Recently I had a chance to take a class on XML and print publishing workflow. When I looked around the room on the day of our first lab, all I saw was straight fear of the XML authoring environment. I found that more people had trouble with the interaction of the authoring environment than was expected which leaves me to wonder about is out there in terms of XML authoring.
Ways to Improve on XML Authoring
In order to solve such issues, of non XML centric users interacting with authoring enviroments, several of the bigger names in software have created semi-solutions to the interface problem. The first of these companies is Woodwing Software. A company based in the Netherlands, Woodwing utilizes plug-ins for designers to work within XML. Wooding’s solution is Smart Catalog, a solution for publishing structured data within InDesign.
Smart Catalog allows for three panels within InDesign. The first is Smart Catalog panel that shows any records associated with the content. The second is a Formatting Rules panel that allow for XML elements to appear as “rules” for the content. Lastly is a Smart Catalog Fields panel, which allows for the individual fields to be edited once they are placed in the document. It is through these three panels that the designer can edit content in a environment with which they are familiar, without actually seeing the XML code (Woodwing 2011).
Adobe also has a solution for XML publishing that is called the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. Currently, Condé Nast, Martha Stewart, Reader’s Digest and many more use the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. This software is used mainly for e-reader and tablet publishing and allows for XML components to be integrated into InDesign through the use of overlays. The files are saved in a proprietary format of “.folio”, which is said to be cross platform allowing for exportation across multiple formats. Adobe also has a product called Adobe Digital Editions that allows for the organization “to view and manage eBooks and other digital publications” (Adobe 2011).
Finally, the most interesting solution may lie with the publishing software vendor Quark. Quark XML Author is created for integration with Microsoft Word. Within the Quark XML Authoring program, “authors can create information components that feed directly into the Quark Publishing System, which can automatically combine these components, create high-quality print pages, and generate digital versions for the Web and other formats”. This method requires no knowledge of XML from the author and gives no indication to the author they are using an XML backed product. It is an ideal solution to adoption, as it allows the content author to use the tool s/he is already familiar with, requiring no extra steps of XML implementation.
The Quark software also utilizes DITA for its flexibility for “map creation and editing” and emphasizes that, with the use of Word in the front end, DITA mapping is more intuitive (Quark 2011). “DITA can be modeled for both static and dynamic publishing” which is most likely why Quark has chosen to go with this method of authoring. Using DITA with Word helps to enforce the idea to the content creator that “it’s not about the tools; it’s about the process” (Day 2010).
Ways to Improve on XML Authoring
While the solutions offered by Adobe and Woodwing are definitely an important step in the right direction, they seem as though they are not complete. For an authoring environment to be truly successful, there needs to be a next step. We need a better solution than add-ons. Even though DocBook and DITA are a step in the right direction, they are not intuitive without some programming background to begin with, or some sort of training. Developers need to take a step back when creating authoring environments and begin to think of the everyday worker.
Solutions for this problem maybe closer than one would think. In an ideal world, there would a software program that combines both the editing capabilities of Oxygen (sorry to purposely misuse capitals when writing this name but it spelled so strangley) and the design ability of InDesign. This program would allow for the XML to be visible if the user wishes, but allow for design templates to automatically format themselves to the XML hierarchy as necessary. Instead of saving a single file within this program, the content would be packaged and allow for the XML to be stored with the output design. It would allow for the user to choose multiple output formats and adjust the content accordingly. This program would not be impossible to make, but it is asking a lot for people to rethink and abandon the programs they use everyday.
A clearer, and potentially much easier, solution would be for companies such as Adobe, Quark and Microsoft to rethink the way their current authoring programs work. For example, InDesign does have an XML feature. However, it is clearly not user friendly, nor is it robust enough to be effective in the long-term world of cross media publishing and XML authoring. Microsoft may also have to look at the way in which they allow access to XML within their files. Currently, it is an arduous task to extract XML from Word Documents, and writers like Word, so moving them is not an option. Microsoft could easily adjust the back end of Word to allow for XML hierarchies to be more easily accessible through files.
In the case of current programs such as InDesign and Microsoft Word, the author has the freedom to create documents in whatever order they choose. Should XML authoring in these programs continue to develop, creative jobs may not appreciate the idea that they must be forced to think within a hierarchy. This may be the reason that the current processes of XML and creative work is separated. However, as we put more demands on publishers to use XML backed software and applications, it will eventually feed into the jobs of writers and designers – they will eventually have XML as a skill set. However, just like photography’s change from digital to film, there needs to be a change in the way processes are thought of, and this may take a while to occur. When this change happens, the vendors of the software creative workers need have to ensure that they allow for an ease of transition.
Before a mass standardization of authoring environments occurs, there must be an overall acceptance from the content creators (I recognize it is a two way street, even though we were all scared as designers to touch XML that first time, you kinda have to) that XML and the cross media workflow is here to stay. When looking at the content community today, we are beginning to see this happening. However, hindering the development of XML are the companies who create the authoring environments. These companies are correct in developing the tools for the content creator within programs they are already familiar, but the current add-ons only add to the frustration of understanding for the content creator, as they are not user friendly. It is not until XML is truly integrated into the interfaces of common programs that the content creator and development companies will see a push forward in XML authoring.
In the future, there will hopefully be a content creator that has a full understanding of XML along with companies that answer this need with XML authoring environments that allow for a streamlined creative process.
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