We are proud of Drupal’s leadership in the media publishing market. But Drupal has almost no presence in the enormous technical communication market (online technical help), even though Drupal can deliver sexy, attractive help systems into the stodgy world of HTML help manuals. Why is this so? Because Drupal does not offer enough features for an end-to-end solution for tech comm shops. “Crossing the chasm” into the Drupal world requires tech comm shops to use duck tape and bailing wire to move their Word and Framemaker content into Drupal nodes. Only the committed visionaries are willing to do that.

But the technical communication sector going through a transformation from publishing to PDF to publishing to web, mobile and embedded devices. To do that, the sector is adopting a technique, known as structured content authoring, and an XML standard, known as DITA, as the bridge between their Framemaker type authoring tools and the many mediums and devices they publish to. It’s a new game in tech comm. 

This shift is opening a door for Drupal to finally extend its leadership in media publishing to tech comm publishing. The presentation will describe how the Drupal community can encourage the development of “good enough” tools so that tech comm shops can “cross the chasm” into the Drupal world. Technical communication is a $1 Billion USD market. Drupal, with its media-publishing quality sexiness and scalability, open-source flexibility and built-in translation management tools is attractive to tech comm shops.

The presenter will list five essential features that are necessary to cross the chasm. Two of the five are already baked into Drupal (translation and publishing). One of the five essential features (markup transformation) is available via a dated, but functional Drupal module that calls to an open source toolkit. Another essential feature can be readily developed within the Drupal community by modest effort (search and retrieve). The remaining essential feature (structured authoring) can be provided by integrating existing products from solution providers in the tech comm sector.  

Solution providers in the tech comm sector are interested in Drupal. But they perceive the Drupal world as open-sourced, GPL protected and expecting everything for free. Not so. The presenter will argue that the Drupal community should “get off the [business] island” and reach out to these solution providers to encourage integration of their solutions with Drupal. A “good enough” solution can be had by a little duck tape here and bailing wire there along with a few calls to 3rd party external servers. “Good enough” for Drupal to disrupt the tech comm market.

Mark Hicks has been developing in Drupal for five years. His last two contract engagements were with technical communication shops who were publishing online help on Drupal. One of the two abandoned their Drupal for a proprietary end-to-end DITA CMS. The second shop is re-evaluating their investment in Drupal as they are shifting to DITA. This presentation comes out of his effort to understand why companies abandon good open-source projects for propriety solutions and his experience in encouraging solution providers to integrate their products with Drupal.

Session Track

Business and Strategy

Experience Level


Drupal Version