I’ve been doing research on available outline editors for the expeDITA project. These fall into many different categories, often with different terminology, but all are generally similar under the covers. What I’ve come to find out is that mind mappers, outliners, list and feed editors, and OPML editors are all basically one and the same–they manage how you create hierarchical lists of links and relationships. The more I learned, the more it all sounded like a basic DITA map.
These various tools all originated from outliners–originally as functions within word processors or as standalone tools for ideas and list making. Dave Winer of Scripting News can be credited with using list managers to maintain lists of syndicated feeds and eventually creating the OPML specification, now at “2.0” (more on that to come!) and fostering communities that developed various rudimentary OPML editors.
Meanwhile, outlining tools took a turn towards graphical representation of relationships, thus tools such as FreeMind, MindMap, VYM, and IBM’s Information Architecture Workbench were developed. These represent nested lists as nodes and arcs in a visual rendering. Due to the obvious relationship with OPML outlines, these tools typically provide an export to OPML (although IAW actually saves directly as DITA).
Yet other evolutionary offshoots in the handling of lists have been the XOXO standard (popular for defining microformats in blogs) and the XML Bookmark Exchange Language. In fact, do a View Source of any WordPress blog (like this one) and you will almost certainly find some lists annotated with class=”xoxo” in the markup. XBEL usually enables storing your bookmarks “in the cloud” for access on other browsers.
Lately, OPML lists have become the underlying content model behind various methodologies for time/task management, such as Getting Things Done. The popularity of these techniques has spurred the development of list editing tools for both computers and smart phones, with synching between both. This has HUGE implications for managing maps of DITA content on your favorite smart phone, using tools like Checkvist for map management and Simplenote for content drafting (still a challenge in a touch-only environment).
So how does all this relate back to DITA?
As nearly as I can tell, Ann Gentle first documented the close affinity between OPML and DITA maps in her 2006 blog post, Defining OPML and relating to DITA maps. By mid-2008, Seth Park had created a transform, available on the dita-users files area, to export FreeMind data into basic DITA maps. And FreeMind already has an OPML export. Lately, the Drupal DITA project led in part by Kristof van Tomme has been utilizing the FreeMind editor as an embedded tool for defining DITA maps directly. The circle is closing, but there’s more…
Just last week, Dave Winer called for investing native OPML capability in browsers to help drive web discovery (sounding very much like the once popular Dmoz web directories): Do you remember how OPML used to work? Since basic DITA maps and OPML both describe linking relationships, I am now marveling at how simple it would be (outside of the devilish details) to handle DITA maps as OPML resources (and vice versa) using existing OPML editors.
Next post, I will describe what I’ve discerned about the relationship between DITA maps and OPML lists, including some experience reports on editing DITA maps–in browser!–using OPML editors (the ultimate goal of this build-up).
Thanks to Anne and Seth for pointing the way–I’m just sorry it has taken so long to connect the dots and see ways in which the merger of DITA maps and OPML lists can drive DITA usage into new territory!