Re: Two questions for single-sourcing practitioners

Subject: Re: 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 14:26:47 -0500

Char James-Tanny <CharJT -at- helpstuff -dot- com> wrote:

>Hi, Dick :-)

Hi right back at ya. This is a heck of a way to spend Saturday, isn't it?

>I'm answering as best I can ;-) I think I'm missing something, so bear with me...
>> I don't think this is getting at the root issue for me. It isn't so much about my assigning changes to others as it is about my knowing when changes need to be made in the first place.
>Who knows that these changes need to be made? (Marketing, development, management, etc.) With AIT, you could create a topic where everyone tracks what they need done...the topic doesn't have to be part of a book, so it won't ever be generated. Folks open the database and add their information to the topic if they're part of the notification team or read the topic if they're part of the change-making team.

I think this may intersect some of the issues raised in the Knowledge Management thread. To some extent it's not so much a matter of who knows -- it's more a matter of where they are comfortable expressing what they know. This company does not revolve around the RFI/RFP process. We get them infrequently and, in our experience, the effort that goes into them is rarely rewarded (compared with other approaches to selling). So I am not going to get the whole company to reengineer their work habits in order to make the RFI/RFP response process more efficient.

Instead, what happens is that people who write the bulk of their documents as PowerPoint presentations will continue to do so. People who do most of their best thinking in email memos will continue to do so. People who launch Word and just start typing, without regard for templates or paragraph styles will continue to do so. And when the call goes out to Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice to answer some questions in an RFP, the answers are going to come back in Word, PowerPoint, Outlook RTF email, Outlook HTML email, plain text, or whatever they feel like using.

What is NOT going to happen is that they all launch their AuthorIT clients and begin entering answers into the database in an organized way. No way José.

So at some point, maybe I edit the responses and then _I_ add them to the database. Fine.

Now the next RFP comes along, some weeks or months later. I go to the database and somehow find the chunks of text I need to respond to the questions (or, ideally, someone else does--hey, it could happen). But at this point the sixty-four dollar question--the one I posed initially, by the way--is this: How do I _know_ that the answer I'm retrieving is still accurate? I know what date it was written and by whom. I can tie it to some prior version of the software. But there are a lot of features that are stable and are not going to change anytime soon. So the fact that a response is old doesn't mean it's wrong. HOW CAN I TELL?

>> Again, this is looking at the situation from the wrong end of the horse. However, if the system were linked with the Help development system, then every time a Help topic changed, that could be reflected in the SSDB, right?
>errrr....I'm not sure. The only way a Help topic can change is through the SSDB...

Yes but ...

In another current thread, John Garison is extolling the wonders of using Dreamweaver as the Help authoring system. That system ain't broke, so I have no inclination to fix it. Therefore, if I'm going to rely on Help topics for content, I have to link (automatically and transparently) to John's system; I'm not going to ask John to abandon it in favor of a joint single-sourcing effort.

>Maybe that's where I'm misunderstanding the question??? The Help system is part of the SSDB, so if a topic is changed for Help, it's changed for any output that includes that topic.

Well, the way I'm looking at it, the Help system is a major source of information and I need to link to it, but, as I said above, it isn't actually PART of the system I'm trying to conceive.

>Who would be the one who knows when a chunk needs updating? Could that person notify others when information needs to be changed (through e-mail, phone, a "group" topic, whatever works)?

Now you understand the problem. People are living in their own little worlds and do not really consider who needs to be notified outside their own departmental hierarchies (I don't think this is unusual, by the way). Proactive notification would require that someone think of the needs of others--which requires more maturity than many people can muster.

>> "A system that everyone must follow" is a non-starter in our company. Too many that-doesn't-apply-to-me narcissists. We can institute rules and policies until we're blue in the face, but nobody is going to follow them. Instead, we need to have benefits that incent people to cooperate and a system that is tolerant of a high level of nonconformance.
>The system is (I think) tolerant...whoever is in charge can search for topics changed by date, object type, text included, or more. New objects can be added anywhere within the structure, and if someone moves them to a different place, they'll still be found. Whoever enters the information has to add it in the correct book (otherwise, it won't appear in the output), but that has to be do-able...right? (Oh, I hope you say "yes" ;-) )

Not sure I understand what you mean by "book" in this context. I take it that's an AuthorIT construct. In any case, I fear the "whoever enters the information" is going to be yours truly for the foreseeable fuchsia; so I'm not worrying too much about errors. I'm still mostly concerned with aging of information.

>> Unfortunately, this doesn't address the question I posed. I'm well aware that a style tag can trigger different behaviors in different contexts. But I'm not sure that a style tag applied at the paragraph level can deal with typographic niceties.
>For the most part, AIT can. I had to test it to verify ;-)
>I added a register mark, a copyright symbol, open and close quotes, em dash, and en dash. I assigned a character class of superscript to the register mark and copyright.
>After generating HTML and Word output, in HTML, I got <sup class="superscript">®</sup>, <sup class="superscript">©</sup>, "Open quotes - close quotes", plus the em and en dashes. In Word, everything displayed correctly, although the quotes came through as straight quotes. (Note: I just typed the quotes, I didn't assign a special style to them. I don't know if this matters or not. However, an Edit/Replace with Smart Quotes turned on changed them...I'm not sure if this would be acceptable for you or not, as people have different views on post-production.)

Not sure I'm following what you did/what you tested. What I'm looking for is differential output, so that a register mark comes out as a superscript in Word but not a superscript in HTML and "(R)" in plain text. Or a "dash" (grammatical mark) comes out as space-en dash-space in Word but ampersand-hash-151-semicolon (without surrounding spaces) in HTML and hyphen-hyphen in plain text. As I said, this gets subtle.


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