A Celebratory Year for DITA!

Multi-colored fireworks at night over waterThe year 2015 saw two important milestones for DITA. June was the 10th anniversary of the approval of DITA 1.0 as an OASIS standard. And on December 17th, the latest standard 1.3, was approved.

Before we take a look at DITA 1.3, let's review how DITA came to be and how it has progressed.


Information Development Before DITA
DITA started life at IBM in 1999. The company had spent the 80s and 90s working to improve their documentation. They had adopted the SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) structured documentation standard to move  towards task orientation to improve the usability of their publications.

By the mid-90s,  IBM knew it had to deliver content electronically to eliminate or reduce costs associated with printed publications where possible. Electronic delivery of content brings dramatic advantages, both for the information developer and for the customer.  

  • Electronically distributing information is significantly cheaper than printing and distributing printed publications. By some estimates, the cost of delivering an entire electronic document is nearly equal to the cost of delivering one printed page. Electronic delivery also eliminates costs associated with storing many copies of printed stock. These stocking costs include warehouse space, fees, personnel, and management.
  • Maintaining publications that are delivered electronically costs significantly less, because you pay for relatively cheaper hard disk space, not warehouse space. In addition, updating information in an electronic publication avoids the expense of scrapping obsolete copies.
  •  If you’re creating web-based documentation, you can continue developing it up until the product release date. This gives you more time for ensuring technical accuracy. And a web-hosted document can be updated as needed. You don’t have to wait until the next release or fix-pack to update a printed pub.

Around this time a new markup language was developed that was a compromise between the complex SGML and the popular new HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) for web pages. The new markup language was XML (eXtensible Markup Language).

DITA is Born
In December 1999, IBM formed an internal workgroup to develop an XML content architecture to replace their existing book-oriented SGML content architecture. In March 2001, the workgroup introduced DITA  as an internal IBM tool for producing documentation. DITA was an attempt to make a simplified XML starter set for documentation markup, one designed from the outset to encourage reuse of small content components. it was simpler than SGML and able to produce online documentation.

The workgroup made the existence of DITA public by publishing An XML Architecture for Technical Documentation: The Darwin Information Typing Architecture at the 2003 Society for Technical Communication Conference.

In March 2004, IBM donated DITA to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). OASIS formed a Technical Committee to explore a DITA Standard. The committee included XML tools vendors, consultants on Information Architecture and Content Management Systems (CMS), and end users of the DITA Document Type Definitions (DTD) and Schemas needed for the new DITA Standard.

In April 2005, OASIS approved Version 1.0 of the DITA specification. In August 2007, OASIS approved version 1.1 of the DITA specification. Version 1.2 of the DITA specification was approved in December 2010. And five years later, Version 1.3 of the DITA specification was approved.

Note: For an excellent and detailed history of DITA, see History of DITA.

In just 10 years DITA has made remarkable strides in such varied industries as software, gambling and casinos, pharmaceuticals, heavy equipment, insurance, and oil and energy. That list is sure to grow due to the new features in DITA 1.3. And I will take a look at those features in my next post.