RE: A market survey (sort of)

Subject: RE: A market survey (sort of)
From: "Richard L Hamilton" <dick -at- rlhamilton -dot- net>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 2010 19:56:09 -0600

> ] On Behalf Of Keith Hood
> I have to make some decisions on software buying and some
> other things, and I could really use some input.  I would be
> very appreciative if you folks could provide responses to
> these questions:
> Have you ever used a content management system?  How did it perform?
Yes. Not all that well.
> Have you used any commercially available plugins for
> conditional text in MS Word?  How well did they work for you? 
> If you have used these systems, what where their benefits and flaws?
> About CMS software - in what situations do you think they are
> or are not useful?
I'm not quite as negative as one previous respondent, but I'd be willing
to bet that if you could magically assess every CMS that was ever
installed, you'd find that for every successful installation, there are
many (way too many) unsuccessful ones.

A CMS is just the tech comm version of a chain saw; if you know which
trees to cut down and how to safely operate your chain saw, you can get
a lot of work done quickly. But, a chain saw will not tell you which
trees to cut and will lop off human limbs just as easily as tree limbs.
They are also cool toys that will tempt you to use them when you don't
really need them (do you really need a chain saw to remove that one inch
thick branch?:-).

The fatal error that happens over and over is a rush to a software
solution before the problem is understood. Documentation managers are
particularly prone to the delusion that acquiring a CMS will somehow
magically let them avoid the hard work of analyzing their needs, their
content, and their processes.

The best advice I can give is to suggest that you take a step back and
consider what it is you are trying to accomplish. By that I don't mean
"find CMS software." I mean what root problem are you trying to solve.
Once you understand that, you can consider solutions.

My book, Managing Writers: A Real World Guide to Managing Documentation,
has a section on acquiring software. Part of that section was posted on
my blog at:

The excerpt is not a complete treatment, but I hope it can provide some
useful ideas.
> If you do not use a CMS or conditional text plugin, would you
> like to?  What would you need to know about it to decide you?
At this point, I use svn for my "CMS." It does exactly what I need
(source control) and nothing else (plus it's open source:). I use
DocBook conditional processing for the small amount of conditional text
I need, though some of our writers use DITA conditional processing,
which is the same sort of thing.

Hope that helps. Good luck.

Dick Hamilton
XML Press
XML for Technical Communicators
(970) 231-3624


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