Re: Two questions for single-sourcing practitioners

Subject: Re: Two questions for single-sourcing practitioners
From: HALL Bill <bill -dot- hall -at- tenix -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 18 Mar 2002 08:54:23 +1100 (EDT)

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

The first is a content management question:

<SNIP>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:

<SNIP>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?"


I have little time today (or the rest of the week) to answer this in any
detail (or even read the other replies).

Your last question first.

Yes, the better XML systems should certainly be able to apply formats
appropriate the logical structure of your documents (assuming that you are
using a "valid" XML paradigm. XML inherited this from the SGML world. Once
your style templates are constructed for a DTD, you technophobic authors
should find the editing environments at least as easy to work in as in a
word processing environments without the hassles of frequent style stuffups
and crashes.

With regard to your first question, high end XML database applications
should certainly be able to meet all of your requirements, but unless you
have some DIY skills you are into the >$100,000 range to implement such a

If you want to try the DIY route there is a lot of free help on the xml-doc
( and xml-dbms
( forums, with databases and
scripting languages you can use available in the public domain or via GNU.

Also, you might check out SpeedLegal's locally (to me) developed XML-based
SmartPrecedent (also available in the US and UK). Although initially
targeting legal documents, the SmartPrecedent concept is a generic
precedents-based authoring system with a lot of added smarts. I am just
beginning to implement it at Tenix and I suspect that it could handle most
of your needs quite well. You might want to modify the provided DTD to
include version tracking attributes at the element level - we certainly
intend to link it to our native XML database (SIM -
However, SmartPrecedent is designed to be used by complete technophobes like
lawyers. Only one person in the organisation needs to have some
understanding of XML to manage the source files. Other users use the
provided browser as an authoring medium (which is what Tim Berners-Lee
thought HTML browsers should be able to do from the very start). When
authoring is complete in the SmartPrecedent controlled environment, the end
document is chuffed out as HTML or RTF. Details are provided on SpeedLegal's
Web site (

Hope this helps

Bill Hall
Documentation Systems Analyst
Strategy and Development Group
Tenix Defence
Nelson House, Nelson Place
Williamstown, Vic. 3016
Tel: +61 3 9244 4820
+61 3 9244 4000 (Switch)
Mailto:bill -dot- hall -at- tenix -dot- com
Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is THE BEST
(Frank Zappa, Packard Goose)

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