George Alexander, who attended the StartWithXML forum in New York on Tuesday and made quick work of reading the research paper (thank you!), offers a helpful review of both.
In his review, George also offers a view he shared with the StartWithXML team the day after the forum: the current tools are not yet ready for widespread use, and the forum and the research paper were largely silent on his concerns.
I think that George makes an important point about the tools for authoring and editing. I responded yesterday to say that what may have felt like a “middling” position at the forum reflects a range of opinion within the project team.
At the forum, O’Reilly’s Andrew Savikas, for example, advocated use of XML authoring tools in
his afternoon remarks, showing some examples of what worked. In contrast, Laura Dawson, who co-wrote the research paper, is more critical of the tools, something she made clear in her comments. I’m somewhat in the middle, feeling that the tools are not necessarily ready for widespread deployment, but that balanced changes in processes, technology/tools and organizational structures can provide a path to moving the tagging work upstream.
One thing less evident at the forum or in the paper is the healthy discussion that took place within the team about this issue. At one point in the e-mail exchanges, I wrote (paraphrasing) that “waiting until the tools are “ready” isn’t the right answer; people developing the tools will improve them when publishers in adequate numbers use the tools and advocate for better and more features.
When I presented the “solutions” grid in the afternoon, I pointed out that the bulk of the most developed software and systems are in the production editorial and operational areas, but that upstream options were becoming more available. I stopped short of saying “not ready,” in part because I don’t want publishers to hear me and walk out saying “we’ll wait until the tools come on line” and let production worry about tagging until then. Changing workflows is painful, and people are prone to avoiding pain. That’s smart in the short term and potentially disastrous in the mid-term, so I stuck with the recommendation to push upstream as much and as fast as you can.
We view the research paper as a living document, and we expect to revise it based on feedback from the forum as well as an evolving understanding of the number of case studies that the paper and forum started to capture. Look for a subsequent draft to articulate a position on XML tools that may not match what George sees but more clearly captures the project team’s thinking.