In a recent blog post, Fabrice Talbot made the following interesting observation:
… the documentation industry is promoting single-sourcing as THE SOLUTION to all their problems. However, for smaller companies the costs of moving to single-source (or XML, or both) may outreach the benefits. I could not agree more …
For smaller companies, it’s not just the cost of making the move to single sourcing, component content authoring, or XML that’s a major factor. It’s also the need to do so. In a number of cases, the need just isn’t there.
A personal example
A few jobs back, I was working with a small company that develops server monitoring software. One day, I was chatting with the development manager about a variety of things, when the subject of XML came up. We got on to the topic of DITA, and he asked me about using DITA for the product’s documentation and the company’s other documents.
My answer was No. What you’ve got in place is more than good enough. Why? The company has one product. The documentation set consists of a manual, a help system, and release notes — the manual and release notes are done in FrameMaker, and the help is generated using WebWorks. There’s very little reuse; nothing that can’t be handled using text insets in Frame. The same goes for the company’s support documentation — very little of it is used elsewhere.
In cases like this, switching to something like DITA or DocBook or Author-it is overkill. You won’t taking advantage of the touted power and depth of the tools. On top of that, the total cost of ownership — which includes the initial cost of purchasing the necessary software, the expense incurred in maintaining the software, and training staff to use it — could also be prohibitive. Youre also unlikely to be very productive during the time it takes to get up and running with the new tools.
It’s the content, not the tools
And what about the consumers of your content? They don’t care how the documentation is prepared as long as it’s complete, concise, and accurate. Ensuring that the dcocuments are well laid out and presented can’t hurt, either. In the end, the quality of the content is king.
Switching to single sourcing, component content authoring, or XML (or all of the above) doesn’t make your content better. The tools are there for the convenience of the writer. The tools don’t write the documentation.
If you have no compelling reason to switch to single sourcing, component content authoring, or XML (or all of the above), then don’t. Use the tools and methodologies that are right for the job that you’re doing.