By Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

There’s been a lot of talk about bringing the power of the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) to the web, but most of the examples are either hidden behind a corporate firewall or not particularly exciting, especially in the graphic design department. That’s why I was excited to learn that The Content Era’s new responsive, HTML5 website is powered by DITA.

To find out more about this project, I interviewed Tom Aldous, CEO/Founder of The Content Era about their new website launch. I think it’s pretty exciting — and newsworthy — because many software and services vendors that make DITA tools don’t use DITA to power their own websites. But before we dive into the details behind the website, let’s learn a little about my guest and his company, The Content Era.

The Content Wrangler (TCW): Tom, thanks for joining us today. For those at home who don’t know who you are and what you do, tell us a little about yourself and The Content Era.

The Content Era (TCE): Hi Scott. As you mentioned, I’m the founder and CEO of The Content Era. I have deep experience in the technical communication industry, with over two decades as the managing partner and lead XML/DITA/CMS consultant at Integrated Technologies. Twenty years of experience led me to Adobe Systems, where I held the position of Director of Technical Communication Business Development, Evangelism, and Consulting. After Adobe, I  moved on to be the Senior Vice President of Global Operations at Acrolinx. So, I’ve gone full circle and I am now back in the consulting space at The Content Era.

We are really proud of the fact that we can almost always accomplish the seemingly impossible. The Content Era was founded on the principles of efficiency and ingenuity. We try to consistently meet — even exceed — the goals and expectations of our clients. With a combined six decades of experience in all aspects of content creation, curation, XML conversion and management, our team knows which tools and best practices can make content the most effective.

TCW: The Content Era also aims to help companies move to DITA without all the trouble and expense associated with traditional XML structured authoring projects. Explain to our readers how you plan to make it easier — and much less costly — than other approaches.

TCE: We offer an affordable yet powerful DITA CCMS solution through our strategic partnership with Intuillion, creators of DITAToo DITA CCMS. DITAToo stands out from other DITA CCMS’s because it is designed with usability and budget in mind. It is no longer necessary to break the bank when shopping for a DITA CCMS. DITAToo makes it possible for all companies, no matter their size to easily manage DITA content. DITAToo CCMS has all the  features you’d expect in a much more expensive system:

  • support for DITA 1.1 and DITA 1.2
  • a content repository
  • map builder
  • publishing
  • publishing profiles
  • conversion from text files to DITA
  • version control
  • translation management
  • tight Adobe FrameMaker 11, 12, and 2015 and Oxygen integration
  • release management
  • workflow management
  • and more

And, the great thing is that you can have all of this for less than $1,000 for a server license as well the first author license. DITA is no longer just for the top 5% of the content community. In the content era, DITA is for everyone.


TCW: We love it when vendors practice what they preach. And, this new website is certainly a great example of that. Transforming DITA content to HTML5 has been on our wish list for some time. Explain how The Content Era uses DITA to easily publish its website in HTML5?

TCE: It is not the transformation from DITA to HTML5 that is new here. We are publishing The Content Era’s entire website to adaptive HTML5  from a single DITA map that organizes a bunch of DITA topics. We edit our Website content using DITA Editor tools. Just like we do for our Training Manuals.

We also do something else unique. We are postponing the moment of ‘publishing’ to when the browser sends a request for the page. At that time, we know a lot more about the viewer of the page, so that we can adapt the content and its styling to what each particular viewer requires.

On the production side, we get rid of the hassle of automated builds and having to re-publish an entire website after fixing one small typo. We make the change in the DITA source and replace that source file on our web server. When someone requests the page a couple of milliseconds after we hit ‘Save’ in our DITA editor, they will see the new content in HTML5. The transformation to HTML5 is performed by the server, not by the author’s computer.

TCW: Why is this approach must faster and more efficient than doing it with JavaScript or some other approach? And, are there additional benefits to this approach that aren’t obvious at first.

Image: Albert Einstein on The Content Era
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TCE: First of all, creating technical documentation in DITA allows us to use standard tools for reuse and content management. Also, with DITA it is easy to define structural templates that help non-technical authors to write content that contains all the required information. It is almost like having a form-based authoring environment (like the popular WordPress and various other blogging sites) but with much richer markup and no requirement to set up the blogging software first. Plus, our approach allows you to put any type of DITA on the web, not just blog posts. Everything you see on our new website is authored in the same DITA authoring environment, with a DITA map defining which content goes where (and which entries are visible in the menu).

But there is more than just the easy authoring, of course. In our live DITA documents approach, we postpone the transformation to HTML5 to the very last moment, when we know everything we need to know about the actual user. This means we can change the appearance of the web site based on the device that someone is using to view it. On a cell phone, you may not want the high-resolution graphics or the entire Bootstrap code, as your screen size and bandwidth are limited. On a tablet we can change mouse events to touch events, or support multi-touch to make navigation easier. If someone looks at our site from another part of the planet, we can automagically transform measurements, currencies and temperatures into their locale. If the browser detects a screen reader on the system, we can optimise the content for visually impaired users. And if the browser is an old version and does not understand HTML5, we can just as easily transform to HTML 4 or even plain text.

This makes the website truly adaptive rather than merely responsive. Instead of having to push all content to the browser and letting the CSS or JavaScript filter out what is not required, we only push out what each individual user of the page requires. This improves the viewing experience and makes everything faster: the update cycle (no more ‘publish’ but simply ‘save’) as well as passing the final transformation product to the browser, making the pages load faster.

One direction in which we could take this approach for industrial customers is adapting the same material for non-human viewers, i.e. the internet of things. If the information is available in the technical reference material that human users view on your website, why not reuse the SAME files to dig up data that is requested by a machine? In our approach, adding an XPath expression to the URL for a particular page could easily trigger a different transformation on the server, resulting in a reply with the data and nothing but the data. This removes the need for separate IoT sites alongside your human-oriented reference site.

TCW: We’re about out of time today. Before we let you go is there anything else you’d like to add? And, how can our readers request a demonstration if they’re interested in learning more?

TCE: Well, the best way to request a demo is through the website. There is a “contact us” form that you can fill out and submit right on our home page. Just go to to check it out.

TCW: Thanks, Tom. And, good luck with your new adventure.

TCE: Thanks, Scott.