[xsl] publishers, publishing applications and XML

Subject: [xsl] publishers, publishing applications and XML
From: Hoskins & Gretton <hoskgret@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 10 Jul 2008 00:23:43 -0400
Re: Michael Kay's comments
> I'm afraid to disappoint you and other readers, but the technology and
> process that Wiley use is not bleeding edge. All content is authored,
> reviewed, and corrected in Word; then it gets moved into (I believe)
> Quark

Some of you know that I work with XML and traditional publishing applications as well as XSL-FO (to a limited extent, not to the level of the major contributors to this list).
As Eliot Kimber said later in the post, human factors such as author's preferred writing applications and publisher's preferred design and layout tool are what keep us from better structured publishing. Markup is unnatural to writers (even those who know how to use "styles" don't immediately get the concept of structured markup). The factors that drive efficiencies in production systems of XML and XSL are content volume, throughput, translation and personalization, which are important in business document production. Customization of presentation page by page, as traditional book publishers do, is a different worldview, more of a craft or even rising to the state of works of art.
Technical publishers are in a unique position of having more tech-savvy authors who could create structured content, but the layout person at the publisher has to understand how to use the content in their publishing application. So design folks need to understand how to import and flow XML content, for example.
The most freeform (tweakable) XML publishing application IMHO is Adobe InDesign. The best developed application for structured publishing in book form is Adobe FrameMaker. Arbortext Editor and JustSystems XMetal are both good XML authoring tools but lacking in page layout, color separation and press pagination capabilities. The most widely used authoring application is MS Word.
We have found that depending on the circumstances, you might find Infinity UpCast (MS Word to XML) application an excellent starting point for moving into any of the other application, due to the ubiquity of Word. You can get a good generic XML output from Word with UpCast (including nested sections and properly formed tables and lists, and footnotes/references) and then transform it to match your governing schema or DTD. We can batch process Word docs with UpCast, post-process them to our preferred XML standard and then either use XSL-FO to PDF with Ant for output that doesn't need page-by-page customization, or import the XML into InDesign or FrameMaker for book layout.
Interestingly, DITA is becoming a new universal medium of exchange -- in technical documentation for example -- and most publishing applications that handle XML are now offering DITA plugins (ie.e DITA2InDesign) or built-in DITA handling, including ditamaps (FrameMaker). This might mean eventually a form of DITA may become useful in non-fiction book publishing generally. The hardest thing is to keep the tag set simple enough to do the job but rich enough to provide semantics when they will be helpful downstream. For example, we had to add ISO character entities to the DITA OT, and also subset the DITA elements to keep authors from having too many element choices.
Every time I look at the book publishing business, I feel like that industry is caught in a terrible bind between the difficulty of getting good content from authors, and getting it into publishable shape. There is a vast disconnect between the two activities. Eventually a sophisticated browser-based authoring tool that captures content in structure "under the covers" would seem like a logical way to bring them together. We really need to get people away from MS Word, and blogging, wikis etc. will help get more people used to browser-based writing and publishing. On the back end, if the publishers capture the online content with structure and flow it directly into publishing applications, better collaboration between writers and publishers' designers will arise. It's not that far away from happening.
Regards, Dorothy

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