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Letters To The Editor

Letters To The Editor

Online Learning
I just want to say thanks for the kind words in the article on carriglearning's online course offerings ["Gleaning Useful Lessons," Vol. 2, issue 8]. I didn't realize at the time that you were reviewing the course for publication!

David Gassner
carriglearning
[email protected]

A Content Management Solution
I'm working on a project that requires a content management solution. I read Jim Gabriel's articles ["Content Management," Parts 1 and 2, Vol. 2, issues 6 and 7] and found them very interesting. We're about to start Phase 3 (the Information Mapping phase). I wanted to know if you could direct me to additional, in-depth information on Information Mapping? Thank you in advance.

Reggie Farmer
[email protected]

I'm glad to hear that you found my article interesting. It represents a summary of one of the most demanding (and rewarding) jobs that I have ever undertaken! (At least, before becoming a CEO of my own software company....)

I assume that you're keen to design a set of document type definitions that semantically describe your business, as opposed to using a published standard such as Docbook. If you're adopting an existing standard, information mapping isn't really an issue. After all, the straitjacket exists already, all you have to do is make your content fit the jacket.

If you're keen to build something that matches your business closely (and I encourage you to take this step), I recommend you read about the trademarked information mapping technique at www.infomap.com/method/. This is certainly a good starting point for a general discussion of how to map your readers' requirements into document structures. However, bear in mind that most of this is simply good old common sense - thinking about the objects that you're writing about (reference information, illustrations, concepts, etc.) and the relationships that your readers will expect to see when using the information.

For example, in a piece of reference information, any mention of a concept that's crucially important to the readers' understanding of the material should probably be available as a concept topic that the reference information is linked to. This is a relationship that you need to chart, because it means that your authoring and publishing must make that relationship happen in the content. Typically, in a highly modularized system, you'll have a DTD for reference topics, a DTD for concept topics, and links between the two must be supported.

There are two very important aspects to the information mapping exercise:

  1. Information mapping will give you a starting point only.
  2. Any DTDs that you derive from the information map will also be a starting point only.
Building your own system means you'll be making a lot of changes. This requires revisions to DTDs and the consequent breaking of much data. Typically, a reused object in your information map may find its way into dozens of different places - and this is what makes change expensive. There's no way to support team development of DTDs and publishing systems or to analyze the impact of change - no backups, no source control, no way of versioning, no branching, no way of maintaining multiple schema versions (or objects in schemas) side by side, no way of autogenerating all associated property files such as the stylesheets and publishing scripts, no way of intelligently and automatically cranking existing document instances back in line with the new version of reality, and so on. There's a very long list of things that don't work at all when you need to change definitions, and the cost of these typically all fall outside the budget in a content management system project. I burned my fingers "bad" on that!

Without a magic solution, the bottom line is this: get somebody to help you who has done this before and be prepared to pay for him or her. If you don't, you need to put as much space in your first year's budget for maintenance as you do for building the system in the first place.

Good luck!

Jim Gabriel
[email protected]

I read your article on the potential of content management systems. Great story and we couldn't agree more.

FYI: for two years now we have a great content publishing framework that's currently in use by some major banks in Europe, also a joint venture with OCE (copiers, etc.) has been founded. The customers are impressed by the product.

Rolf Huijbrechts
[email protected]

More Stories By Ajit Sagar

Ajit Sagar is Associate VP, Digital Transformation Practice at Infosys Limited. A seasoned IT executive with 20+ years experience across various facts of the industry including consulting, business development, architecture and design he is architecture consulting and delivery lead for Infosys's Digital Transformation practice. He was also the Founding Editor of XML Journal and Chief Editor of Java Developer's Journal.

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