Structured Data Enriches Google Recipe Search

Google recently announced a new search feature that helps you find the perfect recipe. The feature, known as Google Recipe Search, lets you narrow your search results to show only recipes, with ratings, ingredients, and pictures displayed. You can further filter results by occasion, preparation time, and calories.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s an example of a recipe search for Irish Soda Bread–refined to include raisins and caraway seeds, of course–using Google’s new feature:

According to the Webmaster Central Blog, “Recipe View is based on data from rich snippets markup,” which Google first introduced, at Searchology, in 2009.”

If you’re a recipe publisher, you can add markup to your webpages so that your content can appear with this improved presentation, in regular Google results as well as in Recipe View.

Recipe View is part of Google’s ongoing efforts “to enrich the search experience using structured data.”

Check out the video for what may be the world’s largest online cookbook.

Irish Soda Bread Recipe

For the road today, here’s my favorite Irish Soda Bread Recipe, with a blessing:

2 and ½ th sifted all-purpose flour

¼ th cup sugar

½ th teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ th teaspoon salt

1/4th cup butter

1 large egg

1 cup sour cream

½ th cup milk

1 and ½ th cups golden raisins, tossed in 1-teaspoon all-purpose flour

1-teaspoon caraway seeds

  1. Place the oven to 375 F. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Blend in the butter, crumbling with your fingertips.
  3. Beat together the egg, sour cream, and milk in another bowl. Stir in the raisins and caraway seeds. Blend the wet and dry ingredients together to make a slightly lumpy dough. Turn it into the pan.
  4. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The tines of a fork pierced into the center will come out clean.
  5. Cool for about 15 to 20 minutes on a rack before cutting.The bread is delicious warm, at room temperature, or toasted.

May good luck be with you Wherever you go,

And your blessings outnumber

The shamrocks that grow.

 Happy St. Pat’s Day!

About This Blog: Copyright Information

Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

Understanding XML: A Video and Links to Get You Started

In The Machine is Us/ing Us, Kansas State University’s Dr. Michael Wesch shows how the XML standard separates form from content, making automated data exchange possible. This is what makes it possible for ordinary people who don’t understand how to program code to share so much digital content on the Web, including blog posts.

Who will organize all this data? According to Wesch’s video,  “we will.” His video explains how each time we post or tag information on the web, or provide links between information, we are teaching the Web what ideas we think are important.

In a Web 2.0 world, Wesch also shows that we are no longer just linking information—we are linking people.

I first saw Wesch’s video, and started really considering all its broader implications, about a year ago. It’s kept me thinking a year, and demonstrates the full power of video, as both a teaching and learning tool, in adition to the entertainment tool we usually think of it as.

It also still gives me goosebumps.

What is XML?

XML Strategist columns (from Scriptorium Publishing).

Sarah O’Keefe regularly publishes as the XML Strategist in the Society for Technical Communication’s magazine, Intercom. Her advice covers everything from the implementation of XML in documentation to the application of XML tools and standards.

XML authoring is here to stay (from the Technical Communication Center).

According to Nabil Freij of Global Vision,   “if you are thinking about transitioning to a new authoring system, consider moving to an XML-based system, structured or unstructured.”

XML will enable you to apply structured authoring with DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) when needed in the future allowing single sourcing of your content.

Technical Writing – Why the Future of Documentation Belongs to Extended Markup Language? (from the Technical Communication Center).

According to Ugur Akinci,  “XML, that is, Extended Markup Language, is the future of technical writing.”

Reason #1. XML is at the heart of “single sourcing” movement.

Reason #2  XML is a documentation manager’s dream.

The easiest way to generate an XML document is to use Adobe FrameMaker in its “structured” mode.

Akinci then provides a 12 Step Study Outline for the quickest way to learn FrameMaker-based XML authoring.

What a Technical Writer Should Know About DocBook? (from the Technical Communication Center).

According to Ugur Akinci,  “DocBook is a set of tools for implementing XML (Extended Markup Language)-based structured documentation.”

It is especially well suited for software, hardware and networking documentation.

Making The Move To Creating Structured XML: An Interview with Thomas Aldous (from the Content Wrangler).

ContentWrangler Scott Abel interviews Thomas Aldous of  Integrated Technologies, about XML publishing.

What is Smart Content? (from Gilbane’s XML Technologies and Content Strategies blog).

Dale Waldt describes  “Smart Content,”  “Structured Content,” and “Unstructured Content.” He urges the XML and CMS communities to use “consistent terms when talking about the rigor of their data models and the benefits they hope to achieve with them. These three terms…”can be used productively to differentiate content and application types,” he concludes.

What Constitutes “Intelligent Content”? Interview with Ann Rockley (from Tom Johnson’s I’d Rather Be Writing blog)

In an e-mail interview with Tom Johnson, Ann Rockley of the Rockley Group defines intelligent content, explains the role of the content creator, and describes tools for creating it.

About This Blog: Copyright Information

Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

Content Reuse: Help Authoring Tools’ Impact on DITA Adoption

After recently reading DITA 101 by Anne Rockley, Steve Manning, and Charles Cooper, I’ve been wondering how DITA fits with other approaches to creating structured information, what roadblocks there are to its adoption, and how well the tools I’m already familiar with support it.

Awhile ago, I tucked aside Neil Perlin’s March 2009 Intercom article, “Pulling DITA Out of Your Hat,” and in the almost year that’s passed, his article still helps clarify DITA, in this wider context.

{Neil Perlin, available at, is president of Hyper/Word Services of Tewksbury, MA.  He has 30 years’ experience in technical writing, with 24 in training, consulting, and developing for online formats. He is a member of the Boston STC Chapter and founded and managed the Beyond the Bleeding Edge stem, at the STC annual conference.}

The following notes capture some of Perlin’s key points.

Structured Information Is Good

Perlin describes the benefits of structured information.

Structured information helps readers because it’s easier for them to get and keep a mental picture of the information in a document when that information is written consistently. Structured information also helps technical communicators, because it’s easier to write chunks of information when there’s a consistent structure to use rather than having to decide, or remember, what structure to use with each new chunk  (p. 41).

Ways to Create Structured Information

Perlin explains that there are many ways to create structured information. Three of these methods are as follow:

  • Using DITA
  • Using Structured FrameMaker
  • Using a Mix of Templates and Style Sheets

According to Perlin, “DITA has significant advantages over the other two approaches because it’s vendor- and -tool-independent, unlike Structured FrameMaker, and it programmatically enforces document structure, unlike the templates-and-style-sheets approach” (p. 41).

Obstacles to Adopting DITA

So, why isn’t DITA more widely adopted to produce topic-based, structured content for single sourcing and multichannel publishing? According to Perlin, here are the most often-cited reasons:

  • The need to buy a new tool, with associated training costs and lower productivity during ramp-up.
  • “The DITA open source toolkit is free, but it’s more technically demanding than a GUI-style tool, so tasks can take longer and have a greater risk of errors.”
  • Moving to DITA isn’t just a tools issue. It requires moving from a document orientation to a topic orientation.
  • “DITA tools offer many outputs (PDF, Eclipse Help, HTML Help, and JavaHelp) but don’t seem to offer a web-oriented output like WebHelp, offered by help authoring tools.”
  • If you are not translating, it’s difficult “to derive the concrete data needed to test whether adopting DITA is cost-justifiable.”
    (p. 41).

Help Authoring Tool Support for DITA

With both Adobe and MadCap coming on board, Perlin predicts that help authoring tool support for DITA presents two possibilities:

  • “They increase use of DITA by making it easier to cost justify and to create the content. DITA simply becomes one more output created by an authoring tool that you already have and know” (p. 42).
  • “They decrease the use of DITA by making it easy for rueful early adopters to back out. Companies that moved to DITA early on only to regret the decision have not had an easy way out. Being able to import DITA content into a help authoring tool and convert it to some other format provides that way out” (p. 42).

Likely Increased DITA Adoption

In Perlin’s opinion, the “first possibility is the most likely” (p. 42).

Structured documentation is useful, and DITA is the most widely known standard for creating structured documentation. By lowering the barriers to entering DITA and making it easier to back out, I expect that the help authoring tools’ support for DITA will spread its use (p. 42).

If you are considering switching to DITA and moving to another tool to do so, Perlin advises talking to your help authoring tool vendor first. Moving to DITA might be easier than you think.

Your Take?

Have you used your help authoring tool to create DITA output? or to back out of DITA? Do you recommend any of the other approaches to structured information? What about using Structured FrameMaker? In the comments, I welcome any comparisons between these approaches, especially from those in the trenches.

Update: In a free webcast yesterday (1/19) on Madcap Flare, Version 5’s support for DITA, Sarah O’Keefe of Scriptorium Publishing recommended using Flare, Version 5 to import DITA content (authored somewhere else, such as in Structured FrameMaker, XMetal, or  oXygen) into a Flare project. This is an important feature because the  DITA Open Toolkit does not provide WebHelp output. Once you import DITA content into Flare, you can generate your WebHelp output. In the same webcast, O’Keefe’s demo showed that exporting Flare content as DITA output does not at this time seem as viable, due to mapping issues. 

About This Blog: Copyright Information

Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

DITA 101: Learning the Ropes on Content Reuse

Summary: DITA 101: Fundamentals of DITA for Authors and Managers (2009), by Ann Rockley, Steve Manning, and Charles Cooper, explains the open XML standard “that defines a common structure for content that promotes the consistent creation, sharing, and reuse of content.” According to Scott Abel, the book is “simple, easy to understand, and loaded with practical examples.” A free chapter is available for your review.

For technical communicators seeking to understand DITA, DITA 101: Fundamentals of DITA for Authors and Managers (2009), by Ann Rockley, Steve Manning, and Charles Cooper, is the book for you. DITA, more formally known as the Darwin Information Typing Architecture, is an open XML standard “that defines a common structure for content that promotes the consistent creation, sharing, and reuse of content” (p. 2). In his foreword to the book, The Content Wrangler‘s Scott Abel summarizes the timeliness and importance of this book, to the wider field of technical communication:

The advent of the Extensible Markup Language (XML) and rapid adoption of topic-based content standards like DITA have forced us to separate content from format and end our addiction to desktop publishing. Today, technical communicators must learn to write modular, topic-based, context-independent content, using a new breed of authoring tools.

Abel recommends this book  as “simple, easy to understand, and loaded with practical examples that resonate with technical communicators”—an assessment which my initial review of the first few chapters, so far confirms. The free chapter, “Reuse: Today’s best practice” describes the benefits of reusing content as

  • Reduced development, review, and maintenance
  • Reduced cost of translation
  • Increased consistency
  • Rapid reconfiguration of modular content

For additional helpful resources, see The Rockley Group and