Two questions for single-sourcing practitioners

Subject: Two questions for single-sourcing practitioners
From: "Dick Margulis " <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 16 Mar 2002 09:56:39 -0500

Folks,

Here are two issues (maybe side issues), regarding single-sourcing, that I have not seen addressed yet.

The first is a content management question:

Consider this attractive scenario for single-sourcing. We have a family of products, each of which has many features and benefits. The features have been lovingly described in great detail by our product documentation department. The benefits have been lovingly described in great detail by our marketing department.

When we get a request for information (RFI) or request for proposal (RFP) from a prospect, we would like to be able to, first of all, find the appropriate chunk of text with which to respond (a challenge in itself, of course). But more particularly, we want to be assured that the chunk we find is current with respect to the product.

Now if we store these chunks in a database, it's easy enough to indicate who wrote the chunk, when it was written, and what version of the product it was written about. But how do we ascertain whether that particular product feature has been modified since that time. (Obviously we don't revamp every feature for every release.) In other words, how do we track whether an element in the single-sourcing database (SSDB) is still correct or needs updating? Do we need to link every entry in the SSDB to the corresponding feature in the product development environment? And what, then, do we do about the marketing fluff? Marketing spin changes on a cycle that has nothing to do with product development but instead responds to shifts in the market environment. How do we track the timeliness of those chunks in the SSDB?

The second is a somewhat arcane format question:

Acknowledging that the important part of single-sourcing is that it avoids duplication of effort with regard to researching, writing, and editing the content, I'm curious about the technical cut-and-paste process.

If content from the SSDB is going to be used in multiple media (Word, email, PowerPoint, PageMaker, HTML, who knows what else)--and, more to the point, if the content is going to be captured from multiple media--what is the best way to manage character set and markup issues? Clearly if everything is stored as plain text, then every paragraph has to be reformatted every time it is used. If it is stored as HTML, then it has to be reformatted if it is going to be used in slick print collateral (because commercial typography allows for many more degrees of freedom than HTML).

Is XML up to the challenge? If so, how is that managed with content contributors who are technology-averse? Does every item have to go through a human editor who applies XML tags before it can be stored in the SSDB?

Can XML even do this? I mean, is there an XML-aware tool that can go through a block of text and mark it up so that an em dash or a quotation mark is rendered appropriately in all media?

Dick

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