The collage and the painting

In my earlier post, “DITA and ‘Web 5.0‘,” I asked in closing, “How would DITA under the covers help enhance the combined goal of ‘collaboration for intelligent content creation?'” That thought was basically the theme for my presentation for the upcoming Intelligent Content 2011 conference in Palm Springs. In it, I discuss content curation as a trend, using an analogy to point out the difference that context can make to a collection of material.

A common talking point about DITA is how the topic-referencing architecture makes it easy to reuse topics in new maps of information. By extension, searching on a facet of interest should bring up a collection of topics that you can read as a focused subset of a larger whole. Print it as a PDF, or output it in eBook format, and you’ve got some good reading for the commute or for the weekend. But how practical is this vision?

The flaw in the theory comes from loss of context when you pull a set of topics by query. Imagine doing a web search on a subject of interest and then printing the whole list of hits, as is, into a single PDF for later reading. Obviously you will have the problem of duplicated content, possibly some older and less reliable content, a good deal of discussion by people who are not experts on the subject, organizing the hits in a reasonable manner (by timeline, by author, in a hierarchy) and so forth. Metadata might help in preserving bits of a former organization or rationale, but the new use might be totally different from how any of that content was originated. Bringing order out of disarray is the whole drive behind the growing trend of Content Curation.

In my presentation, I show two images as examples of content curation approaches:

The collage: a mashup relying on juxtaposition

The painting: aggregation with expert context

The most economically expedient approach for content curation is the mashup, of course. Metadata can absolutely help in getting the right information and in positioning the pieces in a reasonable order relative to each other, and the result is often useful, such as it is.


But if  you expect to find synthesis and insight in the assemblage, you would be looking to the painting model, where an expert (or at least an informed thinker) on the subject adds material of their own to provide that interpretive context to the collection.

Note that DITA serves either model–this is the “intelligent content” value inherent in the architecture. My point is just that any new collection of DITA as content, retrieved from who knows where in the ever-more-federated world of content repositories, will require knowledgeable intervention to bring new insights for the future reader. How would you be a “Dali for DITA?”

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