By adapting to reader patterns and user feedback, SDL hopes to eliminate the need for conventional technical manuals.
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The latest update to a content management system used mostly for technical documentation aims to put a stake through the heart of the traditional technical manual.
SDL is best known for XML-based systems for organizing content into structured modules that can be recombined in different ways for documentation of different products or processes--for example, making it easier to generate documentation for two slightly different versions of a product by using all the content that applies to both but swapping in sections for the features specific to each. SDL is also one of the leading vendors of technology to assist with translating that material into multiple languages. With SDL Live Content 2011, the company said it has incorporated analytics and social features to make the content management system more dynamic and context aware--making the traditional, static technical manual a thing of the past.
"Content creators will be able to have direct conversations with whoever is consuming that content and take that feedback into account or change the content as they need to, as well as reply back," said Andrew Thomas, director of product marketing for SDL's Structured Content Technologies Division. Like webmasters monitoring Web traffic and adjusting their content mix to boost their page views, documentation teams also will be able to see what content is accessed most frequently and how users are navigating through their online documents.
Because the Live Content system renders documents on-the-fly from an XML content repository, they can incorporate knowledge like which account plan the user of a software as a service product has signed up for, Thomas said. "If they only have three of five features turned on, they don't need to see the documentation for all five." Documents can be rendered in a variety of file formats, not just HTML, and for mobile devices as well as PCs, according to SDL.
Technical writers and editors have learned to write differently, to make their content more modular, but they are just beginning to deliver content differently, Thomas said.
The product is not necessarily for technical documentation only. One of the first websites to test Live Content 2011 is run by Jordan Publishing LTD, a legal publisher in the U.K., and Letterpart, its typesetting company and a longtime SDL customer. For Jordan, the goal was to go beyond publishing existing print content online and give customers new ways to find and use it.
Letterpart Managing Director Chris Leggett said the feature for soliciting feedback on articles is not yet live on the Jordan's site. Because of the mass-market nature of the publications, which are available to lay people as well as attorneys, "we've got to be very careful we don't get inundated with requests for change that are not valid," he said. "I think we'll do something with it, but probably not for the next six months."
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