Re: Structured HTML (was: Is it possible to single-source online in HTML?)

Subject: Re: Structured HTML (was: Is it possible to single-source online in HTML?)
From: Eric Ray <ejr -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 13 May 1999 10:49:57 -0600

>This is to narrow a view of single sourcing. If you simply output the same
>presentation to different media, then no, you won't get media appropriate
>design and behavior in the target media. If you single source content and
>synthesize and present appropriately for different audiences and different
>media then you will reap a huge economic benefit. And you will reap a huge
>quality benefit as well because you will be able to address the specific
>needs of more audiences and the specific characteristic of more media.

This raises a new question about single sourcing (after a fashion).
Up to now, the discussions of single sourcing have focused on
managing the multiple output streams in a production process
(e.g., you print, you PDF, you output HTML, you compile WinHelp
from the same doc), but I'm currently looking at single sourcing
different flavors of online help via an installation process.

That is, for an application that offers, say, 5 different
components, the admin could install any of the five
in any combination. Ideally, we could assemble (on the
fly, on the target machine) the help files, build a
search index, generate a keyword index, generate a
TOC, and install the online help at that time. (In a perfect world,
we'd then also have the flexibility to sniff browsers and serve different
stuff to different browsers.)

Anyone ever try something like that? It seems to preclude
the usual single sourcing options because the actual processing
takes place during installation (as the possible permutations
on even 5 different components are too numerous to have
canned doc sets that the installation script could just swap

I'm thinking something like XML and Java servlets _could_ be
the answer, but would much prefer not reinventing
the wheel. Any thoughts? Pointers to resources or sites?
Or does anyone have ideas that might be more workable
and less ambitious?

Our constraints:
Must be cross-platform (Java-based)
May require a Web server
Should be standard-based/compliant.
Cheap is good, but not necessarily essential.
Using a database on the server is possible.


Eric J. Ray RayComm, Inc. ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com

*Award-winning author of several popular computer books
*Syndicated columnist: Rays on Computing
*Technology Department Editor, _Technical Communication_

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