just means making small changes that make life easier, more adapted to the current climate. I think we need to take the ideas of structured authoring, illustrated so well by the COPE concept, and move them forward. We need to leave behind some of the analogue baggage. We need to start at digital.

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2 thoughts on “We need to start at digital

  1. I’ll be interested to see what tools you end up using to help with some these content publication problems at the University. There’s certainly an overlap in the problems facing sharing content from learning management systems and museum collection management systems.

  2. Pingback: Purity in the digital form | Tim Klapdor

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