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Thursday, March 22, 2007

CMS Requirements for DITA

At last night's Central Texas DITA User's Group we had a nice presentation from France Baril of Ixiasoft on some of the challenges that authoring DITA documents can pose, in particular the need to be able to find topics and know what the dependencies among topics are as you revise the topics through the life cycle of the documentation set.

This sparked a discussion on some basic requirements on CMS systems that provide DITA-specific features. In addition, one of my colleagues is doing a DITA CMS project for one of our clients and he and I got to talking about what the CMS they're implementing did and didn't do with the DITA data, which revealed that the CMS vendor was perhaps not displaying as much insight into and imagination about how DITA should be managed as it could be.

So I thought I would try to outline what I think the key DITA non-obvious content management features are that any CMS that claims to provide DITA support should provide. I will not state what should be obvious requirements related to the creation and management of links, the ability to search on content and metadata, and so on.

See my earlier posts tagged XCMTDMW for a discussion of general XML content management requirements. Those requirements are the base from which these DITA requirements start. Therefore I won't state obvious things like XML-aware query, basic link management, and so on.

Map-Related Requirements

Maps are a key feature of DITA and the management of maps is essential to productive use of DITA. Key map-related features are:

M.1 - Import of an entire map as a single action. Given a map, the system should be able to import the map and all maps and topics it directly or indirectly links to as a single action. The system should provide options for how imported maps and topics are organized into whatever the CMS' organization mechanism is (folders, cabinets, whatever). The system should provide options for how to handle the import of link targets that are not of scope "local", including the creation of proxy topics for locally unavailable targets. Following import, all links in the imported content must resolve correctly to their targets as imported.

M.2 - Export of an entire map as a single action. Given a map in CMS, the system should be able export to some location outside the CMS (the filesystem, a Zip file, a WebDAV repository, etc.) the map and all of its direct or indirect dependencies. Following import all the links in the exported should resolve correctly to their targets as exported.

M.3 - Map-based views. All CMS operations that involve access to topics should require or allow the selection of a map that establishes the "map context" for the operation such that the operation only reflects those subordinate maps and topics that are within the direct or indirect scope of the map. For example, you should be able to select a map and then do queries that only return topics in the map's scope or, when creating direct links, only provide as candidate targets those topics that are in the scope of the map.

M.4 - Map view of everything. The CMS should be closed over maps such that all DITA-related content is presented in a map (for example, the system synthesizes a map that includes all topics in the repository or all topics within the scope of a particular CMS-specific organizing structure). By the same token, the results of queries should be viewable as DITA maps (that is, given a query result, it is either literally returned as a map to which the normal CMS map functionality is applied or the CMS provides a "save as map" option).

M.5 - Support for compound maps. CMS must support the use of topicref format="ditamap" to construct "compound maps". Any CMS functionality that modifies existing maps must preserve any pre-existing map-to-map relationships. Any CMS functionality that creates new maps should provide features for creating subordinate maps.

Specialization-Related Features

S.1 - All processing applied to specializations automatically. Any CMS functionality that is specific to a DITA-defined base type should be automatically applied to specialized elements. For example, if the CMS provides a feature for importing maps, it should automatically provide that feature for importing any specialization of map. If the CMS provides some form of configuration for mapping from specific element types to generic CMS functionality (for example, indicating which elements are links), such a mapping defined for the DITA base types should automatically be applied to all specialized documents without additional user or configuration effort.

That is, one of the main points of specialization is that DITA-specific processing just works for any specialized element. This is how the DITA Open Toolkit works and all other DITA-aware tools should too.

Or said another way, DITA awareness means "specialization awareness" in addition to whatever else it might mean.

S.2 - Capture and maintain the dependency relationships among shell document types and the base and specialized modules they use. For example, if I import a shell document type that includes a specialization module I created, the CMS should capture the dependency between the shell and the specialization module as well as the dependencies from the specialization module to the base DITA-provided modules.

S.3 - Specialization project management. System should provide features for managing the components of specialization modules as "projects" such that there is clear binding between the specialization module name and the specific implementation components that make it up. This project manager should reflect and, as appropriate, enforce (or at least encourage and reward) the implementation design patterns defined by the DITA architecture. This management should include tracking dependencies among specialization schema components (that is, from local specializations to the DITA-provided modules they depend on).

S.4 - Generalized views. System should provide ability to see, on demand, a generalized view of a given map or topic. It should provide a way to select the level of generalization desired. This view should be read-only by default but should allow for saving the generalized view as a new object.

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