Collaborative authoring, production, and CMS?

Subject: Collaborative authoring, production, and CMS?
From: Mike Stockman <mstockman -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Wed, 24 Feb 2010 15:02:34 -0500

In my latest gig, I'm going to be creating several large technical documents
where some developers (3 or 4 people) will be active participants in the
documents as well... I own them, but they'll help with structure, they'll
write some material, review my content, etc. I'm happy with that, but
passing a Word document around the department sounds like my idea of hell,
so I'm in the market for a new tool/workflow.

Here are my criteria:

1) It should be object-oriented (topic-driven), so multiple people can be in
different sections at the same time without stepping on each other, and to
make reorganization easier. Database-driven or file-driven? I don't have an
opinion yet.

2) A relatively simple authoring interface should be available... the
developers should be able to jump in and write or edit without learning a
cryptic new tagging method or a radical new interface.

3) The publishing method is still being defined... could be PDF, could be
HTML, maybe something else. The authoring environment needs to be able to
either spit out multiple formats (as AuthorIT or some wikis do, for example)
or a standard format (HTML or XML that I can transform to what I eventually

4) Revision control of some kind.

Am I missing anything?

So far, my research has led me to:

A) Wikis. MediaWiki (the wiki behind wikipedia), the latest beta of which
spits out some fine looking PDFs, seems like the best so far. Revision
control, topic-oriented, etc. But I'm not sure how that would be for
organizing the information... can you set up collections of topics

B) Author-It/Author-It Live, which I have some past experience with. The
company's hard to get information from, but I'm sure I'll hear back from
them at some point. Author-It has the advantage of providing a Word-like UI
and being able to publish to many formats, but they're also pricey and the
people holding the purse strings at my company may balk. I may have to
propose it anyway, since it appears to be a decent fit.

C) DITA-based solutions (which seem perfect in structure, topic management,
etc.). But the DITA editors I know about involve too much manual tagging of
content, even with Oxygen or Serna, and I don't think I can expect the
developers to learn that.

So this ended up kind of long, but if anyone has any advice -- unlikely on
this list, but you never know :-) -- I'd appreciate it. If my assumptions
seem off, please say so, since the joy of being a sole writer is that you
always agree with yourself no matter how wrong you may be.


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