By Bob Doyle, Special to

Launched in January 2007, DITA Users is a 200 member organization for technical communicators just getting started with topic-based structured authoring. Members from sixteen countries around the world participate in various online learning opportunities designed to teach them “DITA from A to B”.

“DITA from A to B” means that members can get direct experience from authoring to building their own DITA documentation sets. Their deliverables appear on the web in personalized workspace folders. Members can publish links to their projects and easily show their colleagues, clients, or employers work they did in DITA.

The DITA Users website utilizes a DITA Open Toolkit running on the DITA Users server. Typically, the Open Toolkit requires a rather complicated installation that prevents many tech writers from getting self-lead, hands-on experience with DITA. By providing a shared, hosted version of the Open Toolkit online, members who don’t have a clue about installing Java components can get access to the end-to-end publishing process offered by DITA.

Another thing that makes DITA Users possible is a web-based DITA XML editor called DITA Storm.  There are several good DITA editors, but they are meant for use on the desktop and they cost from a few to several hundred dollars.  DITA Storm provides members with a WYSIWYG, Word-style authoring tool with no installation whatsoever.

A third online technology utilized by DITA Users is an IBM Eclipse Help server. DITA offers multiple output formats from the same single-source original files. In addition to XHTML web outputs and PDF print outputs, DITA Users can output online help files. They show up on the web at the DITA Users Infocenter.

For a modest investment ($100/year), members develop skills they can transfer to the top DITA XML Editors and XML Component Content Management Systems. The DITA Users website lists over fifty DITA-related tools from editors to publishing engines. They also offer comprehensive product listings in their Tools A-Z section.

DITA Users also has web-based localization support for translating content into many languages. Idiom Technologies has provided a WorldServer On-Demand globalization management system (GMS) to DITA Users.  The website already has its navigation labels translated into French, Italian, German, and Spanish. Reduced translation costs are one of the largest returns on investment in DITA technology. Members around the world can access a web-based Translator’s Workbench that allows them to translate into locales where they are native speakers.

Set your browser language preference to one of the FIGS languages and browse to the DITA Users website to see how it works.

DITA Users offers three sample documentation sets organized into projects, complete with ditamaps to build out the projects as separate deliverables for XHTML, PDF, and Help.  Members can modify these docsets to get their first experience with DITA.  They can also build their own projects from scratch.

In addition to sections called What Is DITA?, Why DITA?, The Business Case for DITA, and a History of DITA, the website also offers a comprehensive set of resources for DITA, including DITA news sources, websites, mailing lists, publications, communities, and a glossary of DITA terms.

As a technology demonstration and community support tool, DITA Users maintains the DITA Infocenter, offering searchable help-style access to the major specifications for DITA – the language and architectural specifications (versions 1.0 and 1.1) and the DITA Open Toolkit User Guide. With a single search phrase, you can retrieve technical information from all these support documents in one place.

DITA Users publishes a Development Road Map and a Progress Blog.

They plan to launch officially at the end of August 2007. Until then, a trial membership is free. You don’t have to install anything or know XML to begin topic-based structured writing today.  Consider joining today!.