Some of my colleagues and I have run into a few people at recent conferences who have been asking how DITA 2.0 is coming together and whether they should hold off moving to DITA until its arrival. While I understand where this type of question is coming from, it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding as to what DITA is, how long it takes for a standard to be developed, and that a new standard is not the same as a new software version. This is also likely due to the inadvertently poor communication from those within the DITA development process (which includes myself) as to how a new, open standard is made.

Simply put: do not hold off on the release of DITA 2.0 if you are contemplating moving to DITA. It will be a long wait, and you will in fact be much further ahead by adopting DITA 1.3 now than if you hold off until the release of DITA 2.0.

Why Using DITA 1.x Now Makes Sense

The people who have been asking whether they should hold off migrating to DITA until v.2.0 is released are equating the release of a standard to that of a software release. Don’t confuse the release of the standard with a software upgrade! DITA 2.0 will not render previous content developed using DITA 1.x automatically obsolete.

When a new piece of software is released, it usually renders previous versions of that same software obsolete. That will not be the case when DITA 2.0 is released. Users of previous versions of DITA are not obligated to move to the new version, and it may well be that depending on the circumstances of specific technical documentation teams, there may be no compelling business argument to move to DITA from whatever version of DITA 1.x they are currently using. Waiting several years for the DITA 2.0 specification means that your documentation team and company are missing out on the many benefits of using DITA in the interim. So, if you are looking to move to DITA, there is no time like the present to start.

The most typical reasons that I have for moving to DITA are the same regardless of whether we are talking about DITA 1.x or 2.0:

  • The need to reduce operational costs
  • A requirement to decrease localization costs
  • A need to improve content quality
  • The company has moved to Agile (and the documentation team needs too as well)

There are a few other reasons, which consist of cost-effective arguments for process change based on DITA (and often with a CCMS as well). (If you are interested understanding more about when using DITA becomes cost-effective, see my recent presentation on this subject.)

Working with DITA 1.x will enable documentation teams to gain the benefits of using structured, reusable content. There are almost 700 companies worldwide using DITA, who are already gaining the benefits of producing better quality content in a cost-effective manner. While DITA 2.0 will not be backwards-compatible with DITA 1.x, the fundamentals of DITA will remain the same—there just may be some new ways of getting to the same goals.

Where DITA Comes From

Creating an open standard is not a quick process, and should not be confused with that of software development environment. In the case of the DITA standard, it is mediated by
(Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards); a “nonprofit consortium that drives the development, convergence and adoption of open standards for the global information society.” Within OASIS, the driving force for the development of the DITA standard is the DITA Technical Committee (DITA TC), which holds weekly conference-call meetings. To have a say in the development of DITA or any of the other open standards OASIS is host to—such as DocBook, Legal XML, Open Document, or XLIFF, to name a few—you or the company you work for must be a member.

Many of the people on the DITA Technical Committee are from small consulting firms, and have opted for an
annual membership, which costs $335 U.S. per year. For those attending from a sponsoring firm, there is a sliding scale for the membership fee depending on the size of the company and the level of membership chosen. For small companies, this annual fee starts at $3,625 U.S. for basic Contributor status and up to $50,000 U.S. for a large company seeking a
Foundational membership level. Regardless of cost, the key thing is that you must be a member of OASIS in order to attend the regular DITA TC meetings and become a voting member of the DITA TC.

Why Devising an Open Standard Takes Time

One reason why nobody should wait for the release of DITA 2.0 before adopting DITA is that it takes a long time to develop. It took roughly five years for the DITA TC to develop DITA 1.3 after issuing DITA 1.2. This may seem like a long time, but this is more understandable when you have a better understanding of the processes involved.

Once you are a member of OASIS and attend the regular weekly, one-hour meetings of the DITA TC, you can have a say in the development of the next version of DITA. But that is not all that the DITA TC works on. The first major task of the DITA TC shortly after the release of the DITA 1.3 standard was to develop an erratum for that standard, fixing typos, minor errors of omission, clarifying language and fixing examples for features that may not have been wholly clear. This process took the better part of a year. This work is ongoing, with a second erratum planned for the DITA 1.3 specification. (Note that these errata do not introduce any changes to the existing standard, but instead are designed to clarify or correct descriptions of features as they were originally intended.)

Another reason for the lengthy development time from DITA 1.2 to DITA 1.3 was a greater emphasis on an improved process for vetting additions and changes to the standard—something which continues with DITA 2.0.

A “triage” process has been set up for vetting features for DITA 2.0. It consists of three stages for a proposal that must be worked through in order to make it to the next meeting. The process begins by proposing initial ideas for changes or additions. If a proposal succeeds, it moves to the next stage of the process, where a designated lead fleshes out the details.

At some point in the future, these proposals will be circulated to members and further discussed. Many points need to be taken into consideration, such as how it will work, the processing impact it may have, and its usability. If it passes muster again, it will progress to the third stage, where it becomes a solid candidate for admission to the next standard, and its ideas are described fully in the manner required by the specification process. What I have just described is a very rough summary of the process, which is described more fully in a
draft document.

This process is hosted on GitHub, and is discussed by members of OASIS. In keeping with the policy that all OASIS Technical Committee documents be visible and transparent, it can be viewed
here. If you have no plans to join OASIS but want to keep an eye on current progress with DITA 2.0, bookmark this page and keep checking in.

If you take a look at the triage page, as of early-June 2017, only a handful of proposals have made it to the second stage, and none have yet progressed to the third stage. From there, a new standard is slowly assembled, reviewed, changed, and refined. Once the specification is completed internally and ready to be approved, it endures another nine-month process through the OASIS pipeline in order to be made official. It is safe to say that the release of DITA 2.0 is not going to happen tomorrow.

DITA 2.0 Is Not Imminent, so Why Wait?

It should be clear by now that DITA 2.0 is still a ways from completion. Personally, I would estimate that it is likely another three to four years away—at minimum. If you are considering a move to DITA, there’s no benefit in holding off and waiting for it to come, since you have several years in which you and your documentation team can gain from using DITA 1.x. Even if DITA 2.0 was to be released tomorrow, the basics of content reuse—which is the underlying strength of the standard—are unlikely to be changed in any fundamental way.

Finally, if you want to influence the future direction of DITA, becoming a member of OASIS is the most direct path you can take. IXIASOFT is a corporate member of OASIS so that we can help define what DITA can be by lending our expertise and advocating on behalf of our clients. We are deeply involved in helping develop and promote new ideas and features to be incorporated into the next version of the standard.