The myth of single-source documentation

In the last couple of months there has been some great discussion inspired by Michael Hiatt’s blog post about the “myth of single-source authoring”.  I love Michael’s summation of the nearly 20-year history of single sourcing:

Single-source publishing is a zombie idea that revives itself periodically and refuses to stay dead. Its zombie supporters chant its purported benefits as a “write once, publish to many” promise and ploddingly follow it as their ultimate goal for mechanized authoring and machine translation. As an object-oriented writing methodology, it is as human as present-day robot technology—good only for conveyor belt assembly or specialized tasks, and always very expensive to implement. Single-source publishing lacks purpose in today’s world of information turnover and the dynamic nature of the Web 2.0 moving to Web 3.0 landscape.

In my experience at companies large and small, I have never seen a successful implementation of a single-source process. Like so much else in writing (and life) one size does not fit all. Sure, single-sourcing has its place and can be a great tool for some types of information delivery. But different audiences need different communications channels, and different channels need their own approach to crafting information.

Also check out Tom Johnson’s podcast and interview with Michael at Tom’s blog, I’d rather Be Writing.